Day 36 17th July 2016 Paris Finish

Took the Eurostar to Paris first thing and met the car on the outskirts, so nice to meet family and friends in Place Vendome for the finish.


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So many people had turned out to see us, Dot certainly won the banner competition.  Those door plate signs were lifted off our website after she asked for a photo showing the competition numbers, crafty and clever Dot.  Nicole’s tinsel lined pillow case flag was a winner too.  Three generations of Sparks came along, youngest William superbly behaved.  Both my sisters and their husbands came along and brought great cheer.

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Nicole and Alex were the first friends we saw after such a long journey, Nicole looks the part in the car and seems to have dealt with the first challenge of drink driving: gradual acceleration so you don’t spill your drink.

Chaotic scenes on the finish line, couldn’t have asked for a better partner. We made it in some style.

Day 35 16th July 2016 London??

Slightly surreal experience dropping out of the rally for 48 hours.  Jonathan is now driving from Lausanne to the Rally party in Rheims with his wife Caroline navigating. Should be a great shindig, it is the last time the whole rally family meets alone.  Tomorrow’s finish and grand dinner will be nice, but diluted with friends and families of the competitors. I am looking forward to seeing the rough edit of the event film, bound to be embarrassing as I know they have working on the car tomfoolery and a monumentally bad spin in the can already.

Had a chance to cure my phone and can now receive email again, phew. As a result took delivery of some great email.

Rita and Roberto Chiodi in one of the Alfas sent this photo of how to marshal a control:

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Arrival board, check

Control board, check

Arrow for direction of travel, check

Marshall’s instruction? Fail?

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Oh no, check.

Guys you need to put an “l” in your stopcock

Also got mucho macho photos from of Geen on the Hungarian stages.

Duen I hope you don’t mind me publishing your low res copies?  When I can understand your website I’ll be buying some, email me if you read this. Readers please respect their copyright.

AMX Duen

amx 2

amx 4

amx 7


Day 34 15th July 2016 Saint Moritz to London??

Had to cut out of the rally to attend to business in London.  Really hard leaving the circus behind. Jonathan ran me up to Zurich, this is the last car I saw in the event:


And this was the last time I saw Geen:



Jonathan is accelerating hard to avoid incurring any more of the £1.00 a minute drop off charge. I hope to catch up before the finish in Paris.

Day 33 14th July San Martino Di Castrozza

Wish I could sleep properly. If I get a room to myself I get up at five puddle around for a bit (write up the blog or check results) and then go back to bed. The hour I then sleep is the heaviest and the one I wanted in the first place. During the day I can sometimes get my head down at controls. Yesterday for seven minutes, and those really help with the fatigue.

Shocking news this morning. I saw Paul from the Mercedes looking wrong at breakfast. Turns out his co driver walked out at 1.30 this morning. So near the end, what a shame, I suspect he’s here somewhere in another hotel watching the rally circus leave town. Terrible to leave the rally in any circumstances. I hope they both patch up their relationship as I believe they share both a town and families…


This is my little pit, where I have pretty much lived for 33 days.


Oh dear, the ride of shame. Set off on stage one, a big bang and no drive. Can’t fix it roadside so currently in the car on the back of a tow truck. I thought the vertigo in the car was bad on the passes…



Federica and Enrico from the local motor club gave up the whole of their day to help us get fixed. Really kind and the guys at Scalat Auto couldn’t have been more helpful and generous with their time and facilities. Guys I hope you are all reading this. Thank you so much.


Diagnosis was hard we thought at first it was clutch or gearbox:

Clutch looked fine. Gearbox on the bench looked fine too. Changed the clutch and put it all back together, still no drive. It had to be the differential or drive shafts.

Turns out the thrust washers had been spat out one side and the whole diff had moved over. In doing so it wore off the splines for three milometres on the end of the drive shaft.

This is what the differential housing looks like.

So one of the cheapest components in the car has brought our competition to an end. We’ll now limp the car to Paris. Repairs took all day and then we had a long drive to catch up with the rally in St Moritz.

In truth having been second, then twenty second, then ninth, to now be nowhere in the event isn’t as crushing as it might be. The drive tonight without the worry of competing took in some stunning scenery.

Day 32 13th July 2016 Llubljana to San Martino Di Castrozza

Thought you might like some thoughts on driving Geen on a Rally.

Rauno Aaltonen, known as the professor was a very successful development engineer and rally driver (it’s unusual to find the two together). As he says “driving a rally car is a busy job”.

On arrival at a stage start we join a queue of cars waiting to go. My job at this point is to get focussed.  Mostly I will be trying to manage the build up of heat in the engine: hanging back in shade for example.  I will be looking at who is in front and behind: will they be easy to pass? How much quicker are we so where in the stage are we likely to catch them.

