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Classic Marathon 2023, Syd Stelvio Day 6 | Ljubljana to Bled 255 km

Classic Marathon 2023, Syd Stelvio Day 6 | Ljubljana to Bled 255 km

This is it, the last day, time to consolidate a lead or put pressure on those around you and hope they make a mistake. Things are getting tense now, after five days of rallying there is just one more to go, another 255 clicks on the odometer after a journey of a couple of thousand. Dead certs have already fallen by the wayside in the pursuit of glory, so this is no time to be taking anything for granted, there is no processional finish here and if those in the hunt want to succeed, they will need to be both prudent and bold.

The day began slightly later than the previous five, but nobody told those in Ljubliana about the competitor’s extra hour in bed, as the church bells rang at 7am, and continued to ring as if signalling an impending invasion. The alarm bells might have been ringing for the navigators and drivers as well, as the first regularity through them straight into the tough stuff, with well-hidden timing points and an almost fully gravel reg, throwing trip meters off and causing headaches and missed slots throughout the field.

At the morning coffee stop, there was palpable tension in the air, all the discussions were fixated on times and how well people had done, with almost everyone downplaying their chances of success. It was clear that on this last leg, with no less than seven regularities to contend with, nothing was going to be easy, but then it oughtn’t be really, this is the Classic Marathon after all.

Four more regularities followed in quick succession before the lunch break, on tricky gravel roads, in between the thickly forested hills in this part of Slovenia. There were plenty of opportunities to get it wrong, plenty of chances to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It was hot again as well, incredibly hot, with the mercury hitting 34 degrees in places and no doubt the cockpits, already filled with the tension of the final day, were an inferno of heat and emotion.

At lunchtime, as weary crews rolled in, coated in sweat and grime the timekeepers went to work and the results did indeed correlate with the crew’s assessment that it had been a tough morning, but importantly in their quest for the win Mark + Sue Godfrey had had a less difficult morning than Marcus Anderson and Matthew Lymn Rose, improving their lead to nearly a minute. One place further back and third had changed hands again, with 21. Jayne Wignall (GB) + Kevin Savage (GB) continuing their late charge, and usurping Jayne’s husband Paul and navigator Annabel Jones in the battle for the final podium place. The best of the morning were Paul Bloxidge and Ian Canavan, picking up 42 seconds of penalties, the former HERO Champions well out in front, even if Pauls Golf isn’t eligible for the overall prize.

Up above and the sky was beginning to darken and the distant peaks that stood about our final destination started to disappear as a weather front rolled in. The storm was colossal, and with the most difficult regularity of the event thrown at the crews straight after the lunch break there was a certain satire in the timing of the arrival of the modestly inclement weather. The marshals would certainly be feeling it, standing steadfast in the rain and hail, with thunder and great forks of lighting splitting the atmosphere overhead.

In the end the weather would wreak havoc with the final two regularities, cars were succumbing to the conditions with mishaps suffered by 42. Agnete Segalstad (NO) + Ole Rasmus Robak (NO), in the Mercedes Benz 500SL and 23. Richard Bowser (GB) + James Bowser (GB) in the Austin Healey Mk3, the latter losing the opportunity for a class victory. As the lightning crashed into the trees and the peaks there were reports of ice on the road, rivers running down the asphalt and impossible visibility, as the weather Gods had the last laugh after offering up such incredible sunshine for most of the week.

The mishaps would cause the biggest results shakeup in the battle for the final podium spot, with a surprise late appearance for 14. Philip Armstrong (IE) + Peter Rushforth (GB) in the Volvo PV544 after all those around them dropped more time, a result that was bolstered by an excellent morning showing for the pair when they were the best in the field. In the end, overall victory would belong to the Godfreys, despite losing lots of time in the final competition sections they would end the event 20 seconds clear of Marcus Anderson and Matthew Lymn Rose, who secured second place. Mark and Sue deserve all of the plaudits and then some after beating the competition in their MG B, especially as this is their third Classic Marathon win, a hattrick that has been a long time coming, with it being some years since their last overall victory. To lay your hands on one winner’s trophy in this tough event is difficult enough, but to win three is quite incredible and will no doubt be well celebrated by them and their fellow competitors.

So that wraps up the 30th edition of this timeless event, now most definitely one of the definitive modern classics, and this year’s rally will no doubt be remembered as somewhat of a classic as well in its own right. To the victors go the honours, but to everyone else, whether there are trophies or not, it has been an honour to witness the spectacle put on by you all. Until we meet again to contest the 31st Classic Marathon, Vive Le Marathon!

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