The London to Lisbon Classic Rally 2017 was staged 22-30 April, starting in London and finishing in Lisbon. The seventh running of the London to Lisbon Classic Reliability Trial attracted nearly 80 entrants from all four corners of the globe.
In an action-packed and truly testing nine-day event, the 1970 Porsche 911 of Paul Crosby and Martyn Taylor won the event by a slender margin over the 1965 Porsche 911 of Daniel Gresly and Elise Whyte who in turn held the 1959 Jaguar XK150 of David and Joanna Roberts off on the final leg to take second overall.
Starting at Brooklands in Surrey, England, the historic race circuit provided a fitting backdrop for 78 starters to set off on an adventure that wound through four countries and spanned some 3,500 Kilometres over nine days. The atmosphere in Brooklands was electric as Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman left the line in their 1925 Bentley 3-4.5-Litre and went straight into the first test, the infamous Hill Test designed to test both engine and brakes on vehicles. It wasn’t an easy start for some crews. Gresly and Whyte overcooked the first corner and their Porsche 911 was on the verge of turning over as it rode the outside bank turning hairpin left.
Out on the road the action was relentless, with the top twenty crews all within a few seconds of each other on the regularities and pressing each other into mistakes. The MG SA of Tim and Anne Riley was going well after their spring had snapped when setting up their trip meter before the event. Crosby and Taylor had an early scare with their Porsche 911, the normally unflappable six-cylinder engine only able to run on five cylinders and causing early consternation for the pair. A test at Wilton Mill was enjoyed by all and newcomers James and John Gearing were pushing so hard their MG Midget went wide of a cone and into a tree. Thankfully, crew and car could continue albeit with bodywork and pride a little dented.
Day two dawned in France after a smooth crossing of the English Channel with the ship docking in the port of St. Malo, a concentration run to Dinan was delayed slightly by the ferry before the event took in two regularities in Brittany, skirting Rennes and Chateaubriant before the third reg of the day north-east of Nantes. Mike and Helen Tanswell were on the ball with a great performance here, as the easy to miss left that appeared to go into a farmyard couldn’t fool them. The TR3 of Nicholas Harries and Catherine Cullen however did fall into the trap costing them valuable seconds in penalties. Bron Burrell, Tina Kerridge and Seren Whyte were flying on the first day, a misplaced oil cap allowing fumes into the Maxi causing fumes to enter the car and giving the ‘Maxi Girls’ a headache with it. The first two days were incredibly long with an overnight stop in Poitiers before day three took us Montauban. The overnight wasn’t without incident as the E-Type Jaguar of Marcus Anderson and Matthew Lymn Rose slept in and lost 10 and a half minutes in penalties, relegating them from a solid third down the leader board. This really hit the ultra-competitive pair hard, despite this being only their third event they have the skill and talent to challenge the more experienced crews.
Despite the route taking in many mountain ranges and passes, the third leg into Spain would see the London to Lisbon Classic Rally 2017 at its highest point of 1349 metres above sea level on the Col de Peyresourde, which is legendary for its involvement in the Tour De France and the fantastic descent in a recent Tour by Chris Froome. Three Aston Martin mounted crews went back to their vehicles roots on this leg — by resembling the original tractors once produced by David Brown and falling into ditches. Happily, all three cars and crews escaped unhurt and with minor scrapes, but both the DB5 models of Mark Shipman / Mike Tarr and Alan Beardshaw / Tina Beardshaw overshot a slot and fell into the same ditch. The DB2 of Amanda Johnson and Karen Turner suffered a similar fate but at a different spot.
The big news of leg was the big change around at the top of the leader board. Stephen and Alexander Chick fell from grace spectacularly with a line fault and a scenic tour dropping them to 13th, unlucky for them. A stunning performance from Daniel Gresly and Elise Whyte saw them take the lead from Paul Crosby and Martyn Taylor after a line fault error at the final timing point on the first regularity of the day cost them 10 seconds. Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage lay in third with just seven seconds between the top three.
Spain was a real challenge for the crews, as the nature of the roads and topography of the country meant a ‘press-on’ style of driving was needed to keep in touch with other crews’ times. Leaving Boltaña behind and heading due west for a change instead of south, the first regularity took in the col of Puerto de Serrablo and ran parallel to the Rio Guara for 18 kilometres. This was where Crosby and Taylor made an error and handed the lead over, however, the error was soon forgotten with an excellent six consecutive zeros over the next section. The first retirement of the event came when John and Judith Rowe’s Mark II Jaguar’s clutch cried ‘no more’. The next regularity took the crews over Puerto de Santa Barbara and through the Sierra de la Penna which provided breathtaking views over the village of Bailo on the plain of Aragon. Richard Worts and Nichola Shackleton had a superb run to leapfrog Till Coester and Chris Moore. The event was still wide open with the top five within 22 seconds and the top ten by a minute, the top two were tied with a joker left to be played by three of the top five, the event was extremely tight.
