This is it, the big one, the beginning of the longest day, which will mostly be made up of an even longer night. Leg four runs into leg five with no sympathy for anyone’s fatigue, and no regard for anyone’s desperate desire for sleep. Granted, there is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it break between the two legs, somewhere around midnight, just enough time to eat, tend to the car and perhaps snatch a few minutes of shuteye on the floor of a hotel lobby, whilst the bemused staff watch on. Enjoy the daylight of leg four, because once it disappears darkness is your constant companion.
Not that there was a lot of daylight anyway, as the sun that had faded into snow had now transitioned into heavy cloud laden with rain. It was certainly grim up north, and if you think your writer is getting a touch obsessed with the weather, well, you would be right, as the conditions really do define just how hard this final push can get – as if the fatigue isn’t enough of a handicap.
The first car left the MTC at Newcastle at 08:30, with the final destination of Coylumbridge not due to come into view until 22:30. Before that 8 regs and 6 tests would need to be navigated by the competitors, and the pressure was on for those remaining in the dwindling medals table to maintain, or, for those in silver, improve their position. A trio of tests kicked the day off, which isn’t a bad way to settle any nerves there might have been, followed by three regularities up to the lunchtime stop in Dunfermline. These climbed up and down the hills south of Edinburgh, in a mixture of sleet and icy rain. On any other day we might have marveled at how picturesque it was all looking, but today all that was on anyone’s mind was not making any big mistakes and not missing any controls.
If there were any nerves starting to creep in, the four that had established themselves as gold medal contenders certainly weren’t showing it, with a mostly faultless performance across the morning. There were one or two larger penalties at some timing points, although this was few and far between and irrespective of that, they were hitting their marks, and in the medal hunt that is king.
By the time the mid leg results came in everyone had held station in gold, and the four in silver positions had in fact lost some ground on those they are chasing. The sun, wherever it was behind the clouds, was now setting and by the time the cars had arrived at the first of two post lunch tests at the Drift Land drifting circuit the darkness had arrived, and so began the start of the seemingly never-ending night.