Day 25 Wednesday 6 July Minsk to Brest

Someone asked what music we had been listening to. Stand out tunes that I know the names of (we brought loads of stuff I don’t know well enough to report on here, will try to remember to post the them later as there are some great ones: thanks Justin, Xanthe and Bill):
Velvet Underground Down by the Sea
Simple Minds New Gold Dream
Credence Clearwater Heard it through the Grapevine

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I may have overdone the cake theme for breakfast…

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Sergey from hotel security, next to the Navigator sign I tried to steal for Jonathan. Knew I should have done it last night. Don’t know where he pounced from, but he is clearly a pro. Subsequently had a long interview with the head of hotel security, glad to finally leave as it was just starting to get nasty.

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Four trials today, the last two full of event. A very rough stage and by the time we got to the second our alternator had pretty much stopped working. Poor old Geen finally crapped out 400m from the hotel.
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These are the sweep mechanics at the end of the day. They work miracles keeping the rally vehicles running. Owen on the left has just swapped batteries with us. His truck usefully has exactly the same battery as Geen. With 40km to the border and 200km to Rzeszow hopefully we’ll catch up with our despatched alternator and this one will last longer. Phew.

Day 24 Tuesday 5th July 2016 Smolensk to Minsk

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These are probably nice interior fittings if you are Russian. Had an amusing time in the shower: first curse the tap/shower switch, damn those Russkis nothing works, oh yes, it does when you do it right; no hot water, bloody Soviet style Hotel, oh no it does work, yeeeow that’s hot; tussle over with hot/cold mix start drying myself with tea towel size towel, bloody hotels, take second towel off rack – it is a bath towel, I’ve been drying myself with the bath mat. Twat. Twat. Twat.

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Hero prepares for departure.

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Parking guardians with Soviet era checkpoint and searchlight. Didn’t see them do anything at all all the time we were here.

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Mike and Georgia claim they don’t do photos, I beg to differ, clearly enjoying themselves on arrival in Belarus
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Andrew looking avuncular.

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A poor photo of Richard and Graham. Not seen Richard without that smile. We shared a fun time in a campsite in Russia trying to jump the food queue.

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Geen flying the Belarus flag, we’ve left Russia!

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Doug enjoys the sun in the beautiful tree
lined avenues.

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Cars and crowds in the centre of Polotsk, lunch laid on for the crews: rissoles and boiled cabbage soup. Yum.

We had four stages this afternoon. Which all went well apart from me being able to stop on any stop line. I think we did ok for times, the results will tell in due course.

More concerning, the suspension is bending again. This time to the point where Jonathan is reluctant to unbend it.

As worryingly the spare alternator has started playing up. We blitzed through dinner and made it to the local Ford main dealers in Minsk and hopefully they will find a solution by servicing the dead ones.

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Another day another workshop…

While Jonathan played at master technician I attended to the important work and removed a kilo of stones from the exhaust shield:
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Just back from the Ford Garage (who refused payment for their services) at 12.45. Knackered but glad we made the effort. It will be good to get to Rzeszow where a spare alternator is hopefully waiting for us.

News from the comp department, although we are still nursing the cars suspension we set solid times on the four stages, mostly top tens and third on one. While we are still in 16th position, we have closed right up on the Alfa in 15th and are four minutes behind them. The better news is that all the cars up to 12th are within 14 minutes of us. We’ll have to keep looking after the car, hope it doesn’t snap and keep it sensible on the stages…

Day 23 Monday 4th July 3016 Zavidovo to Smolensk

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Cool garage photos from last night

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Alexey with his handiwork.

As suspected our rather indifferent stage times yesterday have moved us slightly closer to the cars in front. There’s been a slight change in that the car in front in 16th is changed after they dropped from seventh after a test mistake. I would think that between here and Paris we could move up at best four places plus more for any cars ahead that have major issues. Attrition plays a major role and three cars lost wheels yesterday that we know of. Although that could easily be us having the problem. Inevitably our patched up suspension continues to be a concern with the tireless Jonathan working on it every night.

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Today was many miles and kilometres with two circuit tests, one at the Moscow Ring and this one at the Smolensk Ring. Not much to report, I think we kept our noses clean, but doubt if we’ve closed the gap on our target cars. Unless they’ve slipped up…
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Hotel car park views tonight in Smolensk.

Bruce Washington’s son Harry insisted on playing bagpipes so I got one of the locals to help with taking a suitable photo.
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Funny night with Tony and Jill, their car was from Bill Cosby’s collection. I asked Jill how she felt being in the rape seat. She blanched.

We went to the local bar to swerve another indifferent buffet dinner. We found around 70 other competitors in the bar with the same idea. Loads of staff, but beer being served by draft taps being bypassed into half litre squeeze bottles, before madam would ring it up and it could be poured into a glass. Loads of staff milling about, orders placed and very little food or drink forthcoming. Finally ambushed some beers, probably meant for a future five year plan.

