London to Lisbon 2017 Review

We decided to use our trusty Triumph Stag for this event. Owning the car since 2001 we have covered many competition miles in the car, mostly on the continent. Although the engine was running fine we had suffered from overheating on the long mountain passes on the Italian Lakes Rally last year and the oil pressure was seldom above 25 psi. We decided to bite the bullet and have the engine rebuilt. After discussion with Mick Ward at E J Ward and Sons in Lutterworth we arranged a date for the start of the work in January.

Mid-March I arranged to pick the car up and drove it back to Somerset then driving everywhere to put some miles on the engine.

In addition to the above to give us a little more comfort on this long event, we had fitted new MX5 reupholstered seats, to replace the very worn standard Stag Mk1 seats.

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The event itself started from the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge on 21st April. 78 cars made the start ramp. We were running 63 and were in a class with an eclectic mix of cars that included 3 Porsche 911, Datsun 240Z, Rolls Royce Coniche, Morgan Plus 8 and a Mercedes 350SL.

Favorites to win were Paul Crosby and Martyn Taylor in Paul’s well sorted Porsche 911 however, the competition was strong with Daniel Gresly and Elise Whyte in another Porsche and of course you can’t rule out the very competitive Wignals.


Scrutineering/Signing On

Taking place on the Friday before the event. As the car had been MOT’d the week before I didn’t envisage any issues, however, one of the rear brake lights refused to work and on removing it, it fell apart in my hand into 3 bits. A lot of faffing we finally rebuilt it and got it to work. The formality of signing on went without a hitch although when Helen received the 6 road books she considered going home.

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Measured Mile

The event route books (6) were set out in Kilometers so we had to re calibrate both the Trip meters. The main Trip meter is a Roamer Time + that gives us two distance readouts and running time. I had also set up a Monit Trip meter above the speedo, set to give me KPH as the Stag speedo has very few KM graduations plus the speedo is about 5% out.

Media attention was centered around Car 51 the Maxi ‘Puff the Magic dragon’ driven by Bron Burrell, and crewed by Tina Kerridge and Seren Whyte. Bron and Tina had competed in the same car on the World Cup rally to Mexico and had traveled a similar route through France and Spain in the 70s.

Photographers and film crews were everywhere, but very good coverage for the sport.

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Leg 1 – Brooklands to Portsmouth – 319 km

The excitement was palpable on Saturday morning as we arrived at Parc Ferme, the car park was a hive of activity with cars being checked. One of the Bentleys was still being worked on by the mechanics.

I checked our car once again and it started first time and ran at a very steady tick over. This would be the first real test for the new engine. First car away was at 9 am and all the later runners gathered at the bottom of the Brooklands Test hill to watch the action. The first test was 50 yards off the start line and over 90 left onto the bottom of the hill, then a climb of approximately 350 ft. up a gradient of 1 in 5 and the top third was 1 in 4 with the stop line just over the brow at the top. Overshooting the line was a real possibility. Many struggled up the last section but the Porsches flew up.

Penalties on all the tests was performance based, you are measured against your fellow Class competitors. 0 penalties for 1st in class, 2 for second 4 for third and so on.

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Car 29 driven by Daniel Gresly and navigated by Elise Whyte almost came to grief at the tight over 90 left at the bottom, running wide they ran up the steep grass bank, teetering at an angle of 45 degrees with one wheel in the air for a few yards until they regained the track.

Our start time was 10.03. On the start line we were counted down and we were away, the Stag pulled very sweetly up the hill, over the brow at the top to stop across the line to record a time of 15 seconds. This was good enough for fastest in class so zero penalties, a good start. Driving south over the Surrey Hills the first regularity of the rally, was Shopp Hill. It had 2 timing points, 12 junctions and 8 speed changes in 9 miles.

Regularity section are run at normal road speeds, timed to the second, controls are usually situated at one of the many tulip ball and arrow instructions. However, on this event they were some-times placed between instructions making it a little more challenging. I will add at this stage that Helen had navigated before on continental events but only over 1 or 2 days so this was going to be a test of her concentration.

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We lost 8 seconds at the first timing point and 7 early at the last giving us a total penalty of 15 seconds.

