Day 36 – Ypres to Paris

The competition is over and the drive toParis commences.

The change in attitudes among thecompetitors is very noticeable. The guard is down. Almost suddenly there is agreater feeling of unmitigated friendship. No rally tactics to conceal orsecrets to protect any longer.

So, the short trip into Paris on the crowdedmotorway didn’t seem daunting. The day was overcast and cool. We still neededto follow the route book and travel through passage controls but these weren’tmandatory and just a formality.

Being Sunday, apparently it wasn’t busy,but to us it was busy. We needed to follow instructions so as not to get lostand to be at Place Vendome so that we would pass through the finishing portaland get our medals and be photographed finishing. The roads onto Paris werebusy. A wrong turn and you end up in the wrong district. The landscape changedfrom backroad townships into city blocks and the typical French architecture.

Noticeable were the homeless, presumablyrefugees who camp in the parks and roadsides into the city. These people walkedonto the busy intersections demanding goods and money. Not a good scene andthese people have nowhere else to live.

Then the long wait in the hot afternoonsun as we inched forward through so many sets of lights. Denise getting hot andwe too, as to dispense heat from the motor the heater was turned on. Like asauna inside the car but it works to cool the engine.

When we arrived at Place Vendome thecrowds had gathered to see what was happening and welcomed us into the square.

Among those gathered were Steve’s sisterJune-Rose and his wife Louise and my family son Brooke, who has been managingthis publication, thanks Brooke and daughter Tracie and grandchildren Amber andCody. So pleased to see these guys. Really neat.

So slowly we drove over into the podiumto do the official deed of finishing and recording. Great experience.

Place Vendome

The feeling of relief that there wouldnot be the early rising and the concentration of rallying around the countryany more. Hugs if joy between competitors and shaking of hands, backslappingand congratulation.

The vintage winners: 1, Graham and Marina Goodwin; 2, Artur Lukasiewicz and Bill Cleyndert; 3, Keith and Norah Ashworth. For Classic winners: 1, Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson; 2, David and Susan Danglard; 3, Chris and Tjerk Bury.

Congratulations to them!

Very few people have had the chance toexperience the tour that we have been lucky to have made. In all we travelledsafely and almost free from any motor issues. Just maintenance.

Thanks to all the great people that wemet on this journey who made it interesting and possible.

Thanks also to the people whoparticipated in reading our daily progress blog and to those that made commentsin support, or corrections.

It’s been our pleasure to have been ableto bring you along on this fabulous journey.

C’est la vie!

Stephen and Corgi.

A valiant effort!

Day 35 – Liège to Ypres

Like all short mileage days, they are filled with lots of slow hard roads to travel.

Today was not so difficult but it was very winding around small country villages on sort of farm tracks. The farmers didn’t like all this traffic on their narrow roads, especially from some of our drivers who disrespect their rules. Not good. Anyhow it was interesting country navigating. 35 pages of instructions!

It involves a number of official instructions and stops, time checks and passage controls. One event on the streets of a small village involved two circuits of their town square and a run down a country road that the police had isolated public traffic from.

Good fun but we had to take care of the car.

So, an interesting day but we were not prepared for the welcome that we would receive in Ypres. In their town square, surrounded by exquisite buildings was a welcoming committee of several thousand people, waving flags and shaking hands clapping and shouting. It was just overwhelming and fantastic. In amongst the crowd were friends from New Zealand Lolly and Bernie Cotter from Mt Maunganui.

Arrival in Ypres

They just happened to notice a large sign on the Straat where we were to have dinner that night so decided to stay here for another day to meet us. So neat!

There aren’t any large international hotels here, the rally members were dispersed among 12 establishments in the town and these hotels were full.

Getting to the hotel we were staying at and enjoying a drink with our friends was a welcome way of ending the days driving.

The evening at a rally dinner was enjoyed by so many competitors and their friends and family was a neat way to finish the competitive part of the rally today.

Day 34 – Wolfsburg to Liège, Belgium

This was rumoured to be a long hard slog today. 600kms of road to make a beeline for Belgium.

Lars waiting for his start

And so it was to be. One ‘time control’ and a ‘track event’ in Peugeot at days end. Seemed simple from the advice we get and the route book didn’t have anything special to be aware of. The time seemed easy to achieve.

