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Marilyn Monza, Arctic Midnight Sun | Day 4

Marilyn Monza, Arctic Midnight Sun | Day 4

Skellefteå. Sunrise at 2.00

Day 4, despite many more days have still to come, is a keypoint on our roadmap because the crews started the day with the knowledge that, by the time they have reached the final control in Jokkmokk, they would have both entered Lapland and crossed the Arctic Circle.

But let’s start from the beginning, because was a day filled with many moving moments without a break.

After a well-earned night's sleep in the Wood Hotel, spent as woodpeckers burrowed into the tree trunk, the 21 crews bade their cars good morning on a warm and sunny morning, ready to hit the road in alphabetical order by make of car.

First out of the blocks were the Oslands in car 15 Alfa Romeo Giulia Super 1300: Erik's eyes lit up when he spoke of his 'bellissima Italiana' (no, he doesn't mean his wife...), with whom he was taking part in a rally for the first time, not without some trepidation, as he usually kept it in the garage so he could 'contemplate it like a painting'. I think at least half of all women would like to have a husband who pays the same attention to them!

Last but not least on the road, the Belgian couple Guy Dubois and Magda van Houdt, in Car 3 Volvo P1800. Having spent his childhood in a similar car owned by his father and having lived in Sweden in the 1990s, Guy was keen to take part in the event and bought the Volvo specifically to celebrate a homecoming of sorts.

The 410 planned km have taken off with a not remarkable short run on farmland roads to the first test of the event at Fallfors Drivecenter, now home for several interesting events, such as the Porsche Carrera Cup Scandinavia or the Drift Masters European Championship, but it was once a Swedish Air Force base, hidden in the trees. Many crews were surely ready to emulate the speed of jets, trying to be the fastest to complete the 4.2 km circuit, the longest in Scandinavia, but the Hero organizers they wanted to give the participants a hard time by keeping only the first two fast bends of the original track and then adding cones to create unexpected trajectories, as well as a bottleneck worthy of a Monte Carlo-style street circuit.

For American Karl Eisleben, in Car 9 Shelby American GT 350 H, the test did not quite go according to plan: sometimes driving an oil tanker with a paddle doesn’t work very well and he put the cone on the wrong side of the car, ending in a puff of smoke to rival an Independence Day barbecue of pork chops. Despite publicly admitting his guilt for the mistake, his wife Joan preferred to make sure that it would not happen again in the future by having the expert navigator Tony Brooks give him a 'cones approach' lesson. Well at least it was until before the second test of the day, but we will find out why later...

For the French in Car 7 Porsche 911 the letter D on the cone meant 'débâcle', as Christian Chevy interpreted it as an acronym for the French expression 'dare-dare' (in a hurry) and in the excitement forgot to turn around to explore a part of the circuit closed to traffic. The fastest of the test were Ann and Filip in Car 20 Porsche Targa but a Hamletic doubt about the stop line at the finish (do the Flying Scotsman stop rules apply or not?) cost them a penalty, which Morton in Car 18 BMW 2002 took advantage of.

Those who sported a more “snail oriented” driving style, enjoyed maybe much the Swedish Fika offered in the Hospitality Centre, according to what is not only a coffee break but a concept, a state of mind, an important attitude, part of Swedish culture. Ehi, I see something Italian here…

Today, lunch halt was set in Älvsbyn, the pearl of Norbotten region, softly nestled between forest-clad mountains, where the first regularity took place, for a change, on gravel roads. However, the quality of the roads is such that Ivan Pusnik does not have to worry about any problems with his reliable Saab, unlike in much rougher parts of the world where he is forced to check every bolt on the car every night to make sure they are still in place and tight.

The afternoon saw the crews venturing out in some really remote countryside, well off the beaten track. Let’s have some serious words about these 2 hours drive: tremendous gravel roads without a junction, running through sparsely populated lands, hidden in forests as far as the eye can see, ups and downs and winding curves. I had an absolute blast driving at 100 km/h as if I were water-skiing, chasing the convoy of the first group of classic cars (did I say 100 km/h? Nooooo, of course far less…). I could have had more fun just riding my Supermotard motorbike, but considering the amount of gravel splashing out from under the wheels, I would have been stoned... There was no sign that my co-driver had the same enthusiasm, when I made the decision to overtake the local car in front of me: I saw him close his eyes, cling to the seat, break out in a cold sweat and recite the entire rosary, begging this crazy Italian woman, with 100 octane blood in her veins, to take pity on him and take her foot off the accelerator, at least to give him time to do his will... The last group of cars was not so lucky to be able to let their power-horses loose, as they were confronted by a local car that thought it was the pace car of the Swedish Mille Miglia, and its speed caused such boredom among the crews that some navigators started reading my reports aloud to amuse themselves!