The route then took us to a coffee halt at William Metcalfe’s Bentley facility where we were able to look around the workshop area and see Bentleys in different states of repair or rebuild up close.
Passing through some lovely villages there was a short run out to the start of the second regularity, Lasham, just north of Alton. The route took us via Herriard and Nutley finishing just south of Basingstoke. We dropped 11 seconds over the 3 controls.

Onwards towards Andover to Wilton for lunch and the second test of the day within the grounds of Wilton House. The test was a mixture of gravel and tarmac and was very dusty. The car handled well on the loose, we recorded 4th fastest in class. The MG Midget of James and John Gearing re-arranged the front of the car when they overshot and collided with a tree, no one was hurt and the car continued.

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With a further two regularities in the afternoon at Dean Hill south of Salisbury then via the New Forest to Ringwood for the last regularity, Stoke Wood. A slightly longer affair that started near Eastleigh finishing near Waterloovile. Helen was on the ball correctly directing me to an uphill turning that looked like a farmyard but it led to the hidden control.

The Chairmakers Arms at Waterloovile was the final control of the day before the ferry.

Results showed that we were in 33rd position and 3rd in class with 58 penalties, ahead of us in class were the two Porsches.

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Leading on day one was the Porsche of Crosby/Taylor on 14 leading by 2 seconds from the Wignall/ Savage Sunbeam Tiger.


Leg 2 – St Malo to Poitiers – 399 Km

Early next morning leaving St Malo, the event re started in the square at Dinnan. This was to be one of the longest days, the route would take us via Rennes, Nantes and overnight at Poitiers. There were 5 regularities and 1 Karting Track test at Argenton. This was to be a tough day.

A 19-mile drive to two regularities at Evran and Rommils via typical Breton countryside on the first two we lost another 32 seconds with a slight wrong slot before the second control but recovered well with two controls at 2 seconds. Navigation was getting tougher as the event proceeded.

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The next regularity, Meilleraye, we fared better with 9 seconds dropped over three controls. The trip meter was proving to be very accurate as Helen was able to navigate us through some very tricky navigation.

Disaster struck on the next regularity Bois d’Anjou when we missed a junction and we went 1/2 mile off route. We rejoined the route behind the Turner/Johnson DB2. We rejoined the correct route only to be baulked by an MG B. We dropped 2 minutes and the Marshall at the last time control logged a complaint regarding the MG B crew’s behavior as they should have let us pass.
On to the Arengon Karting Track giving me a chance to test the Stags performance. Apart from a bit of oversteer that I put down to low tyre pressure I found that the car accelerated well out of the corners and was very responsive, during the rebuild the crank & flywheel had been balanced and the latter lightened by about 3lbs.

Further regularities followed and at results at Poitiers showed we had dropped to 35th. The Maris/Canavan Datsun 240Z had moved up to 31st. They were over a minute ahead of us. Leading where Crosby/Taylor from Wignall/Savage.

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Day 3 – Poitiers to Montauban – 433 Km

Another long day beckoned, 10.5 hours of driving today. Concentrating for that length of time would be tough.

Today 7 regularities to negotiate driving south via Confolens towards the spectacular scenery in the Perigord Limousine and the Dordogne. Via Les Eyzies, Roque St Christophe and Cahors. The scenery in this region was nothing short of stunning.

On the first regularity Terce we dropped 9 seconds, on the 2nd Boibuchet we were clean, on the 3rd Velocity Rail we lost 5 and clean on Roussines. We had dropped 14 through 8 controls. Helen was on the ball negotiating the hard to find, wrong way round triangles and ‘sneaky’ control positions, things we’re working well in the car.

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Lunch day 3 and what a spectacular place. Le Moulin Restaurant perched on the river Dronne complete with water wheel and Abbey, founded by Charlemagne in 1769.

A short run out to regularity Ogres, instead of route instructions this was based on a set of speed tables. New to Helen this would be a challenge. Times were given for every 0.1km in table format. With 8 speed changes to cope with Helen had to work out a system time to read all that was in front of her. We dropped 8 then ended up 7 early, dropping 15 seconds. More than all morning. The Ogre had struck!!