At the aerodrome race track

Wow! What a surprise. It’s Friday, the day people here planned their weekend and the roads were mayhem. Four way autobahns and villages, which we are always directed through, were jam packed with vehicles. 
And bikes on the roads. You’ve got to look out for bikes, especially on pedestrian crossings where they seem to have right of way at all times even at stop lights. Care is essential but when you’re in a hurry you have to go for it. 
Boy what an exercise! We raced where we could but the traffic was relentless. There was no way that we could get to the first time control in time. An accident on the autobahn and, well, we were getting angry that the organisation was so short sighted as to expect us to take many risks in order to achieve a timetable. We let them know how we felt when we arrived late. We were placated in that the organisation would take the situation into account and not penalise us.

More interesting structures

Then back on the autobahn and into the countryside through villages and townships.

The autobahn

For the quick peeks that we could take when we weren’t doing other things, these towns were really nice. Different construction and architecture for buildings set in flowing countryside. The populace must have been appalled at these machines racing through their hallowed territory. And not good for the organisation that drivers were disrespecting their rules, speed etc.
We were looking at the time needed to get to the track event and it didn’t look good for getting there in time. Steve tried hard to reach the track in time to no avail. When we did arrive we were met by two couples who we had previously befriended on other rally’s. Mick and Grace and Anty and Sonja. We were surprised and delighted to see them at the track. We were late but meeting them made up for the frustration that we had experienced throughout the day. 

A competitors car and crew. Great guys doing their thing getting to the race track

Thanks for the welcome. 
We did the track with care as of the situation with not having spare wheels. So the speed was kept down. We’ve got to be practical if we want to get to Paris in one piece.

In the car park in Belgium

A wall painting on the wall of a building nearby

Day 33 – Szczecin to Wolfsburg, Germany. 382kms

As predicted, there was a change of start times this morning. We scheduled to begin the rally day at 8.25. Heading straight to the first track event of the day, Waly Chrobrego track, a race track set in what seems to be the centre of town and on what is called pavement. A cobblestone surface with the circuit having four chicanes and two hairpins. Two rounds to be done in no less than 2mins 45 secs or no more than 8mins 15 secs. Denise did in a comfortable 4mins 42 secs. A nice event.

A hundred kms down the road on now formal and beautiful German country lanes clean and well looked after homes built right next to the road. Really pretty in summer. Solid brick or concrete that has stood the test of time.

German village Main Street

To another track – GroB Dolln. A nice track with just one chicane obstacle. Windy on tarmac surface.

Min time 3mins 15 secs, max time 9mins 45secs. Denise did 5.02 mins.

So far a nice day out and the kms seem to just evaporate.

About halfway through the next 180kms to the Stendal Track while just moseying along a straight strip of tarmac road at 90kms and “BANG” shudder, noise and steering difficulty, keeping Denise on the road, in a straight line. Wow. What was it? That woke us from a mesmerised state. When we came to a stop we got out not knowing what to expect. It was the right rear wheel again. The outer ring on the rim that keeps the Tyre on had sheered around half of the rims circumference. See photo.

Our wheel problem. Went with a bang!!!!

We only had one spare left after the other experience with the metal fatigue on the centre rim. 

Easy to get up and go again though after a wheel change as it turned out, but Steve was thinking about the collateral damage to the other moving parts of the rear wheel running gear. Bearings, axels etc.

Then of course the track event on the Stendal airstrip. Yet to be done.

About a km before the track Steve noticed a contractor’s yard, with a nice Porsche parked outside, so he whipped in and asked a chap standing at the door if they had any welding gear. Thinking that if we got the first damaged rim welded it could be used as a spare in the event of another tyre mishap. These guys were only too keen to assist and welded the fatigued rim crack on both sides. Right away. Ok for an emergency. Well done!

It’s amazing what people will do to assist if you’re in strife and just ask nicely.

That done we headed down the road to the Stendal air strip track. We took it easy on the circuit not sluggishly, but, and completed this task to ensure that we complied to the rally rules and regs.

