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Marilyn Monza, Arctic Midnight Sun 2024 | Day 1

Marilyn Monza, Arctic Midnight Sun 2024 | Day 1

Göteborg. Sunrise at 4.14.

The HERO-ERA Arctic Midnight Sun Rally will celebrate the Midnight Sun as the natural phenomenon of the summer months within the Arctic Circle, when the sun remains visible at midnight and remote gravel roads stay bathed in light, day and night. Visiting sparsely populated areas of Sweden and Norway, this 14-day rally route will take competitors through a spectacular variety of landscapes, which will open up great rally roads to traverse from Gothenburg to Oslo in a very indirect and enjoyable route.

I have to admit that I was pretty excited when my British cousin Syd Stelvio, in need of some rest after the absolutely amazing adventure on the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, asked to me, his Italian cousin Marilyn Monza, to recount this event with my own eyes and my own words, which might seem a bit outlandish to you, and for which I apologise in advance.

The city chosen in Sweden to set the start of “the run to the everlasting sun”, is Göteborg, roughly pronounced ‘yaw-ta-bore(g’), in the heart of Scandinavia, founded in 1621 by the King of Sweden but built relying on the Dutch experience of constructing on marshlands and planning canals. But you, car lovers, would certainly be more interested in the link of the city with your passion: in 1927, the first Volvo car rolled off the production line in Gothenburg; while Volvo Cars was sold to Ford in 1999, the city remains the headquarters of the Volvo Group, manufacturing trucks and buses. Fun fact: despite the city's close relationship with the automotive, the southern archipelago is entirely car-free. I have to mention that, as a big fan of the TV serial “Vikings” (still wondering if the reason is my “attitude battle” due to my past as a fencing champion or, I strongly suspect, the undoubted luscious appeal of Ragnar Lothbrok and his might fellows) I had a bit of emotion, being Gothenburg one of the port of Kattegat, the town where the series is based.

21 cars are the stars of this Scandinavian journey: in Italy we would say 'pochi ma buoni' (few but good). The entry list is short but varied, both in terms of the origin of the crews (Europe is almost entirely represented, including Norway and Sweden, with some exotic entries from America and Australia), as well as the range and peculiar variety of car models (Mercedes predominant, followed closely by Alfa Romeo and Porsche) and the competitive experience of the crews (from Peking to Paris veterans to first-time road novices) and their composition (husbands and wives, fathers and sons/daughters, friends). The drivers are all men, but that doesn’t mean that men are better drivers, it means that women are better navigators! There will be opportunities to find out more about them over the next two weeks...

The day began with an unusual mystery for everyone, as participants in the underground car park discovered that baby kangaroos had hopped onto the bonnets of their cars. After much investigation, yours truly discovered that these were kangaroo-shaped key rings that the lovely Australian crew, consisting of John and Lyndall Bacon, had been kind enough to present to the rest of the competitors.

This morning the starting arch was erected in front of the Scandinavia Hotel in the city centre under a leaden sky that accompanied the cars from Car 1, the oldest on the entry list (but a lady's age should never be revealed!), the 1955 Triumph TR3 (1991 cc) of the close-knit Robertson team, to Car 25, the youngest of the bunch, the 1984 Alfetta GTV6 (2942 cc) with Simon Jones and Louise Grant on board.

Unfortunately, Car 16 (Alfa Romeo Giulia Super 1600), very soon reported fuel pump issues so the novice Swiss crew, Peter and Helen Hanimann, had to go straight to the hotel in Karlastad (where they fixed the problem so that they will be back tomorrow morning looking forward to enjoying a proper rally instead of driving on main roads with a very sick car).

The route today was 308 km across the Götaland region, on the right of Vänern Lake, the largest in Sweden, formed after the Quaternary glaciation about 10,000 years ago; as a result, there are still species from the ice age and in 2009 even a Viking ship was found (you maybe not be aware I am a nautical expert, so Sweden is one of my candy shops…).

