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Badawï Trail, Syd Stelvio | Day 13 Qsar Al Sarab to Jebel Hafeet – 421 KM

Badawï Trail, Syd Stelvio | Day 13 Qsar Al Sarab to Jebel Hafeet – 421 KM

The last full day in our whistlestop tour of UAE began as all the others have on this trip, under the hot Arabian sun. The morning was sticky and as the competitors went through their departure preparations they were already beginning to swelter. Martin Rubel wiped a sodden brow, but there was no wiping the smile from his face, even though he and Hans Ulrich Wartenweiler haven’t had the cleanest run across the deserts and mountains of this trip. They’re still at it though, persevering despite the perspiration.

Others in the order are starting to sweat figuratively as well, we’re into the late autumn of this trip now and the fatigue is starting to tell. At the sharp end, as well as mechanical anxieties, nerves are starting to occasionally get the better of navigators and drivers, mistakes are creeping in, and the seconds are creeping up. In the classic competition Louise Morton was feeling the pressure, navigator in the number 34 Rover P6. With husband Peter they had dropped two minutes on the previous day and, despite having a good three-minute buffer back to William and Kathy Gill in third, the desire to hold on to the second spot they have occupied since the early days of this rally is causing unease to creep into the ship. Lest we forget at the end of the second day they held the lead.

In the main competition for the vintage machines the mechanical strain is starting to affect some of the cars. Long-time leaders Jorge Perez Companc and Jose Maria Volta have gearbox gremlins and have currently dropped second and fourth and find themselves putting a litre of oil into the box at every stop. The leak cannot be fixed, and now they are crossing everything to keep it all together over the final few days.

Back to today’s action and a gentle regularity, running as a reverse of yesterday’s final competitive section, took the cars back out onto the main road for a long straight drag north up the highway to the Emirates National Auto Museum, a collection that houses some 200 vehicles put together by Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, including humungous offroad vehicles and a certain American LaFrance, which may or may not now be missing a few components after Tomas and Ben arrived in car No 1, the Behemoth LaFrance that is on our trip, now back with the caravan and running reasonably well.

After some cooling drinks, it was back into the heat and onto one of the most entertaining desert sections yet. Described in the route book as the Sabkha Speedway, this giant loop of sand became an absolute playground as the drivers could push the loud pedal to eleven and let loose. Rev limiters were hit, sand was thrown everywhere and there was even the odd Porsche getting air born. It wasn’t as simple as just tearing around a loop though, with a sharp series of turns taking the competitors from the outer ring of the place to an infield section that offered up soft sand to trap the unwary.

Some didn’t quite make it this far, missing the turn, including Mike Dreelan in the Lagonda, who was still working wonders nursing his stricken gearbox, but refusing to take it easy and skip the competitive sections. Another victim was Garrick Staples, who missed the left, turned about and then inexplicably span around again and disappeared off into the desert. I’m sure his navigator will tell him where to go though, oh no wait, he already did…

One pairing that will be extremely wary of soft sand and missed turns for the rest of the trip will be Stephen and Kerry Hucklesby, after a spectacular navigational error yesterday left them buried in the sand almost at the top of a dune. The clues were there to not drive where they did, a huge concrete bollard for one and the fact that the road had ended, but despite this Steve still managed to get the Porsche beached well off the road, so far in fact it took multiple trucks and around 11 tow ropes linked together to retrieve the stranded 911. It was a great effort though, and I’m told they’re considering Dakar next year.

At the top of the order is another Porsche, the 911 of Filip Engelen and Ann Gillis who have been flying and have a lead of 5 minutes in the classic category. They had suffered their own catastrophe in the sand earlier in the trip and had been helped by the heroes in car 28. Today, it was they who witnessed other cars stuck in the sand, several of them in fact that they had to avoid, to maintain their momentum. The chivalrous amongst you may have assumed that they would have stopped to help, paying forward the assistance they had received. Well, you would be wrong, with eyes only for victory they kicked sand in the faces of those that they passed and sped onward to their own glory. Karma though is a devious mistress and has a way of balancing the world. Today was no exception, as when they arrived at tonight’s hotel, tired and wanting to get in and find a cold beverage they managed to lock their car keys in their car. For those that they scorned, feel free to feel smug.

Of course, nobody would really have minded that they sailed on past, they have a lead to protect after all and as we are beginning to see, nothing is guaranteed on an event such as this. Tomorrow, we enter Oman in the morning, with just one regularity to contest during the day, but with the added challenge of ascending Jebel Al Akhdar, an ascent that is usually restricted to 4WD vehicles only. For some, this will be something to relish, for others a sleepless night may persist. Until then…


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