The Sahara Challenge 2015

Madrid to Marrakesh - October 5-14, 2015

Day 1 - Toledo to Cordoba

Cold pressed extra virgin. Never has an Endurance Rally Association event seen so many olives.

Dawn comes late at this latitude so it was in the blue grey dawn that the last minute tinkering, packing and adjusting was carried out by the light of one hundred head torches in the carpark of the Parador Toledo.

Overnight rain had made the cobblestones slippy and the resultant cool damp atmosphere made some of the cars a little more reluctant to fire up. But fire they did and as the light levels rose so did the barking, popping and roaring of rally. It was also a blustery start to the day and our very own arch maestro, Jim Smith, had to keep a tight rein on his overinflated charge as Rally Director Fred Gallagher waved the cars through it with "la Rojigualda". Truly this was a five star send off for the last hurrah of 2015.

The first Regularity of the day came within 16km of the start. But even getting to the start of this section proved tricky for some crews as we witnessed more than one wrong slot on the way out of Toledo and into the countryside. No matter though there was enough time in hand to absorb any minor navigational errors on the way although by its very nature the short gravel based Regularity itself was a pretty unforgiving start to proceedings.

From here the road twisted and turned its way through miles of olive groves (heavy with fruit) and sleepy towns as all around us we felt the full force of nature. These olive groves gave way to almonds as the road climbed upwards, along and over the Rio Pusa to the passage control in Piedraescrita where the gravel started once again.

Any weakness in either the steering or the braking department would have been shown up by now and most of the drivers were enjoying a full upper body workout as they manhandled their machines along a tight and rocky corniche.

Meanwhile, clouds; heavy black and pendulous loomed large in both our rear view mirror and the windscreen and, the accompanying strong crosswinds gave the open top crews something of the Donald Trump makeover by the time they rolled into the coffee halt and time control in Sevilleja de la Jara where we enjoyed a delicious infusion of fruit tea.

From here there was short test on the old road to Antigua Carretera before the long run to an excellent lunch of cod or pork at the Pueblo de Alcocer at an altitude of 628m in La Alacena del Castillo.

Satisfactorily fed and watered the Rally was properly equipped to tackle the afternoon’s driving over the plains and rolling hills of Castilla La Mancha and Andalusia. There was gravel, naturally but there was also a Regularity. This time a Tarmac one looping for some 14km through the woodland and olive groves around Villaviciosa in and out of the mist which hung from the hillsides and the mountain tops all around us. This led us pretty much to our night halt at the Parador de Cordoba where the crews were able to catch up with themselves and the necessary spannering needed to keep a rally car on the road.

It has been a great first day for most but sadly there were some problems out on the road. As feared Paul and Chris Hartfield weren’t able to start. They’ve gone to look for some spares for the Packard and we’ve got our fingers crossed. The two Datsun 240z’s suffered with a bit of ‘rough running’ today but the sweeps are keeping an eye on them and trying the obvious things first like swapping and cleaning  air filters. The Model A Ford of first time Rallyists Willem Voorvaart and Susanne Levy broke a fan which was swiftly attended to by the AA sweep Time of Simon Ayris an Andy Actman.

We’ve got an early start tomorrow as we head out of Europe and into Africa.

Syd Stelvio



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