The usual 'all dust and pine needles' Regularity 2, led the crews to the second test, set at Vuollerim Kartingbana, a twisty and tight track which describes itself as the ‘World’s most northerly kart track’, not before experiencing a warm welcome from the locals at the coffee halt in Vuollerim (where some of the HERO Staff, having learned that the original settlement dated back to the Stone Age, went in search of the HERO-ERA Competition Director Guy Wodcock, apparently dating from the same era).

As in the morning, the crews were divided between those who could boast of being 'the fastest northest' and those whose skills rivalled those of a sloth on four wheels. Rob Collinge and Tony Brooks in Car 10 Ford Mustang were certainly in the first group, but missing a cone brought them back down to earth, so Ann and Filip in Car 20 finally managed to clear up any confusion about the correct approach to the finish and were the winners of Test 2.

All the crews had to save their adrenaline for the extraordinary experience of crossing the Arctic Circle, at Mattisudden. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mesdames et Messieurs, Damer og Herrer, Damen und Herren, Dames en Heren, Damer och Herrar, Dame in Gospodje (wow, in this rally there are almost more spoken languages than running cars!): Welcome to the Midnight Sun Land!!! The Arctic Circle is a circle of latitude that runs 66°33′45.9″ north of the Equator. It marks the southernmost latitude where the sun can stay continuously below or above the horizon for 24 hours – these phenomena are known as the Midnight Sun in the summer and the Polar Night in the winter. Those expecting reindeer dressed up for the occasion or elves with chequered flags may have been disappointed by the 'sobriety' of the signpost with basic information but crossing the circle holds a fascinating grasp on people’s imaginations and, by the way, for motorsport people substance counts more than form so there was no shortage of selfies, photos taken with each other and the feeling that one of the aims of this event has been achieved.

For those still in search of authentic Napapijri spirit in the Norrbotten province of Lapland, our overnight venue Jokkmokk (yes, if you think you had a déjà-vu you are right, this is the name of the Ikea’s table you have at home) offered the experience of a true Sami village, where we could learn more about the 80,000 true natives of Europe or buy inlaid bone knives, warm winter fur accessories or even eat a reindeer sausage (yes, I did both…)

From the competition point of view, the earthquake in the ranking list expected for today had to be postponed, since we had just a small shake that took the Mortons in car 18 (yesterday third) at the very top, followed by the Engelens in Car 20 (demoted from yesterday's first place) and by Proenen / Seeberger in Car 22.

After dinner, we stayed up and enjoyed the endless sunshine, and this was maybe the first time I could properly enjoy my three favorite things in life all together, as those who know me know that my motto is 'you can't live without sunshine, travel and chocolate'. In fact Eleonora Piccolo, HERO-ERA Hospitality Director organised a pleasant meeting by the lakeside to see the sunset and the sunrise colliding and drinking a cup of hot chocolate but, as a true Venetian, she would much rather have filled her glasses with Prosecco Valdobbiaddene to warm us up. Fortunately, Johan and Janina Sjöblom (today both wearing yellow and blue striped T-shirts, the colours of the Swedish flag) generously offered us some excellent Swedish Guldkula champagne (sponsor of their Car 24 Mercedes benz W123 230E) to toast the Midsun Night and the success of this event.

Witnessing the sun linger on the horizon at midnight, casting a golden glow that bathes the surroundings in a surreal light, is an experience that will stay with us forever. It was difficult to fall asleep with a light that urges our circadian rhythms not to pause, but sleep is the best way to make the time pass quickly before the discovery of a new exciting day.

God natt och god morgen (goodnight and goodmorning)


Jokkmokk. Sunset at 0.00, Sunrise at 0.00

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