As anyone who read our last message will know, Friday night was “a bit of a late one” but both crews were raring to go for the final day of the 2016 Modena Cento Ore which started in the sunny Plazza Marconi in the up market seaside town of Forte Dei Marme. After the dramas of Friday, from two podium positions, to both cars almost retiring, to ace engineers Darren and Sam working long into the night to fix the broken Jaguar and ensure the GT40 would not suffer a recurrence of the carburetor problems which hampered Richard on Friday. This really is a roller coaster ride.
It was a brisk 50km drive to the start of the first stage through beautiful Italian countryside, the only hazards were the hundreds of weekend cyclists slowly grinding their way up the narrow roads towards the mountains. Saturday would comprise of three special stages and with no race tracks Richard was looking to consolidate his solid second position whilst Chris had nothing to lose having dropped down to 33rd position overnight on account of missing two stages the previous day. At this point it looked like the penalty Richard had been given had been removed so he started the day second on the road. Chris and Keith now starting half an hour later, behind another E-type driven by a 74 year old Englishman and his young Italian navigator Luigi, and just in front of previous Le Mans winner Jurgen Barth. They were able to meet new peopel and make new friends. The back of Jurgen’s Jaguar was now 2 foot shorter as the previous day his service crew following in a hire car had rear ended him at some traffic lights. The driver was his girl friend. Luigi the navigator was very helpful throughout the day but whilst standing in Modena at the end of the day Chris noticed he had the name “Alex” embroidered on his overalls and asked him why. Luigi replied “it’s my name” to which Chris said “But you’re Luigi”, “no” was Alex’s reply, a big embarrassment for Chris but a perfect stitch up by Keith.
The first special stage of the day yet again showed that the GT40 is much better suited to the race tracks than the narrow Italian hill climbs, as the GT40 coughed and spluttered up the hills in times not representative of the cars ability. Chris and Keith meanwhile were performing a double act which was the racing equivalent of Laurel and Hardy, Morecombe and Wise and Torvill and Dean all rolled into one. With nothing to lose and without intercoms due to a wiring fault, they flew through the stage, Keith using hand signals to guide Chris along the narrow roads to record fastest time. They were an incredible 27 seconds quicker than the GT40 and 18 seconds quicker than special stage experts Freeman/Ellis in their Cobra. The second stage of the day saw a better performance from the GT40 although still 6 seconds down on Chris who was 2 tenths of a second quicker than the Cobra which over 7 km of undulating bumpy Italian roads is unbelievably close.
On to the lunch halt and the end of the event was clearly in sight with just one stage to go, The GT40 was running second with the Cobra just behind, which made a glorious sounding convoy passing through the majestic Italian countryside en route to the final 12km special stage and the subsequent run to the finish in Modena. Knowing that the final and longest of the week stage through the mountains was the last time the crews would be able to enjoy these glorious cars in anger on this event meant that the tense atmosphere before the stage was tinged with a slight melancholic air. Once again Chris and Keith were on fire and flew through the stage cementing their the position as the dominant crew on the final day of the event, on today’s three stages they were 1st of the pre 1965 cars and 6th overall mixing it with the much faster and newer Porsche RSRs. Richard and Tim had a far better run and were 3 seconds faster than the Cobra immediately behind them. That meant the competitive element of the event was now over with just the final 60km to go to the finish in the central Piazza in Modena.
Whilst we knew the pro Jaguar had won the event overall, there was uncertainty over the results of other podium finishes. As we prepared to go to the final dinner in the Enzo Ferrari museum, it became clear that the penalty for the GT40 had been reinstated or a new one incurred and so a certain podium finish evaporated in a sea of confusion. The inconsistency and lack of information regarding penalties all seemed very Italian and rather tainted the final evening but was also an opportunity to reflect on a truly remarkable four days.
All of us have now completed a couple of events together and over the last four years our nemesis on the special stages has been Mark Freeman in the AC Cobra, particularly in France where he previously blitzed the GT40 and Jaguar, with Mike Ellis at his side this was a combo that has massive experience including a win a couple of years ago on this event while the rest of us were rookies. They had rapidly established themselves as the Dastardly and Muttly of the Modena Cento Ore but now the AC Cobra had some serious competition and the fact there were only tenths of a second splitting the cars on many stages proving that this event was the coming of age for the fearless foursome (whose combined age for cars and drivers is well over 300 years old).
This was another brilliant event. To have both cars running so competitively and with Richard dominant on the racetracks and Chris and Keith easily the best suited combination in the special stages proved that our optimism at the start of the week in Rimini was well founded. Tim had never seen a set of pace notes before Tuesday afternoon but by Thursday he had been part of the crew that had won a special stage so perhaps a career as a co driver beckons in case he need to find alternative employment anytime soon. The body blows felt on Friday with the prop shaft on the Jag and engine problems with the GT40 which always seem to greet us on events like these, were dealt with not just efficiently and effectively by Sam and Darren but also with a passion that showed we were all very much working as a team and supporting each other.
Of course it’s disappointing that we didn’t come away with any silverware (although Dorothy and Gerry in the TR3 did finish on the podium and 2nd in class) considering that on almost every stage and certainly in every race one of the two cars was in the top three. It was certainly one of the closest contests that we have participated in doing events of this type and while it certainly causes some stress on a few occasions it greatly added to the enjoyment.
Getting two cars to the finish in Modena was a huge achievement and both cars were very much stars of the show as we traversed northern Italy from coast to coast. This is a superb event and we would all love to come back again. Our sincere thanks to Darren and Sam from Wren Classic Sports Car Workshop Restoration Sales Maintenance and Race Car Preparation (Wren Sport is a division of Wren Classic Sports Car Workshop Restoration Sales Maintenance and Race Car Preparation) who did a great job in keeping the show on the road and were a pleasure to work with. We followed them around Italy in a van with two “mooning” wrens on the rear doors which at least made our support crew stand out from the crowds. We also have to of course thank Richard who once again kindly enabled some of his mates to live their dreams by letting us all play with his beautiful toys. This is our final message as we now disperse back to reality. With all the highs and lows of the past few days it’s been great having you along for this epic journey.
PS: These reports are completed at the end of a long day, Tim dictates, Chris types and Keith and Richard add snippets and attach photos, it’s another team effort. However, Friday’s report was sent without passing through quality control. Chris woke up at 4am slumped over his laptop and then just pressed “send” before falling back into a deep sleep, hence the terrible spelling and grammar. Today’s report is late as we ran out of time over copious amounts of Chianti last night….