Jonathan will tell me what information he can glean: length of the stage, bad junction at 2.3km and so on. I will be listening to the cars in front setting off, assessing how much traction they have off the line and then the noise of their engine: big lift after three seconds? Ah ha, big corner just after the start.

Once we’re near the front of the queue I will be assessing the start line: which side do I want to position the car on? They are seldom in a straight line so getting the whole car pointing in the direction we want to travel in with the steering in a straight line is critical. Sometimes I will put the car off line because the earlier cars have cut up the start line and we’ll get better traction on another part.

Once on the line I will block out the marshalls and spectators as best I can: it’s too easy to get distracted.  At ten seconds to go I lift the revs from tickover. At five seconds I take the engine to launch revs, in Geen about 2100. At three seconds I engage the clutch until I can feel it bite and strain against the handbrake. At one second I go, bring the clutch up and let the handbrake off so as the Marshall says go the car is moving.

The first fifteen feet are about managing clutch slip with the revs low.  In a day event,  or one with a lot of service support, or where you were looking for every second of performance you might dump a load of revs through the clutch and absorb the clutch slip, heat and damage. But this is an endurance event, so I keep the revs low until the clutch is completely out and the gear completely in.

Then the fun part, massive acceleration in a relatively low risk phase of the stage.  Geen has great gobs of torque in any gear.  Once first is fully engaged, one and a half seconds after departure I get on the throttle and take the revs to peak power at about 5000revs.  Glorious noise from the V8. You have to manage the power as you don’t want the car squirreling about or fishtailing. Fastest possible change into second and maximum throttle, we’ll be doing 60mph in about five seconds on the rough.

By the time were up in to second the focus is on where the corners are going. Anywhere we can use our third gear, fast corners and what straights you get on a stage, Geen is in her element.  She gains speed as fast as many sports cars, and that’s on loose or tarmac surfaces.

Approaching corners is all about managing our exit speed, oh yes, and not leaving the stage. It’s very demanding on crew and car. We did a very fast tarmac stage in the hills yesterday and arrived at the finish with our brakes, front and back, just this side of on fire.  Brake temperatures at this point could be as high as 700 degrees centigrade.

A last look at Slovenia, one of the nicest and most beautiful countries we have passed through.

Just down the valley from here we passed a monument. Dated 20 September 1944, it was in front of a burnt out farmhouse. I would guess it marked the scene of another ghastly atrocity. So much of the lands we have travelled through in Eastern Europe are steeped in so much blood and tragedy.


We’re right up in the clouds in the Italian Alps staying at a ski resort.

Just got two days results in one go. We are currently ninth, the two cars in front when we were eleventh we have passed. The Volvo catching us from behind is closing fast and is now less than two minutes behind. The pressure is on him as there may only be two days of competing left and he is not closing the gap quite fast enough, making a minute a day. We may yet keep him behind us as we really are taking it very easy to get to Paris.

The Bristol we overtook is making some impressive times, but I think we have passed him. Still plenty of scope to cock things up…

It was a long hard day. It rained for a good chunk of the day once we passed into Italy. At one point we were driving in a monsoon and there was such a volume of water on the road it was lifting the car. The tests were all tarmac hillclimbs up the steepest switchbacks. Geen’s power, short length and cute steering make it easier, but the sheer physics of getting up gradients and round endless hairpins are tough. The poor tyres are taking a hammering but are still giving good service, they appear to have been a good choice for the event. The spectators, and my god there have been a lot of them, certainly enjoy all the squealing.

We cut dinner with the rally and ate in our hotel, a cracking meal and surprisingly enjoyable having food hot and brought to the table. I am very much looking forward to not eating ham and cheese sandwiches or selecting food from buffets.

Day 31 Tuesday 12th July Maribor to Ljubljana

I forgot to report that while we were in Budapest one of the things we wanted to find was a rattle from the rear end (just one of many) that had been worrying us for several days. Jonathan went all round the back end but everything seemed tight and suitably lubricated. We left the workshops with that item still unresolved.

First call after a hot sweaty morning working on the car (Jonathan) and foraging for parts (me) was an ice cream. As Jonathan brushed past the back of the car, there was the clunk. It was only one of the towing shackles mounted on the rear brackets that had got loose. It reminded me of the time I lost my treasured penknife on a Rally, we chased a rattle all round the back of the car and couldn’t resolve that either. Of course the missing penknife was loose under my seat.

I got a report from Xanthe after the Euro 16 final saying Stockwell, where we live in little Portugal, had officially been moved to Tooting. Celebrating cars, with many flags, much hooting, and people hanging out of the windows use our road as a return route to drive the restaurant strip again, and again, and again.