Santa Domingo was very kind weather-wise as the London to Lisbon Classic Rally 2017 left Rioja and headed out for the day’s action via a short link section to Treviana where a 13.85Km regularity of the same name tested crews for the first time on leg six. Most of the action took place in or around the Ebro Gorge, the River Ebro is legendary amongst anglers for the huge Wels Catfish the river produces. All through the event, the lead was nip and tuck between the top five crews and this morning would not be any different.
The terrain in northern Spain was magnificent and the mountain ranges leaving Rioja heading towards Cantabria were reminiscent of a dragon’s tail — tall stacks of limestone in a row that burst from the green plains below. As the rally wound its way past Oña towards Villarcayo and Mas Que Karting for a test there, the skies started to turn dark and it was obvious that the weather was closing in rapidly. The Kart circuit had an air temperature of 4 degrees but the wind blowing from the north dropped it well below this with its chill factor — several competitors using the break at the control to walk the circuit and find there were icy and damp patches all around the circuit. First out on the track were Dan Gresly and Elise Whyte who were joint leaders at the time with Paul Crosby and Martyn Taylor. A very clean and steady run from Gresly and Whyte gave way to a far more aggressive stance from Crosby, his 911 hitting the limiter on several occasions and squirming hard under braking. Next out were Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage in the thundering Sunbeam Tiger. Jayne, an incredibly smooth driver was pushing a little too hard on one of the straights and locked the brakes up, sliding straight on at the hairpin right costing her dearly in time. Another crew that were pressing hard were Till Coester and Chris Moore in an Innocenti Cooper S. Till was having the drive of his life on the event and really getting into the swing of things. Powering the Mini on into a slippery right-hand hairpin, he pushed a little too hard and spun the car dropping time.
A regularity named Trifon Ebro followed the test and the snow started to fall heavily, the temperature dropped into negative figures and made the going difficult for those in open vehicles. Starting at Valdenoceda and heading north-west through Manzanedo, Hoz de Arreba and finishing at Sonicillo. This regularity had a sting in the tail with a tight hairpin left junction followed by a hairpin right at a 50 kph average. The control was just around the hairpin right and the surface had gravel on meaning that four top crews failed to stop astride properly, handing them ten-second penalties. To add to the Gresly and Whyte woes, their Porsche developed brake issues and gave the pair a little cause for consternation as they slipped to third. Julia and David Roberts climbed to second, four seconds behind Crosby and Taylor in first.
Day seven and Spain was incredibly beautiful, the Picos De Europa, the Pyrenees, the plains of Rioja and Cantabria gave participants some breathtaking views. There was yet another new leading crew, as David and Joanna Roberts were beavering away quietly and took the top spot from Paul Crosby and Martyn Taylor who sat five seconds behind the Roberts and one second in front of Gresly and Whyte.
The first regularity section of the afternoon took in the roads in and around the Fuente Cobre area — a lot of storks using the telegraph poles and roofs in the area as nesting points, their huge structures almost comically perched in some very precarious locations. There was a sting in the tail here that has transformed the top ten. The timing point was situated off the main road and several crews including Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage overshot the slot. Two crews suffered mechanicals on the entry with Sue Shoosmith and Trina Harley cutting the slot and striking a concrete culvert damaging the rear spring. Benno and Nina Britschgi also clipped the culvert and had less damage on the AC March, despite this, they consolidated their fine performance to lie 18th overall.
Setting out from León and heading into the Montés de Leon in the Cantabrian ranges, crews reached over 1200 metres and went into regularity 7 and 1, Nieve. At just 7.98 kilometres long it didn’t seem to have too much to trouble the crews, however, an easy to miss slot took its toll on both Dan Gresly and Elise Whyte and David and Joanna Roberts.
Crews were welcomed to Karting Cabaña Raras and the excellent circuit and facilities there. Alan and Tina Beardshaw set the initial pace with an excellent 2:27 time for two laps around the circuit, other crews going well were Stephen and Alex Chick, Till Coester and Chris Moore and the big Bentley of Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman. Unfortunately, the Austin Maxi of Bron Burrel, Tina Kerridge and Seren Whyte experienced engine and suspension issues. The girls deciding to take a cautious approach to the test and nurse the car as much as possible to try to make the finish.
The next regularity, Presa, was a self-start affair and straight after the star a true panorama opened up before plunging under oak trees and a testing descent into the O Vao valley, the climb up from the bottom of the valley passed a church that was constructed for the workers on the Encoro do Bao reservoir dam, a huge structure that towered above parts of the section. Climbing steeply out of the valley, the regularity took in the village of Wilarmeao where locals were incredibly kind to crews and directed them through the tight and overhanging buildings of the village. High above Vilarino de Corso and the route turned into moorland covered in Gorse and early-sprouting Heather, the stark contrast between the two colours a wonderful sight. A long-way-round triangle caught several crews out as they turned in too early and arrived at a control, the resulting penalty meaning many were early at the timing point.