However, after forty minutes one of the waiters came over and apologised that there was no more food. As they had only served three pizzas that I saw (each greeted to mass ironic cheering from the crews) this was pretty lame. I got the impression that they had probably had the busiest night, and certainly the most affluent crowd, ever and had probably turned a profit of three pound fifty. We gave up and ate in the hotel buffet. Luckily they had soup and boiled vegetables to have with chicken rissoles. Yum.

Competition News, we’re up one place to sixteenth. There are four probably slower cars in front of us we might catch if time allows. We closed another minute on the Alfa in front and one of the Volvo’s ahead dropped right back. The cars further up the field are probably unreachable for us, so we can only get ahead of them if they have problems. This also relies on us not cocking up or breaking the car…

Day 22 3rd July 2016 Nizhny Novgorod to Zavidovo

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Chris Bury who makes space rockets as his day job took this stunner in Mongolia of his Datsun 240Z.

We’ve just arrived in Radisson Resort, Zavidovo, which appears to cater extensively for rich (mafia?) Muscovites and their families or model girlfriends from first impressions.
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It’s been a big graft day covering 594 kms and three tests. The first was on a circuit and we should have picked up a little time on the cars we’re hoping to catch.
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Finally stopped to get a province and car photo. And it seemed a better option than falling asleep at the wheel again. Fatigue is certainly playing a role for all the crews.

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Geen looking shiny at a passage control.

The second test was in a gravel pit type circuit, we got round in an uncontroversial manner. Felt I could have been a lot quicker if I had thought a bit harder about it.

Next test was a tarmac, well concrete slab, test. Not long but very wiggly. Sadly the heavens opened and made the twisty route slippery. Geen was very heavy in the sharp corners and I spun really poorly on the exit of one. As I stalled and made a worse recovery turn I couldn’t help noticing the event video team filming away. Just typical you drive for thousands of miles, occasionally looking very butch and you just know which clip of the car they’ll use.

We probably lost fifteen seconds on what would have been an ok time. Irritating as we need to make up all the time we can. Be interesting to see how the results pan out.

Oh yes I forgot to mention that we got stopped by plodski for a third time. After we left the last test we got stuck behind one of the Chevy’s. These have very extreme exhaust set ups:
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Must be noisy enough for the inhabitants, but following behind with our air scoop on the roof we basically get their exhaust in our cabin. After twenty patient kilometres an overtake presented itself. Just short of completing the overtake the road lines went to solid for one of the many village crossings. Plod was well hidden and chased me down on red and blue lights with matching siren. Shaming as the Rally has had several stiff warnings from the Traffic Police. I have actually been pretty good about not overtaking on solid white lines, so it seemed a little harsh to get given a hard time.

Policeman couldn’t have been nicer and we were sent on our way with a severe, if unintelligible, warning.

James Alexandroff, who entered the event in one of the more expensive base cars (an Aston Martin DB6 Superleggera no less) was passing and snapped this photo:
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His other claim to notoriety was packing 12 cashmere sweaters for the event which came to light when he suggested he “might have packed too much kit”.

Day 21 2nd July 2016 Kazan to Nizhny Novgorod

Ok, I will share the story as it was part of this journey. I hope readers, particularly my wife, will respect that nothing untoward happened and I remain morally unblemished. Really.

The Korston Tower Hotel is what Kafka had in mind when he wrote about an enormous hotel as a self contained universe. A sort of cross between Westfield, a conference centre and hell, with a Russian twist. As a result there are women of dubious morals and age floating around the malls and walkways.The management’s own advertising includes a strip bar and is keen on libido enhancing massages in its Casanova suite.

Muggins is in some pain in the back and very tight calves from three weeks of event. Jackie, the physio said if it happened get a massage. You can already see where this is going…

I went to reception to book a massage for my back, but the Spa was booked out. The lady said she could see if there was another possibility, made a call, jabbered in Russian and passed me a note for a seven pm appointment on the 13th floor.

Like a lamb to the slaughter I arrived on the 13th floor which it turns out is the Casanova suite, about which there has been some tittering among the rallyists. I met in quick succession the very big security guy, Madam and was offered the services of a choice of three prostitutes (I think) confusingly dressed as a cross between dental assistants and those girls who work in beauty on the ground floor of less good department stores. It became apparent that we were at cross purposes as to the type of back relief I was expecting.

A lot of flustered poor language exchanges, prostitutes dismissed and I am shown to a knocking room and introduced to Lydia, a charming Ukranian who locks the door behind me. Safe to report she was a good masseuse and finished off by walking on my back. I’ve never had a massage at such speed, she must be worn out by the end of the day.

Firsts falling left right and centre.

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Complaint from Jonathan’s mum that there are no views of the car from the side with the numbers on. So this shot is for you, Dot.

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Another transit day with little to report. Here we crossed another pontoon bridge. Note the holidaying Russians swimming off to the sides. Pretty hot today.

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Ford Escort clears the bridge. This car competed in the London to Sydney Rally as far as Yugoslavia where it crashed and was stripped for parts for the continuing cars. Counts as heritage these days.

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Unofficial hat war has broken out with participants seeking out wilder and wilder Russian headgear.
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Austen Richie stretches out on his wing seat.