And again.


Big stomach meets Tito, young helper and green window in Velejne. The town is only fifty years old and was a showpiece of Tito’s socialism. Jonathan missed the point of framing Tito in the frame. But it was really hot and I was beyond explaining and busy at the time.

We did some tough stages today, sadly Daniel who has the coolest Bentley stuffed his into a tree.


Wee Huff smashed itself up chasing a better position. A proper treeing.

Day 30 Monday 11 July 2016 Budapest to Maribor


Two bottles of wine, a disappointing Euro 16 final, apart from the result (I live in little Portugal in London, you get to share their successes whether you want to or not) two beers, the rest of the whisky and a 3.30 or later finish. Not the optimum start to the day. Jonathan and I hugged in a moment of weakness. Usefully no witnesses or record – what goes on on tour stays on tour.



Still quite drunk

We did four stages today on quite rough surfaces. I think we probably did enough on the first two, but I made a mess of the next ones and I suspect we’ll have slow times. Performance a little dimmed by hangover and heat. Must do better tomorrow and hope the results are kind to us. I know the fast Volvo behind us took at least a minute of the four he needs to catch us on one stage alone, so he’ll push us back a place soon.


The heroic Manuel with his taxi, now with clutch.


Trip meter only goes to 9,999.99. So here on the bottom read out is Geen completing 12,000km today. The event mileage is nominally 13,685km, but of course we do more as we get lost or go to get fuel in the evenings.

Where’s David Roberts?

Competition update: times were kind despite the hungover drive. We are now one minute behind a Merc in 10th, two minutes behind the Bristol in 9th (they swapped places today). So far we are putting in better stage times than both on all stages. If we don’t do anything stupid we could get in front of them both, putting us to 9th.

Good news too on the Kerry Finn Volvo, Car 74. Although they are catching us (and I would expect them to finish ahead of us) they’re not doing it as quickly as I thought they would. They only took two minutes off us today, but they are still seven behind. There probably aren’t a lot of competitive sections left in the event so we may just be able to keep in front.

All this has to be tempered with the knowledge that a puncture on a stage can cost you four to five minutes whether you change it or drive out on it. Also we need to keep our nerve and keep saving the car on the stages…

Day 29 10th July 2016 Rest Day Budapest

Up early to get to the workshops ahead of the other crews. Banking on a quick run through. Got in just in the nick of time as the Australians pulled out, they have a Lada front axle and wheels on their 1930 Ford Model A



Laszlo, tired from his daughter’s party the day before took me shopping and we found all sorts of motor goodies.


Tomas couldn’t have been a better host and refused payment.

As we left David Roberts turned up. He has been working really hard on his car every day. His wife threw out his overalls, as they had got so rotten, but bought him a set of very Russian hunting coveralls in a camouflage pattern.  When I saw him standing next to a small bush I said I have to get your photo, it’ll be really funny. I couldn’t get the phone to work at first. When I looked up to take the photo a second later, he had vanished. In fact he had hidden behind the bush, boy did I chuckle.  Phone had lost charge so I didn’t get the picture, I will try and get a photo another time, but as you can see he is a master of camouflage.

Oh yes forgot to mention we are officially 11th with a quicker car eight minutes behind us, two cars four and five minutes ahead but always the possibility that we or others can make a mistake and drop right back.

Just got back from a massage, sauna and swim. Very blissed out.

Day 28 Saturday 9th July 2016 Kosice to Budapest

A moment of serendipity. Every now and then we get allocated a spare hotel room. Mine tonight (actually this morning as it’s 5.20 and I can’t sleep) should have been Mike Brewer’s from the TV show Wheeler Dealers. They were supposed to do the rally in a 1916 Cadillac but never made the start apparently due to insurance issues. Somebody suggested they would have been the least prepared crew for the event though. I was looking forward to discussing my Renault Alpine A310 with them as it was the subject of one of their shows.

Wish I could sleep when the opportunity is there. Both Jonathan and I are carrying some deep fatigue. We’ve been at it all day keeping pushing in the event, where we’ve been using all our abilities to keep the car safe yet push to make up time and places. Any down time is spent working on the car or repairing it. It seems particularly cruel not to be able to rest and recover when there is time.

Still we’ve made up a ton of time, moved up ten places (which is hard to do). Having finally overtaken the Alfa, there are two cars in front we might reasonably get past. There are a couple of cars which fell out of the top ten who will want to get past us now. So we can dream of the top ten place we aspired to when we left Heathrow. As I wrote that, the sun came out over the great view of the whole of Kosice I have from my hotel room.


