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Syd Stelvio, London to Lisbon Day 5 – San Sebastian to Arzuaga – 428km

Syd Stelvio, London to Lisbon Day 5 – San Sebastian to Arzuaga – 428km

Today we reached the midpoint of the rally, and from here on in we will always be closer to the finish than we are the start. Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘believe you can and you’re halfway there’, so on that basis belief ought to be enough to get us through to the end. Roosevelt though, never had the pleasure (or not) of taking part in a classic endurance rally, or he may have redacted his comment.

Today was the longest day of the event, a 428 km marathon down through Basque country, finishing up in the province of, and near to the city of, Valladolid. The leg has actually taken us halfway through our Spanish mileage, and by the end of the day everyone was feeling the fatigue – but my goodness, there were some incredible roads.

They would come later though, as when the first cars left at 8am the previous evenings spectacular sunset was not mirrored by the dawn, as rain and low cloud were the theme of what was a largely grey morning. The first regularity began shortly after the off, taking the cars up and over the coastal hills and pointing the rally on a southerly direction. It wasn’t especially tricky, but the local farm animals did conspire to derail Paul Crosby’s early morning, as a local Donkey, we’ll call him Don Qué, had made an escape bid from his owner and was running down the road freely. It was like something straight out of the fable of the Gingerbread man, as Don Qué was chased first by his owner, then by a car and finally by Cros and Pete in the Porsche. Eventually the absconding Ass was stopped by the car, as it drove onto the animal’s rope, and the episode was over. Crosby’s time on that reg? He and Pete delivered zero’s…

Their form continued for the rest of the morning, as we cleared the industry and urban squall of the Basque and headed into the countryside and vineyards of Rioja. Bettering them though were Dick and Harry, or, as some of his competitors may or may not have been calling him, Flash Harry, adding just two seconds of penalties to their tally over the first two regs of the day. As the competitors enjoyed lunch in the Monasterio San Millan de Yuso, a beautiful 17th century monastery, the boys in the Mini had risen again, back into second and just 5 seconds off the lead. There were some reports of Crosby with his hands clasped together, perhaps requesting some divine intervention, but these cannot be confirmed.

One person who was praying for a miracle, or at the very least a small favour was Clerk of the Course Guy Woodcock, as when the final recce took place recently, it found the road that was due to be used for the post lunch regularity to be impassable due to snow. Thankfully, this had largely melted, and the reg could proceed, but not after hours run out over mountain’s and through valleys on some of the best roads of the event so far. Even when the route found itself on the smaller and more roughshod roads past the Rio Najerilla, the going was still good, and the drive was definitely an event highlight.

This third reg of the day was a long one, with five timing points, the last one of which was a typical Guy Woodcock piece of trickery, that was simple enough for those on the ball but would certainly cause the navigators to engage the old grey matter and a glance down the results sheet for the day showed that plenty were caught out, with just two zero’s, for the Baines and for Lindsay and Nick Dawson in their Datsun 260Z – Guy says the drinks are on him this evening…

As well as the navigational nightmares, this reg would also see one of the events front runners suffer a mechanical disaster, when the #4 Healey of Ken and Sarah Binstead suffered a clutch failure on the mountain climb. They completed the day, including the test that finished off the leg’s competition, but whether the problem can be overcome remains to be seen, and we will all cross our fingers that there is some sort of resolution.

There were plenty of other mechanical issues during the day as well, and as the cars reached the overnight the Sweep crews were hard at work, so much so they even ignored the fact that there was complimentary wine in their rooms. There had been tyres, wipers, seat belts and trip problems and the #14 Mustang of Rob Collinge and Ian Milne had ejected its alternator. Not that this seemed to mither them on the days test, as despite taking to the track last they put on a spectacular show for the crews that had stayed back to watch them. The noise of the machine is something else, and as one would expect there was plenty of sideways action as the car was thrown about the kart circuit with complete abandon. There was even a rolling burnout between the end of the first test and start of the second, as if the machine was about to take the start of a quarter mile, absolutely fantastic.

By the close of play the 911 of Crosby and Johnson is still out front, but only by 7 seconds, a minute margin at this stage of the game. Second then? Well, after delivering the best performance of the day, that is now occupied by Graham Platts and Neil Ripley, in Grahams immaculate Healey, with the Binsteads on an equal time in third. Dick and Harry had dropped time on the days post lunch regularity, so perhaps Crosby really does have the ear of the man upstairs, but in reality, they are still in the fight in fourth and as we enter the second half of the competition who knows what could happen…


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