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Lenin provides leadership for us all, or directions to the Park Hotel.

Nearly forgot this morning’s omelette Chef:
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She did tell me her name, but very rudely I’ve lost it.

Day 20 Friday 1st July 2016 Rest Day Kazan

Obviously not a rest day, but a chance to service and clean.

Yesterday’s competition results are out, we made the bogey time on every test, so we got the minimum time for each. Which is good. Shame but nearly all the cars we’re tilting at did the same. So we really are stuck on waiting for other cars to drop out or make timing errors. I think we gained four minutes in the day…

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Rita has done an amazing job of cleaning Geen

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Impressive jet. Terrible parking
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At the welders again to try and get some more strength in the mark nine suspension. They really like their American cars at Kazan Garage.
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Sergei did a great job of the machining
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Sasha Alexander, the boss, has the same Rock Auto fridge magnets as Autosportif.

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The Silver Ghost had a serious engine bay fire several days ago. They trucked back 1000km, made repairs and then drove 800km to catch up. True grit indeed.
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The journey noted on the bumper.

Day 19 Thursday 30th June 2016 Perm to Kazan

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Daniel and John, they look so hardcore because they are. John navigated through Mongolia with a bad dose of the squits. Must have been horrendous.

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Geen super dirty after three tidy stages in the forests.  Couldn’t see out of the side windows when we pulled up.

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Boss Mustang looks, well, boss

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More firsts, crossing a pontoon bridge

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Andy’s birthday, organisers laid on cake. Decorations included blueberries, which I haven’t seen since we left. Twang of home.

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Photo just in:
This is the gearbox the Jaguar boys ripped out on the suspension bridge the other day.

Competition department: were up to 17th as of yesterday. I think today’s tests went ok so hopefully we’ve made up a little time on the cars in front…
We’ll know better when results are published from today.

Day 18 Wednesday 29 June 2016 Yekaterinburg to Perm

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Last night medic Andy Kermode carried out an emergency beardectomy. Sadly the patient could only ever partially recover.

Competition update, after yesterday we have gone up two places to 18th. I think only 22 classics are still on for a gold medal. We’re one of them.

Everyone on the rally here has been shocked by the Brexit vote. I am as concerned by the seeming collapse of both political parties at a time when we could use proper leadership. That Brexit campaigners can win the vote but seem totally bereft of ideas of what to do next is extraordinary. The UK seems so broken, with differences between age groups, regions and nationalities, attitudes to immigration, work, savings and pensions. Obviously the country is waiting on my manifesto.

A quiet run across country. We visited the sports stadium in Chusovoy. Seemed like the entire town had turned out:
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They had a huge podium we had to drive over clutching presents from the Civil authorities.

On arrival in Perm we were the main event again:

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Weird

The other big news from today is I managed to bust the front suspension again. Two massive potholes in the road and I didn’t see them. I woke up to the danger at the last moment, braked hard, and tried to steer a safe path through them. Too late, we took the wrong route and too fast. A big hit and the steering geometry changed. Jonathan has every right to be furious but restricted himself to a few sharp thoughts on my driving, our growing reputation in the event as the fastest idiots and concern that we aren’t going to finish…

Feels bad.

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Car 38 joined the High Rollers Club

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Jill Kilpatrick seems to have mastered the art of motor servicing.

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Welding today’s cracked compression strut

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Hard work getting the crowds out of the way so we (Jonathan) could work on the car.

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Medic v robot. Had to leave off giggling about it when it turned and showed off its target acquisition radar and face recognition. Scary.

Day 17 Tuesday Tyumen to Yekaterinburg

Just woken up at half one in the morning to watch England outplayed by Iceland. Shocking result. Wonder how Iceland will get on against France

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A Volvo hit one of the event trucks at the end of the stage two days ago, just got a photo.

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Another rather dull day, a couple of laps of a rallycross circuit broke the tedium slightly.

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Passage Control
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And again

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Met this lovely couple who were on their honeymoon. Ivan and Tanya were forcing local vodka and a large jar of mum’s compote on us. We took the vodka…
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Aftermath of a nasty accident on the highway. Another car was in a bad way in the weeds on the other side of the road. The locals don’t mess about when they’re crashing.

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Cars servicing under cover
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Roughing it again
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Indifferent view

Day 16 Monday 27 June 2016 Omsk to Tyumen

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This was the nicest photo of Omsk I could take.

A dull day with cancelled stages

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Hundreds of kilometres like this, but mostly far busier. You have to have your wits about you dodging in and out of the trucks and oncoming traffic. I took this during a quieter moment and nearly went to sleep at the wheel an hour later.

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One of the crews made friends with this guy on a Cossack outfit, that’s one of them having a go

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Waved down by Plodski, the Traffic Policeman, he just wanted a photo. Phew
Note how they use the AMC logo on their cars

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This bad boy head butted the car. I think I felt the bump. Either that or it’s just dormant and hitch hiking.

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Very convivial evening in the roof top bar. Nice to have a drink again.

Euro 2016 update England play Iceland at Midnight. Planning to get up to watch it. Well see how that goes…come on England.

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