2001 Liege - Corse Endurance Rally.|
|After the success of the 1999 Liege-Targa-Liege
Endurance Trial, it seemed like a good idea to do the next one and pit man and
machine against the organiser Peter Davies, who claimed that the Liege Corse
event would be different and very challenging, using the Tour de Corse rally
stages on the Corsican mountains.
Thus the Team Marlin was formed with
the Sportster of Mike Plowman/Tony Richards and the Cabrios of Martin Wood/Fen
Boudry and Ian White partnered this time by Sarah Rich. Also competing was the
Roadster of Dave Smith and Cath Woodman.
White's car No1 at the Place de Royale start
Spa. (Photo - Co-Driver Sarah Rich).
As before, the
event was to start from the Place de Royale in Spa on Saturday April 21st.
Scrutineering took place during the afternoon, many of the cars having arrived
the previous evening determined to get a good nights sleep before the event.
During the driver's briefing prior to the off at 8.00pm, Peter tried to explain
the difference between the French section and the Corsican stage, this was
proving difficult as many people seemed more concerned about setting their
stopwatches and wristwatches to the central control timekeeper. It was decided
that another driver's briefing would be held on the ferry to explain further the
subtle intricacies of the regularities and the 'to-the-second' timing, in the
meantime, his words were 'Check into the controls, get to the ferry and check
your clocks...this is the easy bit!'
1. Sarah and I had drawn Car 1 and so at 8.01pm., with storm clouds
gathering, we left Spa for what was to be a very long night. Running at number
one we never really knew what was happening behind us but on the other hand, if
there was going to be a problem, we'd hit it first! Following us were 49 other
cars, ahead of us eight controls before the Le Markstein breakfast halt high in
the Alps at around 5.30am, then a further five controls to our overnight hotel
in Aix-les-Bains at around 4.00pm on the Sunday. About 20 hours of driving and
approx. 1000kms. Easy!
Martin Wood's Cabrio with Co-Driver
Fen Boudry enjoying Day2 (Photo - Mike Plowman).
| Within 1/2km.
of the start we encountered our first route deviation but eagle eyes had spotted
a tiny hand written sign and with a quick right and right again past the church
entrance we were heading for the Spa Francourchamp circuit and onwards towards
the black clouds and dark of the night. We settled into a relaxed pace and
arrived at the first control with clock and average speed meter spot on - only
to be informed 'You're early' and 'Our clocks are never wrong, they've been
tested'. Mental note here for later and hastily pencilled into the road
book margin. Onwards into the night and all was uneventful until control 6 at
3.30am at an Autoroute /Peage Fuel Halt.
Could we find
the control? Three other cars joined us in a fruitless search in the pitch black
darkness. A group of very bemused French firemen or Pompier walked towards us
from a neighbouring station, so with the minutes ticking away, Sarah decided
that we had to get proof of our arrival. What was the French for 'Please could
you sign our road book?' - no need, the leading fireman was an Englishman
serving in the French Fire Service, small world! Then it was off to catch up on
time and head into the mountains and the legendary Turckheim Hillclimb course.
encountered our first snow, patchy at first but steadily getting thicker at
every turn as we propelled ourselves up the mountain to a height of 1280 metres
(4100ft). With the car sliding from one side to the other and never going in a
straight line, we just kept going, scrabbling for grip, not daring to stop for
fear of not getting going again but knowing, that thankfully, the breakfast stop
must be getting pretty near. Then suddenly we were into virgin snow (this is
madness, nobody has been up here!) but we must keep going and maintain full
control so as not to fall off the road.
Mike Plowmans Sportster with Co-Driver Tony Richards
encounter the first snow. (Photo - SR).
Lights appear behind us and we let the
little Liege of Gari and Do Jones go by as we struggle for grip, our wide tyres,
in this instance, a distinct disadvantage.
The Liege zips
round the bend above us - the control should only be some 2kms ahead. We slide
around desperate for traction and momentum before gliding gently into a culvert
and into deep snow. It is now 5.30 in the morning, we are on a steep
mountainside, stuck in knee deep snow and there's not a sound anywhere. A total
blanket of eerie silence surrounds us. Our sanity is in question.