Then a 26-mile run to the next speed table regularity Le Petite Beune that started near Les Eyzies, famous for the cave paintings. Dropping another 20 seconds, we were on a steep learning curve.
Coffee was at Beynac. I cannot emphasise enough the beauty that is in this region, if you’ve never been, go and you’ll be blown away, but we couldn’t stop. Driving 21 miles south to regularity Les Argues with 4 time controls, we dropped almost a minute. We were getting tired.

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But results showed us in 33rd place! 5th in class but only 22 behind 4th the Morgan and 1 ahead of the lovely Skinners Porsche, a battle was developing. Other crews had similarly bad afternoons so it was not all bad. New leaders today were Gresly/Whyte in the White Porsche from Crosby/Taylor who had gained a 10second line fault.

Onto Montauban to the vaulted corridors of the17th century Abbey des Capucins found a well-earned G&T.

Tomorrow the mountains!

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Day 4 – Montauban to Boltana – 365km

Today the highest point of the rally, the famous Tour de France Col de Peyresourde and we would also be crossing into Spain later. Snow peaked mountains beckoned plus 6 regularities. Seeding was by car make Porsches/Triumphs Aston/Bentleys etc., ran together.

Today’s first regularity was a descriptive route (Jogularity) with distances, speeds and timings. We started well with 1 second late but in total dropping 20. A bit scrappy.

Then out to coffee at Chateau de Gaumont an imposing derelict building but retaining its majesty. A 14-mile drive took us to regularity L’Asussoue this one looked tricky with short distances be-tween route instruction but running a bit early meant we only dropped 1 second. The control was behind a building and marshals Ian and Sue Butcher told us that cars were going in every direction. We lost another 18 over the next 3 controls.

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Then the first ascent, speed tables again Col de Mente had only 7 instruction. With hairpins on the way up it was challenging but the Stags new engine coped well, over the top then on the brakes on the way down. Completion pads and high temperature brake fluid were a good choice, we dropped 20 on this regularity. The final timing point was cleverly poisoned and we got ahead of ourselves.

Lunch then onto the Col de Peyscourde regularity. 9-miles of mostly uphill hairpins with 2 controls it would be a tough test. 3 seconds lost, the car was pulling really well uphill. On the next regularity, we dropped 6 seconds over two controls.

Then coffee at a cider producer in Ancizan. Spain beckoned, our route over the border was 40 miles via a 3k tunnel.

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Our first regularity in Spain was Rojo Ferrera, with tulip diagrams over 11 miles with 5 controls it was very tricky, we lost 40 seconds.

Our highlight was the fantastic Monasterio De Boltana. It was a sight to see the cars parked in front of this imposing building.

We were up to 30th, the Morgan +19, the Skinners Porsche +22 seconds ahead, we were now con-tent to do private battles as we had little chance of a top 3 in class unless disaster befell someone. 1 second separated Paul Crosby from Daniel Gresly.

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Day 5 – Boltana to Santa Domingo – 400 km

Re seeded behind the Maxi (Puff) they had dropped down the order as they were struggling to make it up the steep Cols and were down to 36th as a result.

Today would take us up the Puerto de Serrano Col with views across the valleys to Sierra de Garra. Yet another Speed Table section and we did well only dropping 2 seconds over the 4 controls. The next competitive section was further west at Garons where again we did well dropping 10 over 3 controls. The third regularity saw us drop 7 seconds over 4 controls. The fourth another 4 seconds and two cleans.

Then onto the Kart Track test 1.5 laps flowing laps of the circuit, more fun.

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Into the Rioja Valley and vineyards and the final regularity here we dropped just 2 seconds.

When you see the acreage laid out in front of you with all the vines you suddenly realise how much there is left to drink.

Day five was a good with a loss of 31 seconds.

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At the Hotel, the Parador Santa Domingo, we were still in 30th place with 3 cars just 20 seconds ahead of us. Tied for first place were Crosby/ Taylor and Gresly/Whyte.


Day 6 – Santa Domingo to Leon – 398 km

Double and triple parked the Santa Domingo car park was very small, the organisers managed to squeeze all cars in with just enough room to open the doors, I’m not sure how they managed to get us all out in time, but they did.