A jet plane at the airstrip track

A bridge en route

The last leg of the day was to end up at the VW Autostadt in Wolfsburg. The VW headquarters. What an outfit. Everything here was state of the art, enormous, clean and well presented. No doubt some of you will have seen pics of this place. It’s fantastic. We really only had time to see their museum, a collection of many makes of cars, and including many of their earlier car models.

A neat afternoon.

When we parked in the basement Steve checked the condition of the right rear wheel and sensed that it needed work. Off with the wheel and brake drum. I headed away to leave the surgeon to do the work. Not much use standing around watching an expert and pissing him off with comments and thoughts aye?

Our hotel for the night is the Innside Hotel.

A nice pub to put one’s head down for what hopefully is a good night’s rest.

It a 599km run tomorrow so being fresh is important.

Day 32 – Bydgoszcz to Szczecin, Poland

Stephen spent three hours under the car last night attending to a broken u boot as reported, but then found numerous other matters to attend to, like removing the entire rear left spring to get at the hangers and replace rubber grommets, replace the grommets in the shock absorber and put a new bearing in the axle. Plus some other bits and pieces.  He was truly buggered.

All this plays on the psyche and wears away the resistance. It wears one down. We’re both tired and sleep well but we can’t catch up on sleep.

The start time for the 382km voyage was again 9.25am. Becoming normal, so perhaps there’s a change coming? No time ever for complacency.

The first event only a couple of kms from the hotel was the same as that of last night, only the other way around the track.

Most participants didn’t much care about breaking yesterday’s time and meandered around. Denise didn’t get around faster, about 10 seconds slower. No sense in breaking things at this stage of the game.

So, onto the next event a hundred and fifty kms down the road where they had planned four Sporting Time Controls in a row. The entire time for this event should be about 12 minutes, but on the final part we got lost on a turn onto a landing strip. No directions other than written instructions in the route book.

That’s the way it is. If you don’t understand and click the distance accurately then things go awry.

So onward to the next trip to the hotel down any lane/road that looks as though it can do some further damage to the car. We often cabin talk as to why there is so much time left for a short distance travel. But it may be short though it’s slow and hard going. Roads are really bad and the wind plays havoc too. The trees grow at an angle in the direction of the predominant wind.

The MTC today is at the Szczecin Marina, some short distance from the hotel. A real welcome to all the contestants with the cars being driven up onto a Dias and announced as to who we are and where from. Gala like atmosphere and a great reception.

Then onto the hotel in the centre of the city’s traffic at rush hour. It’s a busy place and if you have no idea of where you are it can be frustrating getting to the destination.

Our hotel in Szczecin

To city award winning opera house

A local police house. Beautiful architecture

Day 31 – Milolajki to Bydgoszcz

It’s Tuesday 2nd of July 2019 already.

We’ve been completely out of touch with the day dates, working from rally day to rally day which doesn’t synchronise.

We are now counting down to Paris.

Are these people bored? No they are awaiting their riding instructions from the start Marshall’s.

The heat is still on for place positions as failures of the human elements, getting to all destinations and controls and finishing times, including driver error on the track, to the machines staying in good operational order to take the continuation of punishment still being meted out by the ERA.

The pressure remains on full bore.

Participants are becoming weary with the long days driving and concentration needed to just stay in.

Our day this morning was again 9.25 start. Leaving the hotel to travel through the public square of the little town down the road to let the local populace see the merchandise. And then off to the same racetrack as in the previous evening.

We were not going to try and beat the previous days’ time as the condition of the course surface was very bad and, why give it heaps now when there are more difficult courses yet to come in the next 4 days. We need to get to Paris under our own steam.

A satisfactory round of the track then off to cover the 374kms for the day. A not so long mileage day.

They chose country roads that were delightful in their spring/summer green foliage along the roadsides.

More beautiful wheat fields and country roads, tree lined with the canopy covering the passage.. What to say?

They always find the worst and toughest roads though and today they also had a secret Passage Control position, to catch out the cheats (if any) who bypass on good roads and get in to the next control earlier. I don’t know if there were any cars caught this way but????? It rained too to add to the ambience.

We got to all the controls on time and the last would be a track event at a Kartodrom.

