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Badawï Trail, Syd Stelvio | Day 8 Medinah to Jeddah – 521 KM

Badawï Trail, Syd Stelvio | Day 8 Medinah to Jeddah – 521 KM

Day 8 and our third day of competition in Saudi Arabia. As we left the holy city of Medinah on a 521 km day to Jeddah, the city the pilgrims call the gateway to Mecca a long road section may have given some time for contemplation about our experiences here so far. I must say it has been eye-opening, not nearly as conservative as one might think, and even as we left a city as sanctified as Medinah the signs of western influence were easily seen, a McDonalds here, or a Starbucks there. Not in your face, but more prominent than perhaps was expected.

There is another piece of western influence here as well, that is particularly unwelcome, and that is the invention of Arthur Holly Compton. You’ve probably never heard of him, but good ol’ Arty came up with the idea of the Speed Bump, a device which is more prevalent on the roads over here than even the many speed cameras, that sit unannounced on the verges here, looking like little Star Wars droids. The humps though, are everywhere; in the middle of corners, on roundabouts, on motorway slip roads and even in the middle of the motorways themselves! Osteopaths of the world delight, set up a practice in Saudi Arabia, and you will make your fortune overnight.

There were a lot of transit sections today, it’s somewhat inevitable when covering such large distances, but they were at least punctuated by two regularities and a desert time control section to release the tedium. All were testing as well, probably the most difficult so far and certainly so for Bill Cleyndert in the Bentley, as we have sadly had to say goodbye to his co-driver Emily Anderson after an injury. We wish her all the best, of course, but the rally, and Bill, must carry on regardless.

The second regularity of the day was easily on of the best of the trip so far, a rollercoaster of a route that took us into a wasteland that seemingly offered nothing, but that suddenly dropped into and then over a rocky escarpment, on a mixture of soft sand and gravel that was tricky to maintain a pace on. Added to that the many opportunities to wrong slot and head in the right direction, the handful of locals that were present in and around the rocks would no doubt have wondered quite what was going on. It finished with a downhill slalom between scrub and stunted trees, and at one point there was even the obstacle of some camels thrown into the mix to add to the difficulty levels.

The camels seemed to gravitate to our German Mercedes driving contingent in particular, the four cars of the Pohl fraternity, the various Williams, all needing to dodge the four-legged animals as the Bedouin shepherd looked on in disbelief. He needn’t have worried, these Mercedes-mounted adventurers are here for exactly that, the thrill of the journey rather than chasing time, and certainly won’t have been too upset at losing seconds to the wildlife.

If the day’s regularities had caused cartographical consternation, the navigational fraternity was going to have their composure seriously tested by the day’s desert time control section. The section ran in a sort of U-shape, in an area of desert that had more pathways to follow than your average central nervous system, and I daresay a few synapses snapped as drivers were lured into hitting the loud pedal by the sandy playground laid out before them. It’s fair to say that cars were going everywhere. Fred and Anne Fuchs, in the 911 Carrera Coupe, went sailing towards the horizon when they should have turned left, and once back on track promptly sailed over the next horizon when they should have turned right, whilst a myriad of cars made similar mistakes in parallel to or at odds with, in a sort of Red Arrows inspired display of near misses.

Once out of the sand though, pulses on both sides of the car would soon be reduced to normal levels with a long drive into Jeddah along the motorway, with sandstorms on the right and large oil refineries in the desert to the right of the road. The reward for yet another lengthy concentration run was a finish to the day at the Corniche circuit in Jeddah, home of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, and the promise of a couple of laps – albeit behind a pace car.

There was a certain impatience amongst the drivers to get out on the circuit, and who could blame them, it isn’t every day there is an opportunity to drive a world-class circuit. Once (almost) everyone had arrived though, it was time to head out on the circuit for an orderly couple of rotations, at least that was the plan.

With a pickup out front, crammed with photographers looking to snap the cars as they circled, the cars began proceedings in a fairly compliant fashion, driving two by two at a reasonable pace, as governed by the leading pickup. Drivers though are an insubordinate bunch, just ask their navigators, and it wasn’t long before some jostling for position began amongst the front few cars. By the time the second circulation started a certain amount of anarchy began to seep into the field as the cars pushed the pace, and the pace truck upped the ante in an effort to keep the militant machines behind, as the photographers were tossed about in the flatbed in the process. After a few more corners a couple of the more eager machines went for broke and passed the pace car, and it was at this point that all bloody hell broke loose, and control was lost completely as one by one any obedience to the pace car was forgotten and the drivers broke free. It was tremendous fun and, with cars all gathered safely back in the pits everyone involved in the circuit organisation was laughing and smiling at the antics of the group.

After all of the day’s excitement, the only change in the medal positions is the swapping around of the Dreelan brothers, after a much better day for Mike and navigator Bob, some two- and a-bit minutes better in fact. Best on the day across all categories was our leaders, Jorge Perez Companc and Jose Maria Volta, with one minute and seven seconds of penalty overall, they were one of just four crews that managed to post less than two minutes of penalties.

Tomorrow, we head to Taif, from sea level into the mountains and to a part of the Kingdom which is as famous for its violent precipitation as it is for roadside Baboons. Those in the hunt for the podium positions will do well to retain their concentration, and not make a monkey of themselves as we pass the halfway point.


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