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22nd November 2021
“From the shores of the Med to the Atlantic Coast“. The opening words of Rally Director, Fred Gallagher, from his report on the recce trip for next spring’s Carrera España. Naturally a few changes from the originally planned route but it is looking very special. Lots of places we’ve visited before and quite a few new to us too. Can’t wait.
From the recce description we’ve seen so far there will be lots of mountain roads and visits to some of our favourite medieival towns from previous trips. 3,500 km over eleven days with at least twenty regularities and more than ten special tests will make sure that it isn’t just a ‘picnic jolly’
8th February 2022
Here we are in soggy Devon and can’t really see the grandchildren because they’re locked away with CV19. To stave off the boredom we have both knuckled down with computers on and begun the final planning for the trip to Barcelona in April.
We get off the boat mid afternoon and the first night’s stop is only about an hour and a half south in a village called Azofra. We’ve found a delightful pilgim’s (Camino de Santiago) shelter (quite a posh one actually) called Real Casona de las Amas. Dating to the 17th C it describes itself as a “Palacete”, a nobleman’s palace, not a royal one.
We then spent ages looking for something interesting outside Barcelona and ended up with the Parador in Lleida, dating from the same period but this time it’s history begins as a convent.
18th April 2022
Although it is nearly a week away, the rally is beginning to swing into motion now. The organisers have started two WhatsApp groups, one for us competitors to share photos and comments on and another for last minute urgent messages to be shared amongst the competitors. There is also another App called Padlet which will be used for official notices such as change of route, results, protests or other vital stuff.
19th April 2022
On the road at last. Not too many arguments about packing and at least it is dry and sunny but bl**dy cold. Long, boring drive to Wexford tonight then an early start for the Ferry to Spain.
Here are three of the first posts, an English Bentley from Yorkshire, a Swiss Ford Mustang receiving new tyres and a Dutch MGB about to set off.
20th April 2022
On the Irish Sea at last. We had a short blast down to the ferry terminal then about a 45 minute wait before boarding began. Not a cloud in the sky but bitterly cold. The ferry is (I think) one of the old Norfolk Lines Belfast to Liverpool boats so the amenities are basic to say the least but at least we had only a 300km drive on surprisingly good, quiet roads. The Goodwin’s have about 550km to get the Portsmouth boat and all on overcrowded English motorways.
We arrive in Bilbao mid afternoon tomrrow for a shortish drive over the mountains to Azofra for the first day.
21st April 2022
The boat berthed early, thank goodness – the toilets on board had all packed up! Now we’re being held in a compound waiting for security and customs to turn up but at least it isn’t raining – yet. P is catching up on her emails.
Yes………. We weren’t the first to have problems in that department but we were given another cabin. Later on all the public facilities on board were closed too. Maybe it might have something to do with the quality of the food?.
Whatever, we had a stress free 80 or 90 mile motorway drive over the mountains – up to over 2,000 ft and then across the plains of La Rioja. at a coffee/pee/petrol break we briefly met up with a couple of other competitors in an Aston DB5 and a Lancia Fulvia who had sailed on the Santander boat from England. I think they’re stopping off quite close by in Logroño.
The forecast isn’t great for tomorrow afternoon for the drive down to Catalonia.
22nd April 2022
Our hotel (posh b&b), the Real Casona de las Amas (the Royal House of the Housekeepers) is superb. not very big and the other guests are pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago from the US and Germany. They all went to bed early which is fair enough, considering and what we were expecting to be bar tapas was a super “platos combinados” just up the street. We walked from one end of Azofra to the other (less than ten minutes) and there were pilgrims still arriving as the sun was setting.
23rd April 2022
The first photo below is apparently where the Greenwich Meridian crosses our path. Whe knew? The second is our last fill-up before the start. Also the first time we’ve paid €2 a litre. Our new best friend, Oscar from Casona de las Amas took a few pics this morning for their social media pages so here is the compliment returned. Great guy and a wonderful place to stay. Apart from pilgrims they also do spa visits so the ladies might like it too.
Tonight we are in the Parador de Llieda after a boring long drive across the flat plains of Rioja, Navarra and Aragon.
Last night was a bit of fun. We enjoyed a ‘Paseo’ (promenade) around the Barrio or old town of Llieda and also took the lift up to the citadel at the top of the rock this place is built on. We didn’t actually go into the King’s Palace or Cathedral but enjoyed a wander around the bastion walls. Food in the Parador was superb although breakfast this morning was a bit haphazard.