An afternoon break was taken at Meson de Eras in Gudina before a short regularity and into the Vidago Palace Hotel where we overnight. Paul Crosby and Martyn Taylor were leading by sixteen seconds into the penultimate day from Dan Gresly and Elise Whyte. Joel Wykeham and David Brown were third in their BMW 2002tii in front of David and Joanna Roberts who in turn hold Richard Worts and Nichola Shackleton in fifth.
After leaving the opulent surroundings of the Vidago Palace, the London to Lisbon Classic Rally 2017 ventured into rural Portugal and the terraces and vineyards of the high Douro river. This is an area of intense scenery; the vines struggling to hold onto the sides of very steep hills, the gorges and the viaducts that cross them a thing of beauty and wonder in that order.
This was a real regularity day; a feast of descents and climbs interspersed with panoramas and views across some of the best scenery in the north of Portugal — and some wonderful halts at Mateus and Sandeman estates on the way. The real test was the fourth regularity of the day and probably the hardest regularity of the event — an assault on one of the finest and most intimidating roads in Europe — The Portal do Inferno or gates to hell. The section starts off innocently with a descent into a valley bottom, the road is a mixture of tar and tar covered with gravel that has been dragged onto the road by vehicles. It can catch the unwary as the road has many bumps and undulations that are caused by tree roots under the black (or grey) stuff. The bottom of the section drags the unwary in and once it starts to climb it gives fresh air corners and if you go off your clothes will be out of fashion before the car hits the bottom. Some of the corners and blind crests are heart stopping. Legendary navigator Tony Davies described the road as equal to the Gavia Pass in Italy. The end of regularity gave crews a chance to catch their breath. The pre-war open cars deserved absolute credit for attempting this section, a real test of nerves. Best times of the section went to Marcus Anderson and Matthew Lymn Rose with an amazing two seconds lost, Nick Maris and Ian Canavan were just one second behind on three lost over the section. After the regularity ended, slack time was built-in to allow crews to enjoy the descent and marvel at the ‘knife’s edge’ — a section of road that at 920 metres high has a sheer drop either side of 600 metres — a real feat of courage, especially for those in open cars.
A long run to Caramulo brought London to Lisbon Classic Rally 2017 to the Serra do Caramulo. A large crowd assembled to watch these amazing vehicles tackle the Caramulo hill climb, which starts just in front of the renowned Museo do Caramulo. Once again Alan and Tina Beardshaw were spectacular in “Roland” their Aston Martin DB5, but the locals were out in force to cheer on Bruno and Carmo Rodrigues in their Triumph TR3. Runs of note came from Thomas and Marion Herrold in their amazing Porsche and VW Beetle, Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage in the roaring Sunbeam Tiger and Shanif Habib and Chris O’Connor who were rapid away from the start of the hill climb in their Porsche 911 RS. One crew that struggled on the hill were Roy Parmenter and Phillip Thompsett in the Austin A30 — it wasn’t the diminutive engine that let them down but a throttle cable snapped meaning a test maximum for the pair.
Crosby and Taylor went into the last day with an 18 second lead over Gresly and Whyte who were just one second in front of the Roberts’ Jaguar in third. It really was all to play for and any slight mistake would be punished heavily. The heavens opened on the event and the first regularity was sheet ice with a rapid temperature drop and the overnight precipitation making it treacherous. Most crews escaped through this section albeit with a few penalties. The next section proved difficult for Derek and Susan Skinner as they went off into the undergrowth, a tow from the course closing car saw them underway again and able to finish the event with an award. The rain continued up until lunch and the final test at the Kartodoromo Fatima where most the circuit was used in a super test over two laps. Again, the Beardshaws were magnificent in Roland, other quick times came from Crosby and Taylor, Claus Coester and Tjorven Schroeder (whose axle tramp on acceleration was unbelievable) and Claus’ son, Till Coester who was partnered by Chris Moore in their Innocenti Mini. Towards Cascais and the finish came the event, Gresly and Whyte consolidated their lead over the Roberts but the victory could only go one way — Paul Crosby and Martyn Taylor’s way.
A jubilant Crosby draped in the London to Lisbon flag could hardly speak at the finish. It was an exciting couple of months for him with winning the Flying Scotsman in his MG TF. Martyn was also a little overwhelmed and in his own words, saying he was “knackered after nine day’s competition that kept us honest all the way to the end.”
London to Lisbon Classic Rally 2017 – Photo Gallery (photos: Francesco and Roberta Rastrelli / Blue Passion Photo)