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Badawï Trail, Syd Stelvio | Day 14 & 15

Badawï Trail, Syd Stelvio | Day 14 & 15

Day 14 Jebel Hafeet to Al Jebal Al Akdhar – 403 KM

The ocean smells the same wherever you are in the world, it’s one of life’s comforting constants, a familiar scent that takes the mind back to the good times. The ocean greeted the competitors of the Badawï Trail this afternoon, as we looked out upon the Gulf of Oman, a week since we had gazed the other way out to the Red Sea. We had travelled from one coast of the Middle East to the other, something no rally like this has ever done and our arrival at Muscat this evening means we are now firmly in the final throes of this adventure.

We entered Oman yesterday morning, and tomorrow we will leave again back to the UAE. The border crossing wasn’t the worst I’ve ever endured, but we were made to wait, the old right-hand drive issue rearing its head again. Eventually I think the border force gave up in the face of mounting pressure from competitors and crew alike, which forced a calamitous and hilarious exit through the final customs checks, with everyone running to their cars Le Mans style as soon as we were told we were to be processed, careering towards the exit gates, desperate to get their carnet stamped first.

Thankfully we all made it through in time to contest the day’s only regularity, and, in my humble opinion, one of the most enjoyable of the trip. Once we entered Oman the scenery changed almost immediately, the sand was gone and whilst it was still desert it had a much more South American feel to it. The huge mountains careened up in front of us and the regularity took us off-road into a series of gravel descents and ascents through Wadi’s and between rocky peaks. The whole thing would have made for an excellent WRC stage, and it was probably tempting to forget the regularity altogether and push on a bit. But rally time is king, and with the tricky nature of the road, it was certainly better for all concerned to stick to the prescribed speed. Not that it diminished from the fun at all, and it certainly made up for the boredom of the border. By the time the latter cars drove the reg for the first time in the trip the sun had all but disappeared, replaced by storm clouds that carried rain that fell in great beads, a refreshing flurry of precipitation that was celebrated by the overheating marshals, now spending their 14th day stood in the heat.

Unfortunately, this was all there was for the day’s competition, with very little opportunity for any big position changes, only really leaving bragging rights for best on the day. When the scores came in it was a three-way tie for the honour, shared by the two 911’s of Filip Engelen and Ann Gillis, and Lars and Annette Rolner, joined on a total penalty on the day by Bentley Boy Bill Cleyndert, a tremendous feat considering he is sans navigator and with a roll-up in one hand and the steering wheel in the other it’s a marvel that he manages to turn the pages of the route book as well.

Day 15 Al Jebal Al Akdhar to Muscat – 562 KM

Day 15 was a return to the long days behind the wheel experienced in Saudi, with 562 kms on the cards. With only one regularity to be contested again there would be little opportunity to upset the time sheets, barring a mistake or mechanical of course and at this late hour the latter is becoming more probable by the second. Although there would be plenty of motorway-based transit to cover off of the day’s distance, there was also a nice chunk of offroad driving on well-graded desert tracks. Two of these were in the plan for the morning, and with no time constraints as such it was an opportunity for the crews to just enjoy them, as long as they remembered to hit their navigational marks of course.

Lunch gave everyone their first glimpse of the coast, as we entered Sur with its golden beaches and azure waters. Of course, the tow truck was on standby as car 37 came into the control, the crew now simply known as Team Hasselhoff, just in case their magnetic attraction to the sand kicked in again and they managed to beach it for the third day in a row. Luckily, they resisted and with everyone refreshed the cavalcade departed north up the coast road for 130 kms and onto the day’s regularity.

This was a tricky little number, set on a mixture of hard tarmac and gravel and cradled in amongst the mountains that sit close to the coast. There were multiple timing points to contend with, as well as the navigational challenges that were waiting to catch out anyone who wasn’t quite on their a-game. One such pairing to succumb to the perils of the reg were yesterday’s best in class, Lars and Annette Rolner, with a disastrous end to the reg putting them at 2 minutes and 10 seconds of penalty on the day and dropping them within reach of Xavier de Sarrau and Lucas de Sarrau in the Ford Mustang Fastback.

In the fight for the top spots, whilst nothing really changed, Michael McInerney and Jose Arana Villavicencio dropped precious seconds across the entire regularity, allowing Tommy Dreelan and George Barrack to move back within less than a minute of them, after the latter had a superb day posting just 9 seconds of penalty. Best on the day was Filip Engelen and Ann Gillis again, losing only 3 seconds and consolidating a lead that is now surely out of reach in the Classic category. Jorge Perez Companc and Jose Maria Volta, despite their gearbox woes, also managed to strengthen their lead with only a couple of days to go.

A couple of days is a couple of days though, and who knows what might happen. Tomorrow, we tackle our final border crossing of the adventure, with a regularity and a desert section to contest once back into the UAE. It seems quite unbelievable that the penultimate day of the rally is upon us, and after a tremendous evening’s entertainment as the guests of honour at a dinner laid on by the Oman Automobile Association, who have been tremendous hosts whilst we have enjoyed rallying in their country, it is now time for everyone to rest up and get set for the push to the finish.


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