Fingers crossed we don’t do anything stupid today and the car continues to hold up…

Yesterday we were on the stop line of a complicated big roundabout in the centre of Kosice. Manuel in the Volvo he refers to as the taxi, had been driving all day with no clutch. He came flying past us on the pavement, crossed two lanes of traffic leaving the roundabout, went up a kerb onto the central reservation, overtook two cars in the central reservation on the cycle path alongside, crossed two tram tracks in front of a tram, dropped on to the through lanes of traffic coming from the right and disappeared left across the roundabout with the tail of his car out. All done at some speed leaving around sixteen privileged spectators wondering if they had just seen what they had seen. When congratulated later he affirmed “I had no clutch I had to do it”. Truly altered realities on this event.

Jonathan just bumped into Andy Inskip, who stripped and cleaned our starter motor last night. Jonathan: “Thanks for last night Andy, it’s started on the button three times now.” Andy: “Don’t fucking wear it out” A line I suspect he’s used before but raised a chuckle.

A long hot sweaty day but we completed four rough tests in one piece and are now in Budapest. A big shout out to Howard at Autosportif and Justin Holdsworth who have been managing support logistics for our entry. We got tyres in Novosibirsk, an alternator and bushes in Rzeszow, and now taken delivery of bush sleeves and disc pads in Budapest. Another alternator should be waiting for us in Slovenia. Huzzah


This is Jan and his Holden Monaro. Jan and Anne, his wife are keen walkers and have been great to meet. Jan got hit by a local driver, it took four hours to sort out the accident with the local police.


Coolest wheels in the event


Signpost to Hell, just after we left the town of Mad. And this is what Hell looks like:


Big crowds again and all along the route the villages turn out to cheer and clap us through.


Nice walk around Buda or Pest tonight, not sure which side of the river we’re on at the Hotel Kempinski. Very pleasant hotel:

Modern enough interior, with an airborne cactus field.

Day 27 Friday 8 July 2016 Rzeszow to Kosice


This morning’s omelette chefs


Cars gather for a ceremonial start in Rzeszow town square


Geen on the podium bigwigs to the right, big crowd behind photographer.

Went out and did two very technical stages.  Car went well (ominously autocreate just changed that well to wrong).  And I think we probably made good times.  However car was stalling on the finish lines.  The tarmac was very narrow and there were many tricky corners.  I said to Jonathan that if I hadn’t gone into a hairpin left slower than normal, we would have been into the ditch on the outside.  Happy not to be trying hard as the front runners must be.  Rumour has it the Escort in third place has rolled there…

We decided we need a new battery and if we saw somewhere suitable we should stop and try for one.  I got a good feeling coming into a small town. It occurred to me that a Skoda dealer might well have something to fit and being a national car marque would probably have good technicians.  On the outskirts of town we found Skoda Autoservis Bardejov at the back of an industrial estate.

It felt good from the outset. We pulled up in front of the service bays.  All the mechanics came out to see the car.  One chap seemed switched on when I beckoned him over, ripped open the bonnet and showed him what we needed and mimed being in a race.  Not much language shared but once they’d seen Jonathan tear out the old battery they were right on it.  Charmingly there is an international language of engineering to communicate in. We had the whole deal wrapped up inside of ten minutes and left with a new battery and hardly lost any road time.  Starter system wants a coat of looking at tonight…


Boys I hope you got the website address, thanks for great service, it was like an F1 pitstop. Thank you.

Slovakia is very beautiful:


Here is Igor who stopped to look at the cars:


Comp update: carnage on the stages so our modest times have served us well. A number of cars had problems and we made up time on the cars in front of us.  I haven’t had a chance to digest the results but I think we have moved up to 11th.

This is the Escort that rolled out of third or fourth:



The local rally club were straight on to bending it back into shape. After they hit two trees and put it in a ditch, they tried to start it, which set it on fire. This burnt a good bit of the loom under the bonnet and it looked like it took all the master cylinders with it. Roadside repair to the wiring loom was made with flex from a 13amp plug. I imagine they will use a different method to empty the ashtray in future.


Roadside emergency beard assistance was carried out by the ever helpful Dr Kermode so that we could continue in the event.

Andy Inskip, the senior chase mechanic, and probably a wizard in this and several other lives, fixed our very ill starter motor while I fed him chips:




Amazing what can be done roadside in twenty minutes. You try and get one sorted in London in under a week.

More sombre and shocking news. Car 101, the Boss Mustang went over the edge on a stage and tumbled 25 metres down a ravine end over end. The crew were largely ok but the driver was taken to hospital as he had some pain in his shoulder. The car sounds in pretty bad shape. The officials that attended aren’t sure how it could be recovered as it has gone between trees.  Emergency response was impressive as the car was only missing for two minutes. A cautionary episode, They could easily have died.