Today only about 160 Km (100 miles) on the empty A2 – until we got nearer Barcelona. The road surface deteriorated so much I asked if there was another alternative and was told in no uncertain terms NO. Filled up with best 98 octane just outside town and joined the throng heading into the city. The traffic got slower and slower and the clouds got darker and darker. There was HAIL lying beside the road. “Please let us get in before it starts again” was offered up to the motoring spirits. We did eventually arrive to a delightful welcome from some of the organising crew. The hotel is inside Monjuïc Royal Park where the F1 GP races were held years ago. Securely parked underground with all the other entrants, we’ve unloaded and will re-pack to take advantage of the luggage van travelling with us. Into the bar for a bit of lunch and the greetings with long ‘not seen’ rally chums begins. Gavin & Diana Henderson, first met last year on “The Thistle”, Martin & Olivia Hunt (Cape Horn and Ireland in 2014), Keith & Nora Ashworth (Japan 2017), Alan & Tina Beardshaw (too many events to list) and many more still to arrive.
24th April 2022
We had an early night last night and a slow getting up which was a real treat and probably the last one for quite a while. Technical scruitineering was the job for the day and it turns out we have problems. The front and rear sidelights on the off side (right) won’t work so I had a footle and checked the bulbs, fuse, earth connections and contacts. Ian Lewin (Ford Mexico) very kindly lent me his AVO meter and I couldn’t detect any continuity in the circuit anywhere. Andy “Skippy” Inskip then stepped in to offer serious help. He’s been riding shotgun backup with rallies forever – we first met him in Peking and as is expected, he worked out a perfect ‘bodge’ that was safe and corrected the problem with a wee bit of wire and a couple of spade connectors. Job done and P & I headed off to drive a precisely measured route to check and calibrate our Halda tripmeter. After that is was time for stickers and rally plates then BEER and lunch. The hotel still doesn’t have enough staff to keep everone happy but the lassie behind the bar did her very best to keep everyone moderately satisfied. Time now to mark up the road books, check for errors or any particular hidden nasties that the route setters have planned for us.
Tonight there will be a briefing then and introductory drinks party and dinner.
Tomorrow it all begins in earnest for us at 08:37 precisely.
The cars lined up for inspection. Half of Barcelona looking on.
26th April 2022
Bit of a panic when we set off this morning, the dynamo wasn’t charging the battery! Pretty serious when you’re using headlights a lot in the tunnels and the electric fan is on pretty nearly the whole time climbing mountains. We pulled over in the first available spot and I removed the dust cover from the commutator and gave it a good squirt with electrical contact cleaner then jiggled the brushes a bit. At first there was no difference but then the cleaner must have seeped in and everything turned out fine.
There was lots and lots of mountain driving today and four regularites The two before lunch were near Andorra and the two afterwards in the Pyrennhees at over 5,000 ft
From freezing cold this morning we finished up in shirt sleeves. Our times in the regularity tests yesterday were……… OK (ish) two tests within a couple of seconds and one we were 13 seconds out but don’t know how that happened. Today’s were a big improvement again in single figures and the last one we think we cleared with a zero.
Last nights dinner was a bit chaotic. The wine was in the wrong buildings and the dining room was freezing. To top it all, the plates were stone cold and chilled the food almost instantly. Most unusual in Spain. Tonight we are in a Parador again, the Sos del Rey Catolica up in the mountains near Zaragossa in the provinvce of Aragon.
I have a few videos but uploading them seems to be taking ages so please be patient. Tomorrow I think we have speed tests on the Navarra circuit.
Tonights pics, courtesy of P: 1 – of which she’s quite proud – herself reflected in the accessory spotlamp, me in the n/s rear view mirror and the approach to a tunnel with about 2,000 ft drop on the other side of the barrier. 2: Looking back at the in the Pyrennhees. No wonder it is cold up high!
28th April 2022
Remember Eliza Dolittle in “My Fair Lady”?
‘The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain’; well, I can assure you it does and guess where were have been today? In the plain, in the rain. From Soria to Segovia in mixed weather but never exactly what might be called warm. Three regularities and a couple of speed tests at Circuito Kotarr filled in the day between beautiful meandering drives across spectacular countryside on the fringes of Castile La Mancha and Castile León. Our travelling circus is bringing smiles and ‘thumbs up’ to towns and villages, children and old folk all across the middle of Spain.
Pics: 1 – taken by Gerard Brown yesterday I think and we’re pressing on in a regularity and getting closer to the snow; 2 – Grumpy old git waiting in the rain for his navigator to get ‘clocked out’. Thanks to Marina Goodwin and 3 – the famous Aqueduct in the middle of Segovia.
30th April 2022
I said it was cold here! We also have an on-going problem with oil in the dynamo and that hinders charging. Not serious but it does need attention from time to time.
The last pic was the very pleasant end in the car park of a very long day (386 km travelled with two mountains over 6,000′ and three regularities, all with multiple speed changes and timing controls. “Gin & Tonic on the Bonnet”, an impromptu party in the car park.
Salamanca tonight and a day off tomorrow for sightseeing (aka laundry and car servicing)
At the finish of one test I discovered that I hadn’t fully released the handbrake but we still only picked up two seconds penalty.
All the fun rallying is up in the mountains but Spain is also criss-crossed with Roman Roads.
