The Sahara Challenge 2015

Madrid to Marrakesh - October 5-14, 2015

The Sahara Challenge 2015

El Syd - Made of steel

The last Rally of a very busy year for the ERA is about to start. 

Nearly forty crews are here in the ancient Spanish city of Toledo for the start of the ERA Sahara Challenge, that over the next ten days will take them south through Spain to Cordoba and on over the Straits of Gibraltar to Marrakesh in Morocco. The mighty Atlas Mountains and the vast Sahara desert will no doubt become the crucible in which many personal rally legends will be forged.

This afternoon the carpark of the exquisite Parador de Toledo was transformed from a sleepy scenic viewing point into a hive of frantic pre-rally activity. High above the Tajo River, within the elegant three-sided courtyard of this magnificent old hotel, the sweep crews of Andy Inskip, Tony Jones, Andy Actman and Simon Ayris were seconded temporarily to carry out scrutineering duties for the competing crews that will be flagged away tomorrow morning. Among many other formalities, fire extinguishers were checked, lighting was inspected and documents were issued before all the cars were signed off as being fit for purpose.

There's a fabulous mix of cars on the start list, from the oldest, the well-travelled 1925 Vauxhall 30/98 of Charles and Nellie Bishop, to the newest, a 1984 Renault 4GTL driven by Rupert Marks. In between there is all manner of motoring exotica including our smallest vehicle, a 1972 Austin Mini driven by sometime ERA sweep mechanic Owen Turner along with Rachel Vestey on the maps. The word is that two weeks ago this car was nothing more than a bare bodyshell and to the best of our memory it's the first time in recent years that we’ve had a Mini so we’re all very keen to see how it acquits itself. At the opposite extreme, the ‘big car’ contingent includes a Bentley Le Mans, two Rolls Royce Phantoms and a mighty Mercedes 300d Adenauer that has come all the way from Malaysia.

It’s great to great to see so many old friends here again and to welcome an interesting selection of new ones as well. The list of well-travelled crews is too numerous to list suffice to say that we have representation from competitors who have criss-crossed the world us on previous ERA events from London to Cape Town, Peking to Paris and across the Americas on the Trans America and Cape Horn Challenges.

There were a few dramas in the car park as the cars rolled off their trailers and growled up the driveway. The sweep mechanics reported dealing with plenty of minor and some not so minor electrical issues. Among other difficulties Nicholas Phillips was seen wrestling with a recalcitrant carburettor on his newly acquired Ford Model A but the biggest disappointment was felt by Paul and Chris Hartfield who had already ‘sat out’ the Trans America Rally in a Land Rover 4x4 because their Packard Super 8 wasn’t quite ready. Today they found that this very same car had a damaged wheel bearing that could quite possibly mean that they won’t be able to take the start in this event. We’ll know more in the morning.

The measured distance was put to good use with many crews taking more than one lap of the course to fine tune their trip meter calibration until satisfied that they had it spot on.

Once all the frantic car park activity shut down for the night and crews scrubbed themselves clean it was time for the pre-event welcome drinks and a rally briefing held on the hotel terrace by rally director Fred Gallagher and joint Clerks of the Course Georgina Clark and Anthony Preston. An excellent dinner of smoked salmon and duck with a few bottles of very agreeable Vino Tinto followed as the Rally relaxed with the stunning night-time panorama of Toledo twinkling far below.

There’s a gentle 08:30am start tomorrow morning as we point our noses south towards the ancient city of Cordoba, the onetime capital of the Islamic Caliphate way back in the 8th Century.

Syd Stelvio



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