The first regularity was another speed table with 8 instructions and 7 speed changes we, dropped 6 seconds.

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We were now heading north west towards Santander taking in two more regularities and a test before lunch. All went well on the second regularity dropping 12 seconds over 4 timing points and a good Kart test.

I completely lost the plot on the next regularity, Helen called a slot, hairpin left, 4 times but I still overshot, finally getting around at the third attempt with the control at the bottom of the hill. Foot to floor and brake, but the car didn’t stop and slid a cars length beyond the line, compounding our loss with a 10 second line fault. To make the 33 seconds’ loss even worse we were 32 seconds early at the next, disaster. 11 cars line faulted at that control, top crews included. The organisers had cleverly sighted the control on a change of surface.

Lunch at Poblicom was interesting, as we got nearer snow started to fall and we arrived at the lunch halt with huge flakes of snow falling and the ground turning white. Half an hour later the sun was shining with steam rising from the road. Four seasons in a day! After an excellent lunch, we headed into the mountains again to regularity 6/4, and with snow covered mountains to our right it was very picturesque.

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The regularity at Fuentes Cobra would shake up the order. The first control was situated in a small hidden lay bye. Distances between the instructions were very small and it caught out a quarter of the field who either missed the control or entered the wrong way, earning a 2:30 penalty. Helen got it right and we turned into the control dropping only 4 seconds. The rest of the regularity was fine.

The final regularity we lost 12 seconds over 4 controls then onto the Hostel San Marco in Leon where we dropped a place to 31st but were now ahead of the Skinners Porsche and the Morgan, both had missed the control above.

Now up to 4th in class & new leaders were the Roberts in their immaculate Jaguar XK150 with Paul Crosby in second.

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Day 7 – Leon to Vidago, Portugal – 396 km

Portugal later today and the end was in sight. Overnight there were frantic efforts to repair Shoosmith/Hartley Bentley. Their car had hit a culvert and snapped a leaf spring turning into the hidden control yesterday. The mechanics used a chain and cargo strapping pulling the spring back into its hanger after a fashion. The car looked more ‘in line’ after the repair.

We had a 20-mile run out to the first of 5 regularities and another Karting circuit.

The first two regularities through some stunning scenery we fared quite well dropping some 20 seconds over 6 controls. Then a test at Cabas Raras Kart Track, another flowing affair, we were 4th in class again. Immediately afterwards there was another uphill regularity at Lavadora where we dropped 10 seconds.

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Disaster occurred on the next regularity Presa, this was all uphill set at 49kph. There were very few junction, just features and signs. However, there were many small roads left and right that were not mentioned. One instruction, at a cross road intersection, stated ‘Green sign on right’, however, we turned and ended up at a dead end, retracing our route we re-joined behind a TR3 but soon passed them, onwards and upwards to try and regain time we came into a control drop-ping 52 seconds. Pressing onwards at 49kph only to wrong slot again, however, we recovered quickly and dropped only 6 seconds at the next control. At the last control, we gained a maximum coming into the control 1 minute early. We had not calculated our 52 and 6 second losses into the due time and had tried to run on our original minute. Schoolboy error!!

We regained our composure but we knew we would suffer at the end of the day.

We entered Portugal unceremoniously, the only sign was a small square stone and a change of road surface. We were in what appeared to be a very poor part of Portugal. Driving through some picturesque country we arrived at the Vidago Palace Hotel.

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Results showed us in 29th, but down to 5th in class with the Morgan 1 minute ahead. The Skinners Porsche was 1 minute behind us but the Maxi of Bron Burrel was now 40 seconds ahead. It had been a costly day but it was apparent others had the same experience.

Crosby now lead with Roberts XK150 behind by 5 seconds.


Day 8 – Vidago to Caramulo – 374 km

Heading through some fabulous scenery via the Douro on some of the best roads in northern Portugal. We passed down the southern side of the Alvao Mountain with views across the Sordo and Corgo valleys. Part of our route today took us onto the famous street circuit that hosts the Portuguese World Touring Car Championship.

