Skip to content

Syd Stelvio, London to Lisbon Day 8 – Lamego to Serra da Estrela – 302km

Eight, eight, the burning eight. Between Sunday and Monday is a day so dark it will devastate, and on this day, the eighth of the rally, there was despair for some.

Syd Stelvio, London to Lisbon Day 8 – Lamego to Serra da Estrela – 302km

It is tricky to know where to begin, the day itself began under an ominous and moody sky, the weather had closed in again, but none of us could have predicted what we would experience today. In the hills that hosted the first of the days four regularities the low cloud hung in the air in thick clumps, with the visibility down to almost nothing at times. The road took us up a twisty incline, in a wet malaise that occasionally offered a glimpse of brighter skies, but these were bullied back by further waves of mist and mirk. At this stage of a rally, particularly a long one such as this, the pressure starts to mount. The end is so close, but with plenty of miles still to go, and the times so tight there is little room for error. The top two navigated the fog without too many issues, as did the car in fourth place. The pair in third though, Paul Crosby and Pete Johnson, succumbed to an error before the final timing point, turning one way when they should have turned another. For so long our rally leaders, and now without a joker to play they could ill afford a mistake, but a mistake had been made and a minute was the penalty. Devastation indeed, as their challenge fizzled out in the mizzle of the morning.

This wouldn’t be confirmed until the lunchtime results, but the rumours were rife as the crews headed towards the days second regularity, as the sleet and snow began to fall to compound the already dreadful weather. We were climbing properly now, but we would climb and descend again before the second competition section of the day was reached. Across the top of the mountain the precipitation abated and then, as the roadside became lined with the Lavender and springtime wildflowers, the cloud began to break as well, offering incredible and dramatic views of the valleys and mountains beyond. By the time the descent into the valley floor was complete, the sun was beating down, and steam began to rise off the wet roads. Four seasons in one day? Well roll over Vivaldi, we’ve had four seasons before the end of the morning.

The regularity itself was a steep climb, through an ever-changing landscape that began in jungle like scenery, with eucalyptus and ferns lining the road and hillsides, and ended at the dizzying heights of the Portal do Inferno, the Hell Portal. That was a long way off though, and first the drivers had to show off their skills on the tight and steep switchbacks, that were slippery under tread after all of the rain. It was an exciting ascent, that also travelled through a handful of small settlements, picking a route through the houses that sat tight to the roads, sometimes leaving only inches to spare.

Once this was negotiated came the potentially terrifying run up and over the Inferno, with sheer drops either side of the road this is not a route for those faint of heart, or scared of heights, but is a tremendous section of tarmac that topped off what had been a real driver’s route through the morning. It wasn’t over yet though, as the breathless morning concluded with two tests at the famous Caramulo Hillclimb, only on this occasion the cars would be running downhill, instead of up – a test of the driver’s nerve and of their brakes.

Fastest time on the first test belonged to Tony Sutton and Aiden Mawhinney, in the big 911 SC, but on the slightly longer second test Paul Crosby and Pete Johnson rescued something of the day and arrived at the finish fastest. The lunchtime results showed though that they were now in fifth overall, with the Baines and the Liddell’s promoted to third and fourth.

After the excitement of the morning, everyone needed to calm down and a long and lazy run out to the third regularity of the day provided an opportunity for this. Michael Moss and James Ewing had relaxed so much that they forgot to put down a start time as they left the regs self-start, a bit of a spoiler for them. Others would also come a cropper during this regularity, with cars overshooting the third timing point at the top of a long and lofty climb, unsighted by the angle of the ascent and the now heavy rain. The last timing point was also at the top of a climb, a much shorter one, but the switchbacks were easy to miss, and it was at this point that our leaders, Graham Platts and Neil Ripley made an error and were forced into playing their final joker. The pressure was being felt all over the field. There was also trouble on this reg for John and Nicole Whitelock, who had been struggling with a clutch issue through the day. Here though, as the road began to rise, the clutch cable had snapped, and they were marooned on the side of the road. Bring forward the sweeps though, who have managed to come up with a fix to keep them moving to the end.

One more regularity remained, and it was now baking sunshine again, and a pleasant road that ran in amongst long abandoned vineyard terraces, with deserted buildings standing like the ghosts of a lost community. After this the route would ascend again, heading towards Torre, the highest point of mainland Portugal, at 1,993m, and it was here that the weather gods would really unleash their wrath. As we climbed towards the mountain, the peak was hidden by thick cloud, and within this we would find fresh snow on the ground and more materializing in the atmosphere in front of our eyes, as we drove through the clouds that had settled on the summit. The atmosphere was thick, this wasn’t a pristine coating of virgin snow, it seemed to have an opaqueness and a grime about it. It was quite incredible, even more so considering this is supposed to be late spring in Portugal, even taking the altitude into account.

Into the evenings retreat, it was time for the serious business of the days results and as well as the change in the top three, there has also been a change of the lead. After surviving their mechanical troubles, the resurgent Binstead’s are now in first, but only by a second, from Graham Platts and Neil Ripley. Third is now in the hands of the Baines, with the Mini a further five seconds adrift. Best on the day, and now fourth overall are David and Ed Liddell in the TR4.

We’re at the sharp end now, with just two days to go and, with so many miles covered there is just 6 seconds covering the top three. Tight doesn’t come close to describing it.


We use cookies to give you the best experience of using this website. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies. Please read our Cookie Policy for more information.