A short winding tarmac track designed for go carts. Twice around was the requirement.

Denise squealed her little tires off as the rear wheel would lift off the road as the corners/bends were so tight. Hard work for the driver too ensuring that we got in fast and safely.

All in all, a good day and not as difficult as we thought at days beginning.

At the hotel, Steve surveyed under the car as usual and checking the areas that need checking.

The rubbers in the suspension had deteriorated to the replacement stage and one of the rear spring u bolts had sheared again. He’s on his back right now making good. Good practise to ensure not just the general maintenance but the safety of the car. All needs to be up to standard. With the continuing battering on the car from these horrible roads, vigilance to possible breakages and excessive wear and tear need constant attention.

The castle at Kwydzyn. Spectacular, built by the Germans in Poland

Housing styles have changed dramatically and are more upper class

Day 30 – Riga Latvia through two borders, Lithuania and Mikolajki in Poland

A late start time of 9.25 for a 532kms rally today including two track events.
The usual drudge drives through country roads mainly,  gave a fantastic insight to the real summer features and aspects of these countries. 

Thousands of hectares of wheat
A Dutch infleluence?
A wheat storage facility

Seaside forested holiday areas and inland farming country tree lined lanes. Beautiful farms. 
We don’t know what it’s like in winter but the houses being built with walls two feet thick says it all. 
A couple of PC’s to ensure adherance to following the formal tracks, located as far as possible off the beaten track. 
A nice day but very windy. Makes driving really difficult being thrust across the road lanes at times. 
At one PC we fuelled up and got on our way forgetting to “check in”. “Sacre bleu”! 
Steve asked if I had done the deed some 23kms down the track! No!! No!! 
We returned to the station well in time but the loss of time adds up for the down line check ins. 
More dreary roads to the Nemunas Ring Track. A neat little dirt track which Denise really liked. Sliding around the corners and fishtailing out. Thrilling. 
Then more driving to the last event of the day, 3kms from the hotel. Crossing borders is now a non event. It just happens.

A small daisy that looks like gypsophilla
This is the golden colour of the wheat when it’s ready to harvest. It’s how you imagine it looks like when it’s described in stories or novels but it’s how it looks

During the last 50odd kms Steve had picked up a noise coming from the rear wheel as we were travelling. A small sound at first clicking away then silent but returning later, louder then again not able to be heard at all. 
Then a rumble which he thought was a a wheel bearing. 
We considered that a look at it at the track a few kms to go and determine what to do. 

At one glance it was easy to see that the entire wheel was about to seperate from where it was fastened to the hub. Outside the wheel nuts, the crack had almost come full circle, with about 10cm of metal fatigue and it would have come away. 
Some following rally car observers told us at the track that they had seen the wheel wobbling but none of them thought to let us know, either by pointing as the passed us or by a pulling us over to tell us what was wrong. 
It would surely have failed if we had not noticed it before the track event. Could have been disastrous.

The metal fatigue on the wheel. It was going to give soon

A quick wheel change and then the  track event so that we could get in on the required time at the MTC in the hotel lobby. 

This is one of the last long days of travel before we get to Paris. 
Only one more of 599kms. 

A tiring day. We get more and more fatigued as this rally progresses. Part of the exercise. Wear you down. It’s not over until it’s over and mistakes and car issues can and do still occur, upsetting the applecart around the placings.

Day 29 – Tallinn in Estonia to Bikernieki in Latvia

There was some anticipation that this was going to be tough day.

Only 353kms including two track events and two time controls. Plus, visits to three car collections. And three passage controls.

The time controls always put pressure on the crew because you just don’t know what to expect on the road upfront.

There were some advisories in the daily bulletin but nothing major.

There was also nothing eventful on the road to the track and once there we got in line to do the run. A dirt and seal rally track quite intricate with a bridge across the road at one point.

The two track events today

We completed this in 3minutes and 10 seconds.

A good run with a tactful quarter tank of gas.

And good fun, though the navigator didn’t see the track hardly at all. Just giving directions.

The first car collection, just steed into some garages at the first track

Three hundred clicks to the next track. Lots of road and the only real event was a car crash where a truck clipped a car and, have a look at the result. There was debris 100 meters in each direction. A cool reminder of what happens when an impact occurs.

