As hoped and prayed for, the Paris Amsterdam Rally started from the Chateau de Chantilly in bright morning sunshine, although the last few cars were less fortunate as a light drizzle began to fall. No matter – everyone was in high spirits as Chateau Curator Christophe Fernandez flagged the cars away at one-minute intervals.They made an impressive sight!
Just 10km down the road, the less experienced and novice crews faced their first challenge on a short practice regularity section, designed by Clerk of the Course Fred Bent as a relatively easy introduction to the principles of competitive rally timing with no fear that a less than confident performance would affect the actual rally results. The first proper regularity section followed 50km later, after which crews could catch their breath and a welcome cup of coffee at the tiny Café de la Gare in Montgru Saint Hilaire, which had very kindly opened its doors especially for the rally.
There was great fun to be had and big grins all round on the picturesque private Circuit des Ecuyers, where drivers could leave a nervous passenger in the pits at the cost ofa small time penalty; having thus released his wife, Kim, 1973 Chevy Corvette pilot Stephen Lloyd put his foot down sufficiently to beat the minimum ‘bogey’ lap time. Who says American cars can’t handle corners?
No less happy as they tucked into a tasty lunch at the charming Ferme de Presles resturant – although smug might be a better word – were Kate Lawson and Teresa Mathers, as in their 1964 Jaguar XK140 they were already edging ahead of their husbands, Dougie and Bill, who are in a 1959 XK150. Sensibly, they decided to forgo a Champagne celebration for the time being, tempting though it was.
Competitors facing minor difficulties included John and Moira Hilbery, whose 1950 Bentley Special was baulked by a local towing a job lot of canoes, Mark Seymour and Michael Chilman, whose 1934 Lagonda was running rich and required an impromptu carburettor rebuild, 1970 Mercedes-Benz crew Hans-Juregen Benze and Reto Mebes, who somehow broke their stopwatch on a regularity, Martin and Alexandra Tacon, who suffered an electrical fault in their 1933 Aston Martin and Ronan and Frank Hussey, whose 1966 MGB suffered a variety of problems, rattling in first gear and overheating, possibly due to a dicky fan; our excellent rally mechanics set about mending it this evening, even going without dinner at our magnificent night halt in the great medieval fortress (actually Europe’s largest) in Sedan.
Also having problems are Peter Trotter and Celia Djivanovic, whose 1963 Jaguar E-Type is proving so troublesome that they might have to continue in a hire car if it cannot be fixed. The oldest machine on the rally, the big 1917 American LaFrance of redoubtable rallyists John and Catherine Harrison has a leaky core plug and is using almost as much water as it does petrol, but we have no doubt they will press onto the finish somehow, as they always do. Speaking of fuel, the 1935 Alvis Speed 20 of Norwegians Jan Woien and Jan Hansen ran out of the stuff today, a mistake we wouldn’t normally expect of such an experienced crew, but it turned out that the petrol tank they replaced on our first Samurai Challenge in Japan last year had been fitted the wrong way round, so they may be forgiven.
It’s invariably the case that the first day of a rally throws up niggling reliability issues that never manifest themselves in the garage beforehand, but we’re happy to report that as of this evening all the cars are still in the running, and good humour prevails. 1941 Chevrolet crew Andrew Barnes and Charlotte Lockhart declared it a fantastic day, as did our old friends Jan and Marion van Gemert in their 1929 Buick. American novices Chris and Kathleen Grace said they’d had a ball intheir 1938 Chevrolet Fangio Coupe, while fellow beginners William Thomas-Davies and Christine Tacon were delighted to report that they’d enjoyed a brilliant day with no rows at all in their 1967 MGB GT. The same can’t quite be said of Tim Wilkinson and Chris Evans, respectively navigating and driving the other 1959 Jaguar XK150, as it seems Tim is having trouble with his hands – Chris has vowed to have them tattooed with ‘LEFT’and ‘RIGHT’ at the earliest opportunity.
Driving a lovely if somewhat oil-thirsty 1934 Lagonda M45 (now happily fixed), Charles Miles and Carole Bodell have established a commanding lead in the style stakes, having made an enormous effort with their very elegant period dress; indeed the whole rally makes a spectacular sight and has attracted a great many enthusiastic spectators.
The driver of a Porsche 911 who just happened to be passing the passage control in front of the pit buildings on the old Reims-Gueux road circuit (and was flagged down by Heidi, who mistook his car for the No2 Porsche of David and Natasha Royds) was so impressed by the quality of the field that he vowed to enternext year’s Paris-Biarritz event, as did an Audi TT RS driver returning from a fifth-place finish at Le Mans at the weekend, who screeched to a halt and stayed to watch, handing out snacks and drinks to the marshalling team. We were even joined by a French TV crew, and will bring you their footage if we can.
In the meantime we must congratulate 1965 Triumph TR3 crew Steve and Julia Robertson and the aforementioned Stephen and Kim Lloyd in the (red) 1973 Corvette, who jointly hold first place overall at the end of Day 1. How long it will remain that way is anybody’s guess, as the hotly tipped pairing of Barry and Roma Weir are only one second behind in their 1966 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint. The Vintage category is currently headed by Richard Dresner and Colin Mackenzie in their 1934 Talbot AV 105, seven seconds ahead of the 1934 Lagonda M45 of Mark Seymour and Mike Chilman, but these are literally early days – the competition is sure to intensify tomorrow as crews face five more regularities and a track test at Hockenheim. Watch this space!