This is the middle control in a regularity test and the marshal gives us a zero, in other words we’ve hit the target time and speed for the section to the second.
One of the organiser’s videos:
1st May 2022
Long old day today with three regularities. Salamanca to Sanabria on the border with Portugal. We think our Talbot has just clocked her 35th or maybe 36th international frontier with us but we’ll have to check up on that when we get home.
WE dropped three seconds on the first, nine on the second and one on the last. There has been a bit of dispute about the timings on R1. Test two had a bit of traffic and we lost a lot when three campervans and a truck held us up on a very tight hairpin. We made up some of the 20 odd seconds lost but not enough. The last one of the day was quite short and very rough. Blind hairpins, blind S bends through rock gorges, blind approaches to tight bridges all conspired to make it very hard. We drove absolutely “flat chat” all the way losing and making time but never actually catching our target until the last 500 metres. Don’t forget, these aren’t closed roads and are still being used at the same time by the public cyclists, motorbikes and tourists so it was a bit dodgy to say the least.
The last part of today’s run took us through some tiny Portugese villages and it was lovely to see folk out cheering us through their very narrow cobbled streets. After clocking in at the finish in Sanabria then going up the road to fill our petrol tanks and a quick bit of maintenance for the car, we were welcomed by a local folk dancing group with a few glasses of wine and some Pintxos (snacks); lovely entertainment.
Quick shower then down to dinner in a while. Videos to follow when I have time.
2nd May 2022
Four more regularities and lots more mountains. We had an amazing climb today and seemed to drive forever high in the sky passing valleys and mountains gradually being deconstructed by mining and quarrying operations. Now we know where the slates for the new house we built came from.
3rd May 2022
Day nine of the Carrera España and another 200 miles or so ticked off in the roadbook. First off we tackled two laps of a kart circuit and I’m afraid I messed up. I couldn’t hear Penny’s shouted instructions and missed a turning at the end of the first lap, reversed and then completed the second lap for a rubbish time. Next was a short sharp regularity on very rough roads and we managed to lose six seconds. The second was going well but unfortunately we met two tractors (v. narrow roads) the first of which was huge and we had to reverse to give him room to pass. There were also a couple of largish vans so we lost five seconds on the first section and seven on the second. We thought we might have cleared the third regularity or maybe one second late but our marshall give us three penalties so not a great day overall. To finish off there was a long drag up a mountain then down the other side in freezing winds. When we stopped for fuel before checking in to the last control I also went looking for brake cleaner to use as a solvent to clean out the distributor again but, as I expected they didn’t have any. The boss was having none of this and ‘phoned a motor factors about 200m back the way we came and told me they were waiting for me to collect. Sure enough it was sitting on the counter, €6 (about 1/3 the price of home) and we were off to our hotel for the night. A quick check over and I’m done for the day.
4th May 2022
We were sent off this morning by a Galician Piper into the misty mountains.
Quite a short run for today, only about 115 km with a couple of regularity tests and finishing up near Oviedo at the Fernando Alonso circuit and museum for a speed test and a visit to his museum. Some folk also signed up for two heats and a final on his kart circuit but I’m afraid that isn’t really for us. For those not in the know, Sr.Alonso is a two times Formula One world champion and possible one of the older drivers in the circus today.
5th May 2022
Last day of the rally. 325 km, three regularities and possibly the best driving of the trip in an area we have explored before.
From Oviedo we headed South East into the Cordillera Cantabricá and over the Picos de Europa. Lots of ski lodges and resort hotels now closed for the summer and a fabulous drive through the Desfiladero de la Hermida. Our favourite pass, Desfiladero de la Boyes is about 35 km to the west and is much tighter, narrower and twistier. Still, Hermida is pretty good for today and we last drove it in 2003!
To finish off we drove into Santander to a great big pile of a place on the headland above the bay. We stopped and decorated the car with the flags of Ulster, Spain and Ukraine for the final photographs as we crossed the line under the finishing arch. Lots of fizz, handshakes and hugs from the rally crew and competitors then up to the room to change for the evening’s dinner and prize-giving. It turns out that we’ve won our class. Goodness knows how!
7th May 2022
Rally over so it was time for us to begin the trek home. Some competitors left very early to catch a ferry from Santander to Ireland to begin another rally that weekend. Some flew home and shipped their cars and others re-packed their luggage and headed south to Portugal for a holiday. We, however, had a couple of days to kill until the next ferry back to Ireland so we decided to do a few of the sights in Bilbao. Last time we were here there’s wasn’t much time to spare so this time we had a good look around the Guggenheim and it’s special exhibition “Art in Motion” which is about…………….. you guessed it, cars.
It is a very vibrant city and street life is everything.
And that’s about it. Another grim ferry crossing (can’t wait for the new boat and crew in the autumn), overnight in Enniscorthy and then a tedious drive to home and the 2022 Carrera España is finished