The car crash enroute

The next track was at the Riga Motormuseum.

A tarmac surface and we completed this in 4mins 10 seconds. Again, good fun and a great experience.

A look through this museum. It was set up like the Fangio museum in South America. This had only two floors with some amazing equipment within.

The cars on the Riga museum. Couldn’t send all the photos. The second museum was filled with a collection of Russian cars and was a little disappointing

Denise at the race track today

Denise at the race track today

Then to our hotel only ten kms away. It’s 7.00 pm. A long hot day with lots of great fun doing it.

It was t so tough after all.

Day 28 – Hyvinkaa to Tallinn

Morning doesn’t break here. It’s morning from around 2am. It’s almost daylight. The sun’s out there somewhere!

At 4.30 it’s overcast and looks as if it’s going to stay that way.

Start archway and photos on the road

The course is 143kms for the day and it includes two track events, one that is a rally track, which means the surface is both gravel and seal surface, but we don’t know where one stops and the other starts. Interesting. The other is a gravel track.

We have to be shipped over to Estonia in the afternoon, a two hour crossing. 

All in all should be a relatively restful day. 

When we got to the first Rally track, which is the track with the two surfaces this experience was awesome. Denise just loved it. Swinging through the corners and spitting herself out with wheels spinning in the gravel and fishtailing out. Just like it was on the NZ roads way back when most of the roads in NZ were gravel. It was fun. Did a great time too, better than some of the better prepped up cars.

Then in quick succession another track , longer and more complex, had a stop midway, gravel, great stuff. Much more fun than the tracks we’ve been on over the past weeks.

It seems like there will be more of these henceforth, off-road race tracks. They are good and well controlled.

Then the crossing to Estonia. We were required to wait at the ferry terminal for two hours prior to sailing. I suppose it was to ensure that all the cars were set to sail and those that were behind could catch up. 
Boring. Waiting.

Waiting at the ferry terminal parked next to a La France unit

The ferry was a very large ship, roll on roll off unit. 
It had everything on board, including a Burger King and a supermarket, clothes and cosmetics, spirits and wines.

Restaurants. Just like a cruise ship I suppose.

A very smooth ride of over two hours over the gulf of Finland.

And off at the Estonia end to our hotel. It was after 7pm by then.  Eat and sleep.

An interesting building in Estonia from the hotel building

Nothing else exciting to report.

An extract from the ERA official site here

Day 27 – St Petersburg to Hyvinkaa Finland

The day off was good for rest. The accomodation was mostly fair but Steve had a room that was less than ordinary with a small room and a hard bed with a topper mattress.

The car was left alone. Nothing needs doing. She’s running so well.

Our start procedure today was different in that the fastest and best placed left last rather than the first placed leaving first.

Makes no real difference to us as we are fair to middling.

It was a bit cold but the weather was set to change to sunny. And it did.

The road out of St Petersburg was lined with beautiful buildings and bridges. Special. Very grand.

We then basically headed to the two borders that we had to cross today. A couple of amendments in the bulletin which meant a change to the Master Time Control position giving more time to get from the Finnish border to the hotel. The test start and finish was cancelled, so no points to be gained.(or lost) The drive was good and arriving at the border on the Russian side we waited quite a while as there were many rally cars ahead of us and the process, well, it was really slow. Customs for the cars and a seperate passport control. Then a repeat at the Finnish border, but faster and a little more friendly.

Heading into Finland the roadside scenery changed quite markedly. The greenery at road edge was now mostly deciduous, beeches, birches and the like. There were pines but to a lesser volume and regime like. The land is flatter and, a lot more formal in settings with lovely cottages and farm houses, steep roof pitches and just nice.picturesque.

The rally though continued, with Passage controls still to be passed through to ensure that you’re not cheating. They always find the most out of the way roads to just keep you guessing with so many turns and gravel roads through the back blocks. Interesting though and it certainly keeps us busy and on our toes.

The hotel this evening is in Hybinkaa, named hotel Sveitsi. Quite nice too considering it is, it seems in the middle of nowhere.

The meal was good, fresh food and nice!

Then as usual bed.