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Coffee was at the Mateus Palace home of Mateus Rose but we did not see the funny shaped bottle in evidence.

There were 4 regularities today and our task was to maintain the correct route. Our aim was to stay in the mid-20s.

We dropped 30 seconds over the first 2 regularities with 9 controls in all. Then through the stunning Douro Valley with its manicured vineyards, home of all the famous Port Houses and heady red wines. Although the transport sections were quite lengthy we were traveling through some fantastic scenery with vineyards, olive groves and cherry orchards and the odd cork tree.

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The 3rd regularity Balsemao was 7 miles long and was quite tricky, however, we stuck to our plan to make sure of the route and dropped another 30 seconds. From here to coffee before heading south to the last regularity of the day Portal do Inferno. This was a tough competitive section all uphill, it was to offer spectacular views at the top as you drive across the Knifes Edge with its 600 meter drops either side of the road. The heather and gorse create a fantastic tapestry of purple and yellow, the sides of the hills looked like paintings. We dropped 17 seconds on this one alt-hough others fared worse.

Onto Caramulo and the final competitive section, a closed road hill climb, with its open hairpins the organisers had built in chicanes and 3 ‘stop a strides’ to slow us. The crowds at the bottom were amazing. The Stag was fully run in now so I let rip, however, off the line the car spluttered with fuel vaporisation, however, it soon cleared. We recorded a reasonable time and were 3rd in class.
Staying at the Caramulo Congress Hotel and eating our meal in the adjacent museum bizarrely with tables set amongst the Vintage vehicles on display.

Results did not tally with our expectations we had an extra 20 seconds’ penalty, however, we queried the result and our correct time was agreed. We were now up to 28th.

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Crosby/Taylor were still leading, they were unstoppable.


Final Day – Caramulo to Cascais – 323 km

The final day – so far, the car had performed faultlessly, apart from the odd vaporisation issues. So, one more push and we would be home.

Opening the curtains, it was pouring down with high winds, however, it was forecast to improve as the day progressed. Before we set off word got back that some of the roads were treacherous.
Driving the 60 miles to the first test did, in fact, prove the point as we felt the car start to slide on certain sections of road. We arrived at the Karting track as the rain abated. The track was still damp and offered up a lot of fun, we were 4th fastest here and several cars has moments or spins.

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The next regularity started at the edge of Louisa and quickly climbed to the mountain summit be-fore running steeply down to the Zezere valley. There were many hairpins and the road was extremely slippery, so accelerating on the straights was advisable. The Skinners were not so lucky as they slid off on one hairpin onto grass. They were towed out by the course closing car. The car and crew were okay but missed the final control, gaining a 2.30 penalty.

We dropped 19 seconds over the 5 controls.

Then the final test at another Karting Track where interestingly the Skinners posted fastest time in their Class, the excursion had not slowed them down.

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Two more regularities and we were done, we were shattered by this time as most people were. But the organisers had set up two great regularities to finish with some hard to find slots. Cars we’re going everywhere. Helen called every one correctly, from slotting right through a hedge, to find a cobbled road and a control at the end where we dropped 1 second. The next control we cleaned then onto a hard to see slot left, onto gravel followed by a ‘Y’ junction right into the con-trol, dropping 7 seconds, the penultimate control was a zero then the final one 11 seconds.

The final regularity was very similar and we cleaned the first control and the second onto gravel, again immediate slot left lost us 1 second. We recorded the lowest penalty on this section. We finished on a high.

Arriving at the ceremonial finish in Cascais was very emotional, it had been one very tough event with many highs and lows.

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What touched us was the warm welcome we received from the locals, they were a very noisy crowd.

What a fantastic event, we have to thank all the marshal, support crew, mechanics and organisers, particularly Bob Rutherford Clerk of the Course, Guy Woodcock, Daniel Pidgeon and Brian Whyte.

The event dinner afterwards crowned Paul Crosby and Martyn Taylor as winners with Daniel Gresly and Elise Whyte second. In third place was the Jag XK150 of David and Joanne Roberts.

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We eventually finished 26th and 5th in class and were pleased with our performance.

Mike Tanswell, Driver – Car 63, Triumph Stag – 26th Overall

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