Liege reappears with the news that the breakfast halt and Markstein Control are
uninhabited, so with their help we attempt to extricate ourselves. Several other
cars attempt our road including Mike Plowman who also slides off into the same
culvert. We help them out thankful that we both slid off into the culvert as
opposed to the steep drop on the other side. It would have very definitely
been 'Au Revoir'.
back at the junction and as dawn breaks we are joined by a snowplough leading a
small group of some eight cars, including the two other Marlins, a couple of
Caterhams, and Mark Fisher's Fury . The snow plough drives off along
another road with the comment 'You English are mad, all the roads are closed'.
We are left to find our own way off the mountain and get back on route.
Depending on how much time each individual crew had lost was a deciding factor
about which controls could be made. We at number 1 had lost the most, so decided
to miss one control and Sarah navigated us to Franco Sbarro's Museum at
Pontarlier for a welcome break (albeit only 15 minutes) at this incredible
automotive extravaganza. We hit the road again to reel off more miles on
spectacular mountain roads before eventually arriving at our overnight hotel at
Aix-les-Bains, for a well-earned rest after more than twenty hours non-stop
2. Monday morning greeted us with torrential rain and at 8.01am as we
drove out of the start control, a marshal's car was returning to inform the
crews that the famous Mont Revard rally stage was snowbound and we should find
our own way to the next control. A hasty map reading session while negotiating
the delights of the city rush hour, soon saw us heading south towards better
weather, across the Mont Vercors plateau to Mont Ventoux and up onto the oldest
hill climb in Europe. Opened in 1902 but only re-opened last year after a 25
year break, it is 21kms long, way, way up in the mountain. As we ascended this
magnificent road we first hit snow and then dense fog.
Ian White with waving Co-Driver Sarah
Rich speeding along in the Cabrio. (Photo - MP)
|Earlier we had
been caught by the flying Steve Blair in his TVR Cerbera but he didn't like the
fog, particularly with two-way traffic and we caught up with him again just
before the control at which we were told that the road down the other side was
ice-bound and too dangerous to use. We therefore returned part-way down the
mountain, against our own rally traffic and eventually we found ourselves in
brilliant spring sunshine, driving on straight roads to Marseille.
As all the cars
gathered on the dockside ready to board the luxurious overnight ferry to Bastia,
we were able to take stock. A few cars had been caught speeding and on-the-spot
fines had been paid. There had been two overnight accidents in the fog and snow
but thankfully although the cars had been severely damaged, the crews were with
us to tell the tale. All the Marlins had performed brilliantly despite the
fact that Mike Plowman had to hot-wire the ignition of his Sportster after the
switch had caught fire. Further repairs were carried out in the boarding channel
to ensure that there would be no further dramas in Corsica.
3. Corsica welcomed us with dazzling sunshine and after the cars had
lined up on the quay, another drivers briefing was held to outline the Corsican
Challenge, particularly the regularity sections, which would be timed to the
second at an average speed of 50kph plus timed passage controls, so there would
be no blasting off and pulling over for the odd nap! We were handed a sheet of
paper detailing the penalty points but it was only later that we fully
understood how these were going to be incorporated into the overall result.
At 9.01am, with
clock checked (again!), calculator ready and trip at zero, Sarah and I were off
out of Bastia heading for the start of the first regularity test only to be
confronted by a petrol tanker and a tour bus doing their best to delay us on the
twisting narrow road. From then on we realised that to keep on schedule would
require a real team effort, some fast motoring, constant time monitoring and
nerves of steel.
basically a great big mountain range with incredible gorges and spectacular rock
formations. Around and through all this wonderful scenery, are these narrow,
twisting roads which are often hewn out of the sheer cliff face. They make for a
multitude of hairpin turns and frightening drops - just perfect for some
exciting motoring and pushing a driver's skill to the limit. Most
Corsicans gave way on seeing us, but not all and some enthusiasts even tried to
join in as we journeyed through their villages. The hazards of snow and fog were
replaced by livestock. They grazed on the roadside and observed our progress
with the disdain we surely deserved. Dogs did not even raise their heads from
their slumbers as we passed and cattle would meander in front of us, goats and
sheep would jump off the hillside into our path - all totally unaware of our
|The first day's
route took us around the northern finger of the Island and across the centre to
Ajaccio and to our hotel at Porticcio. The hotel complex, designed more for the
'complete-package holidaymaker' would now be our base for the next three days.
