Midnight Sun to Red Sea Rally

11th June 2004

Day 9 - Sibiu to Veliko (Bulgaria)


Into a hidden secret mountain range, with some wonderful roads. They make the Stelvio in Italy look like a motorway! More hairpins than a hairdresser's salon! And we're over 2,000 metres up.

We hit the motorway to get some fast kms done before coping with half an hour of the beastly ring road around the capital, Bucharest.

A real tester for the driver’s today, as they battled to negotiate the hair-raising hairpins of the high alpine backroads of Romania. On 51km of stages that typically stretch the talents of the best European Rally Champions, conditions were made even more demanding with the tarmac covered by a slippery sheet of overnight rain.

Overall 4th place man Ray Bellm started the day intent on cutting into the 4 minute and 17 second margin between him and 3rd place James Ingleby. He managed to keep his Porsche sufficiently attached to the corners and clear of the steep drop-offs to gain 10 seconds on the hillclimb over the Ingleby Mustang.

Bellm was however edged out for stage honours by the V8 Capri of marathon expert Richard Martin-Hurst. Martin-Hurst and co-driver Tony DeVantier were just 2 seconds clear of Bellm over the 24 km stage, with Kiwi Joe McAndrew taking 3rd place in his Honda Integra another 2 seconds behind.

Smokin’ Joe clambered back up to his familiar podium place on the longer second stage, setting fastest time around the 27 km alpine lake stage. But Bellm was the man on a mission. Starting 1 minute behind the Ingleby Mustang, he caught up for a rare sighting of the Loch Ness V8 Monster and overtook it on the stage. In doing so he took another 2nd stage placing and reduced the gap between 4th and 3rd place to less than 3 minutes.

The Holden Monaro of Keith and Mary-Anne Callinan maintained some V8 respectability on the stage, powering their clutch hungry beast into 3rd place.

Andrew Pidden and Mike Cotter were the only team to be caught out on the day’s two stages, with their Ford Cortina getting out of shape on the snowbanked 24 km first stage and slamming into the side of a mountain tunnel.

“The steering’s all a bit deranged and it looks a bit roughed up, but it should hold out” said Australian Cotter. Proudly piloting the cheapest and oldest car in the event, they are intent on seeing their 37 year old £4,500 classic continue to serve as old master to some of the younger Group N apprentices. They currently lie in 14th place overall.

Graham Lorimer and Jenny Brittan made a welcome return to the event this morning, driving through the night in their saturated gear to make the day’s start control with just 50 minutes to spare. Having dismissed the prospect of continuing the event after yesterday’s suspension tearing episode, it was the efforts of Hungarian rally champ Janos Balazs and his crew that managed to get the limping Toyota back on 4 wheels.

“I was ready to pack up my troubles and crate them off to Durban” said an exhausted Lorimer. “But those guys were amazing – I can’t thank them enough.” Starting in 8th place at the start of the day, Lorimer overtook the Astra of Steve Coad and the Mustang of Peter Cochrane to settle in 6th place at the overnight stop. This now puts him 3 minutes and 19 seconds behind the Peugeot of tarmac wizards Steve Blunt and Rob Duck.

With the beautiful lakes of Scandinavia a distant memory and the final frontier of a former Iron Curtain country now in sight, tomorrow will mark another transition day in the event. Competitors will tackle 44 kilometres of rural Bulgarian tarmac and then drive into the enchanting minaret silhouetted landscape of Turkey, a land that historically represents the crossroads of Eastern and Western civilisations. more...

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