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Marilyn Monza, Arctic Midnight Sun 2024 | Day 3

Marilyn Monza, Arctic Midnight Sun 2024 | Day 3

Sundsvall. Sunrise at 3.04

Today we kept moving further north for 470 km, once more in the countryside, where rolling farmland gave way to more forestation but, more important for those of us who like to see a bit of dirt and dust rise up on contact with the wheels and hear the characteristic metallic sound of small stones bouncing under the wings, the amount of gravel has even increased! This surface, along with the very well-known Swedish Pine trees, was the feature common to all four regularities.

Well, of course this was not the case of the E4, almost a flat-out motorway-style-like road that is considered the backbone of Sweden and kept us hugging the coast, where we headed approaching the lunch venue of the day, the city of Umea, now the relocated home of the Swedish Rally. Throughout the day, I often found myself imagining the same roads I was driving on, completely whitewashed by the February snow and traversed by the wild projectiles that are the WRC cars, although my heart will always be filled with passion only for classic cars.

The last activity carried out by our crews last night (in rally terms...) was to change the setting of their alarm clocks from the previous two days because the starting order and therefore the presentation time at Main Time Control 3.1. had changed. Today, alphabetical order by driver’s name has been adopted, so the competition got underway with the Car 7 Porsche 911 as first on the road, with the French brothers in law onboard. This beautiful blue car was originally owned by Christian Chevy but very soon Alain Lejeune fell in love with her (was it mutual?), so Christian sold it to him on the condition that they would continue to take part in rallies together, with Alain confined to the passenger seat, whether because of his excellent navigational skills or his poor driving ability is not yet clear.

Bringing the merry band to a close was the green Car 1 Triumph TR3 of Mr and Mrs Robertson, a close-knit couple who have also been involved in rallying events for 12 years now: After buying the car, indulging Steve's motoring passion and showing it off on a few Sunday drives into town for 5pm tea, Julia's competitive spirit needed to find greater satisfaction than being first in the tearoom car park, so they landed on the Isle of Wight for their four-wheeled christening at the 2011 Summer Trial, Many more rallies followed that fulfilled their shared desire to visit new countries. Tip for other competitors: don't be fooled by her calm demeanour and composed manner, worthy of a lady-in-waiting of the late Queen Elizabeth: I personally heard her rebuke her husband in a heated rant with double-digit decibels that would rival only a Royal Navy general's lecture to the last of the recruits who dared to tie a wrong knot...

The first two regularity took place on roads (in green woods and on gravel, ça va sans dire) that were so straight and almost flat (although absolutely enjoyable to drive) that I doubted they had been laid out by the Romans. At the sight of the numerous poles marked 'M', especially near the lonely marshals at the time controls, I even thought they were bucolic underground stations...

I've already mentioned the lunch in the university town of Umea: it remains to be said that, to cement the spirit of camaraderie that had already permeated the mood of the sparse but cohesive group in just a few days, there was a kind of Easy Parking Challenge which kept the teams busy in an attempt, goggles and mobile phones in hand, to pay via app for parking at the Main Time Control 3.3.

In the afternoon we headed inland again on farmland and crossing many bridges, as many as there are lakes in the area, a prelude to a landscape dotted with ramps of coasters and that awaits us at the northern end of our adventure that has just begun. The Högakustenbron (High Coast Bridge) is the third longest suspension bridge in Scandinavia and it reminds me of the Vasco de Gama Bridge, one of the iconic symbols of Lisbon, that those of you who have had the pleasure of taking part in the HERO-ERA London to Lisbon Rally in previous years, will surely remember.

Regularity 3 started in a picturesque hamlet full of ornate crimson cottages, lush gardens and flower-filled verandas. The undoubted charm of the hamlet seems to have been the reason why the Norwegian crew of Car 15 Alfa Romeo Giulia Super 1300, consisting of father Erik Osland and 17-year-old son Einar Øren, decided to drive in the opposite direction after the end of the Regularity, to have a second look at the hamlet and consider buying a possible holiday home (not wanting to think that it was instead a navigational error that caused them to miss the left-hand bend).

Special praise must go to the travelling marshals who, sometimes in pairs, sometimes alone, do their best to ensure that the rally runs smoothly. It should be pointed out that, especially during the last regularity of the day, the teams approaching the timing points thought they were dealing with confused Swedish Tench fishermen with nets on their heads: instead, they were the poor officials who, beset by insects and fed up with the self-flagellation of trying not to be caught, had donned safari hats. Still amazed by such features, the Whitelocks and Mortons seem to have been fooled by a junction between the TPA and the TPB, but quickly got back on track, as the final scores attest.

Our home for tonight’s rest is Skellefteå, located in the Swedish Lapland and, specifically, nothing less than the Wood Hotel, being part of Sara Kulturhus, one of the three tallest and most avant-garde glulam buildings in the world (built without concrete and steel, designed with zero emissions) along with the Västerbotten Theatre, the City Library, an art gallery and the Anna Nordlander Museum (thanks dad for the info). And, of course, we know where all the wood came from, right? Wood is a material with good acoustic efficiency, so luckily all the stories about navigators’ mistakes, drivers’ last minute brakes and penalties, told by the competitors at dinner will be soon forgotten…

Since Skellefteå history is based on an industrial gold mining past, so much so that it has earned the nickname Guildstaden, (City of Gold), let’s move on to see who today earned the Gold Metal in the ranking. Despite the top 5 are pretty close in 2 seconds, there was a change at the top of the overall positions (maybe due to a timing point in the Regularity 2, that caught some crews out), where now sit Filip Engelen and Ann Gillis in Car 20 Porsche Targa (total penalty 0:20), followed by Rob Collinge and Tony Brooks in Car 10 Ford Mustang (total penalty 0:21) and the Mortons in Car 18 BMW 2002 (total penalty 0:21). In the team competition (7 teams, 3 car each, named for Sweden and Norwegian Provinces), the Team Gästrikland (car 7, 11, 22) is leading with 1:16 in total.

Tomorrow we will be on the eve of a milestone event in our adventure: crossing the Arctic Circle and celebrating the Midnight Sun. Today's changeable weather leaves a glimmer of clear skies for tomorrow. In any case, as they say in Sweden, 'det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder': there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing.


Skellefteå. Sunset at 23.18

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