It's main attribute being the very welcome enclosed carpark where crews could
work on their cars if need be.
Ian and Sarah on a sunny mountain
(Photo - MP)
The next three
days were more of the same as we traversed Corsica and scaled every mountain
possible. The calculator and stopwatch were working overtime as we mastered the
regularity sections and expletives appeared in the road book when marshals were
non-existent and off-plot. Particularly on one occasion when a marshal was found
on the wrong road and facing the wrong way, which cost us dear as we put him
right and got ourselves back on course and on time - this is, once again, the
price of being Car 1.
Day two saw the
demise of Team Marlin with the Sportster (Mike Plowman/Tony Richards) breaking
its gearbox and retiring at the lunch halt, (Mike later reported that the food
and wine was excellent!). The remaining three Marlins were still performing
gallantly, proving the touring capabilities of the chassis with the pounding
they were taking on the mountain roads.
During our four
days in Corsica, we covered eleven regularity sections and six special tests
which consisted of timed laps on two go-kart circuits, driving through control
gates and round hazards, plus driver/co-driver matching times up and down the
mountain passes. On one of these Sarah was delayed by a mixer pouring concrete
for a wall. As seconds and then minutes ticked by, the chances of matching my
up-time were looking more and more remote. It just shows that chance plays a big
part on the open road. We just hoped that the penalty points we were notching
-up along with several other cars stuck behind us - would be looked at
favourably by the scrutineers at the end of each day.
On the final
day, shortened, because of the return ferry trip, disaster nearly overtook us,
when having progressed some 12kms. into the Col de Verde regularity, the road
disappeared under a recent landslide. We had no option but 'about-turn' and
retrace our steps, trying to warn others on their way up. On returning to the
last control, Steve Blair, who had followed us down, pulls up and says he thinks
our O/S/R tyre is going down. It's a critical time - as number one, we do not
have the luxury of any spare time for such things as tyre changes. With cars
going in all directions trying to find the best possible routes to get them to
the next control and to meet their designated times, we change the wheel and
head off once more. There is no alternative way over the mountain so it was a
case of committing ourselves to a round detour of at least 100kms. Although we
only missed one time control, that was enough for us to register a 'miss' and we
amassed more vital penalty points.
Martin and Fen cross the finish line at
(Photo - SR)
| However, we managed to reach the next with
literally seconds to spare. Many of the other cars - knowing that time was
against them that afternoon - decided to be content with a 'Finish' and enjoyed
a (very rare) leisurely lunch before setting off for the hotel. Our failure cost
us dear, as it turned out, but at least we were back on route and on our way to
the finish where some very weary crews assembled before forming a cavalcade
through Ajaccio to the ferry.
giving took place on the ferry back to Marseille, where Cath and Dave in their
Roadster received a Gold Award and a prize for 2nd overall. Martin and Fen,
Sarah and I got Silver Awards (the puncture just dropping us out of Gold).
Still, an improvement on the 1999 Liege-Targa-Liege. Next time, perhaps??
event was a huge success, some broken machinery, naturally, but despite one or
two accidents there were no really serious injuries and yes, there were some
organisational hiccups, but the challenge and competition was everything Peter
Davies said it would be. We met lots of new people, rekindled old friendships
and had one hell of a lot of laughs. We marvelled at the guts and determination
of both drivers and cars. We came across stunning scenery, incredible
ever-changing weather, and some spectacular roads.
What more could one ask for?
Report - Ian White.
- Sarah Rich (SR) and Mike Plowman (MP).