The longest day. It’s now 19 hours since our alarms went off this morning as the intrepid crews from Hong Kong set off on the first day of 2015 Tour Auto, and what a day it’s been. Leaving the centre of Paris at 6.30 this morning, it was car number 205, the red GT40 that was the first to have problems as navigator Tim had a moment of madness and having thought he’d made a mistake instructed Richard to turn around. Trying to execute a three point turn in Parisian rush hour traffic, Richard suddenly found he didn’t have reverse gear. Tim had to jump out and push. The following car, the E-Type of Chris and Keith, couldn’t believe their eyes and thinking the worst, carried on. Was Richard turning around to go back and pick up something he left behind, had he sneezed and hit the curb or just spun pulling away from the traffic lights? We hadn’t even reached the official start from a chateaux outside Paris.
On arrival at the official start the GT40 had a flat battery, the alternator having packed up. Bump starting got them underway, followed swiftly by the E-type, performing faultlessly. Chris and Keith having an unbelievably smooth run without a single mistake on any of the navigational challenges showing the true talents of this Safari rally veteran navigator.
Suddenly we arrived at the first special stage. The GT40 with a new battery strapped between Tim’s legs set off first. Another three point turn half way along the stage and the addition of the door flying open around a corner slowed progress but a respectable time was posted. Meanwhile Chris was building on his experience of two years ago and ensuring a steady time on this first racing test, just 8 seconds behind the GT40. A special mention to Hong Kong grandee Mark Freeman in his Cobra who was fastest of all competitors.
With the GT40 needing batteries as often as petrol to keep it going (and it’s not a hybrid), on arrival at Magny Cours for the first circuit race the fully charged battery was duly removed from the E-Type to be swapped with the GT40, at least the Jag would charge it up after a bump start. The race started with a gaggle of Cobras and one GT40 followed by the E-Type. Richard worked his way towards the front, leading until the last lap, but then overtaken by the French Cobra of Ludovic Caron, who in 2012 drove into the back of Richard and hence was given a wide birth. Unfortunately the E-Type fared less well. Running around in 8th place, the second E-Type, dicing with a very quick Lotus, Chris ran wide on the first turn, a very quick double apex left hander, and lost it in style, spinning into the vast gravel trap at high speed like a performer in strictly come dancing… on ice. Race over with one lap to go and a large time penalty for his poor performance. This was a repeat of Richard’s 2012 Tour Auto first race also ending in the gravel. This time, Richard second, Chris DNF.
Just 100km to the night stop, what could go wrong… The GT40 suspension arm broke. The car was now as useful as Dell boy’s three wheeler. Sam and Darren jumped on the car and managed to replace the broken bits and after an hour or so the GT40 continued. Meanwhile the E-Type trip meter was now damaged in the off track excursion and wasn’t working, nothing Tim hadn’t dealt with previously, but a new experience for Keith.
Richard arrived over an hour late and earned substantial time penalties. Having been running in a solid 3rd overall after two stages this was heartbreaking news. With the E-Type now in 64th position after the off track experience, the fight back starts tomorrow.
We’ll be keeping you posted.