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LeJog 2023 Leg One Rally Report

LeJog 2023 Leg One Rally Report

There are only a few things you can guarantee in life: death, taxes, and cold weather on the LeJog rally. The latter was certainly true this morning as the entrants for this year’s edition of the hardest endurance rally in Europe, coaxed their cars into life under the dark but clear Cornish sky. In a break with tradition, the wind that usually howls in from the Atlantic was somewhat subdued, but there was ice underfoot and the promise of snow before we had even left the West Country.

The cars departed one by one, as they have done since 1993, this edition marking thirty years since the first time that this rally took place. Ahead of them are 1500 miles of adventure, the specifics of which are largely unknown. Those that have done this before though, will know that irrespective of the route, the task will be a difficult one and the endurance of crew and car will be examined in a way that only LeJog can manage.

There was trouble brewing before the sun had even risen over the eastern horizon, car 32, the gorgeous blue Ford Escort of Mike Farrell, was already suffering mechanical gremlins with the duo being forced into travelling straight to Mold, our restart point tomorrow morning, to fix their issues. This was revised after a few miles, with the crew deciding to attempt as much of the route as possible, but the car was certainly sounding poorly, and even the direct route to this evening’s final destination is a long one.

On the road the sun was shining but bereft of much heat, the frozen land was persisting in remaining frigid, and with ice on the deck at various points it was an exercise in concentration for the drivers, who aren’t always the best at paying attention – at least that is what their navigators would tell you anyway. All joking aside, LeJog does require a different skill set when it comes to keeping focus, the route is a tough one even by usual standards, and the navigation pushes the brain of even the most competent map master, but it is those other elements that are unique to LeJog that really boosts the difficulty — the lack of sleep, the dark and, of course, the conditions.

The fatigue and the dark will come into play later, but as the cars entered regularity three, the snow that had fallen over the past few days became more persistent, no longer remaining on the verges and the fields, but covering the road as well. It wasn’t deep, but it was slippery, particularly on some of the steep descents that appeared towards the end of the regularity. It was a winter wonderland, hanging on the trees as if they had been dressed for a film set, but already melting and falling from the branches onto the road below, ready to freeze as darkness fell and perhaps indicating what the night would bring.

There were still plenty of miles to go before that though, but the third regularity had proven pivotal in the direction of the day's results and may yet be one of the tipping points of the rally, as the tricky conditions had caused many teams to drop out of gold medal positions. Indeed, as the lunchtime results were posted there were just four cars who had done enough to be rated gold, these being Henrik Verspohl and Horst Pokroppa in car 7, the no. 18 MG B of Stewart Christie and Andy Ballantyne, Andy Lane and Iain Tullie in car 29 and finally Thomas Koerner and Rolf Pellini in the number 34 BMW.

The afternoon would be relatively short in comparison to the first half of the day, and after a morning that had included five tests, there would only be one more for the drivers to throw their cars at, coming at the end of the leg at Chepstow racecourse. Before that, two regularities had to be navigated, bookended by main roads, as we used the M5 to escape into Wales, with the first leg finishing at 5pm this year, offering up the salivating but also nerve-wracking prospect of a longer Leg 2 through the dark Welsh night. The first of the afternoon’s competitive sections was bathed in the sunshine that had accompanied us all day long, but as we approached the second the cold had brought with it a heavy fog and as the latter end of the field came through under darkness, there was a certain sense of foreboding in the air. There was the odd break in the miasma, but by the time we approached the crossing of the Severn Estuary the visibility had fallen dramatically, and the long test at the racecourse to finish the day was causing even more cars’ problems.

As the evening’s results came in, an additional two cars could claim to be on gold medal scores, making the six; car 7, Henrik Verspohl and Horst Pokroppa, car 34, Thomas Koerner and Rolf Pellini, car 18, Stewart Christie and Andy Ballantyne in their MG B GT, car 29, Andy Lane and Iain Tullie in their BMW 2002 Tii, car 37, Thomas Bricknell and Roger Bricknell in a Volkswagen Golf GTi, and car 47, Alistair Leckie and Mike Cochrane in the Saab 900 Turbo. It is of course very early on in the medal’s competition, and with five crews lurking in the silver positions those with gold will do well to hold on through the long night ahead. As darkness engulfs us on leg two there are no less than six regularities to tackle, one test and the much-anticipated time control section to finish off the night, in the early hours of the morning.

Current Medal Status’s

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