After the Start, a short run out saw the route quickly shaking off the shackles of the city, for participants to taste the first bite of the competition, on a nice smooth flat road in the countryside, interspersed with forest stretches and dotted with the typical charming red and white wooden houses (Faluröd color comes from the iron oxide used in the paint). There was a bit of a surprise at the Reg Start 1, when the first car to arrive was not Car 1 but the delay was not due to a navigational error by Julia Robertson but to the need to make up for the over-optimistic forecast that had prompted them to keep the hood of their car open in the morning, despite the rain.

The morning Time Control and coffee halt was planned at the world-famous Saab Museum, opened in 1975 in the city of Trollhättan, home to Saab cars since 10th June 1947, when the aircraft manufacturer Saab – Swedish Aeroplanes aktiebolaget – presented its first car, the Saab 92. The exhibition displayed cars from 1947 and up to the latest models, concept cars and rally history. During the fascinating visit, I had to stop myself from repeating my usual childhood phrase when I saw a Saab with its typical rear shape and exclaimed: "A giant sat on the boot!” and actually I reckon that the old ones look quite modern. As motor sport enthusiasts, the competitors enjoyed the link to the Competition Department with Erik Carlsson, the Grandfather of Swedish and Scandinavian rallying with his amazing exploits in the two-stroke 850cc SAAB of the late 50’s and early 60’s, is etched deep into the company’s history. "Special guests" for the occasion were Ivan and Tisa Pusnik in their green Saab 99L and, if you have the patience to read my tome to the end, you will see that the visit brought them a lot of luck...

A long, enjoyable link section heading across rolling and twisty farmland (that made me feel like on a rollercoaster) took us to Regularity 2 along the Laxsjön lake, to have the first taste of the countless lakes we will see in the following days.

When the trip meter on Car 1 suddenly broke, it looked as if there had been a case of illegal immigration by an English mouse hiding in the glovebox, but it seems that the rodent, not a fan of long Scandinavian sunny days, had merely sabotaged the Robertsons by staying at home and forcing them to run the Reg solely on the clocks.

At the first lunch of the event, in Bengtsfors town, we realised that the small number of participants allows us to enjoy the convivial moments all together, whereas when the group is larger, the last driver bites the beef when the first is already halfway into the next regularity.

The afternoon was a “fun affair”: Reg 3 and 4 were quite similar, despite the different length, in terms of surrounding pine trees forests (I had the distinct impression to be surrounded by a huge warehouse of Christmas trees!) and loose gravel: it was like surfing on stone chippings!!

The driving was so appreciated by teams that one competitor, who wished to remain anonymous, confessed to me that 'it was better than sex', so please don't tell the wife of the driver of car 22...

After the Saab Museum, the second touch with rally history came when we ended up on the outskirts of the place chosen for our overnight staying, the city of Karlstad, home of the WRC Sweden for many years and site of the first special stage for Rally Sweden. For those that are not only “cuore & carburatore” (heart and carburator) Karlstad is a lovely city, built on the river delta where Sweden's longest river, Klarälven, runs into lake Vänern. A trip on one of the beautiful boat buses going back and forth over the bustling Inner Harbour with its lively atmosphere would well worth doing on a longer visit, but it was time for the rally people to get together and share their thoughts, surely positive, on this first day of a mesmerising exploration of Sweden. They were raising their glasses to a toast in honour of John and Nicole Whitelock's 45th wedding anniversary!

From the competition point of view, it’s all pretty tied at the top, with five cars separated by 2 seconds. The Pusniks father and daughter, in their car 17 Saab, ended the day in first place (they were clean at the first timing point), followed by the Whitelocks in their car 11 Mercedes 280 SL, a pari merito con Filip Engelen and Ann Gills in their Car 20 Porsche Targa.

As a wish for tomorrow, I would like to borrow the symbol of the city, a smiling sun, and put it on the bonnet, so that its brightful rays can tomorrow light up the way for our roaring cars.

Now it’s time to sleep. What do I wear to bed? Chanel No. 5, of course. And just few drops of engine oil.


Karlstad. Sunset at 22.24

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