Saturday, 31 January 2009

Hello from Libya!

Saturday 31st January 2009
Time: 08:30 - 15:30
Distance: 432 miles
Rally Position: 2nd from 41 (2nd in class)
Surt, Libya - Benghazi, Libya

Are we there yet?

One thing I realise that I have been forgetting to mention is the food and the cost of fuel…..

The food is actually pretty good and is typical North African fare, although we are yet to sample camel. Well we are yet to have been told that we’re sampling camel. One thing I can’t get used to is being served tinned tuna for breakfast, so for me it is usually bread and cheese, the cheese being a rip-off of Dairylea….

The fuel, now here’s an interesting situation; two cans of Coca-Cola is roughly £1.50, a litre of 95 Octane fuel is,……….. well so small it’s not worth the calculation, so instead try this. To fill my 24 x gallon endurance tank is around £8 (Don’t you love Gordon Brown). Beer’s also very cheap here… you can’t buy it!

Mean while back to the rally. As I mentioned yesterday we are now 2nd overall and in class and unless I can cut the brake pipes on the Datsun 240Z, that looks pretty set. Unless of course we breakdown in the next 1,500 miles or so, or we crash the car on a timed stage!

Today was a real chore as we drove nearly 500 miles from West to East, heading towards Egypt.

The route was fairly uneventful until on the outskirts of Benghazi we took a wrong turn from the tulip notes (route directions) and ended-up lost in the back streets of Benghazi. It was at that point that we realised that all the street signs are in Arabic, our mobile phones do not work, and we had no way of contacting rally HQ. After an initial surge of adrenaline (I think it’s brown) we started back tracking our route and after some 5 miles or so found the error and headed into the hotel.

The hotel for tonight is a business hotel and seems to a much higher standard that we’ve become accustomed to. Who knows, it might even have WiFi and this blog will live again….

View from hotel room

The actual rally has two more complete days inside Libya and then Tuesday 3rd February we exit into Egypt. It is at this point that the big timed events start including one desert GPS stage that is in excess of 80kms, so I am hoping to provide you all with some more daily action detail etc.

Todays car summary:
Faults: Rev counter, speedo, temp sensor.
Issues: Horn & lights have stopped working, we suspect a fuse.
The handbrake has failed, we need to inspect rear shoes.
Engine rattling like hell, we need to wear ear-plugs!

Generally performing well and travelled all miles today in one block with no stops, only once for fuel. Cruised at 100kms, without issue…. Colin score 9/10

Friday 30th January 2009
Time: 10:00 - 13:30
Distance: 180 miles
Rally Position: 3rd from 41 (2nd in class)
Misrata, Libya - Surt, Libya

Morning, sleep well?

Unusually I am starting today’s blog at the moment of waking, well I say waking…. My question to Ces of morning, sleep well? was not met with much amusement. You see all those stories you’ve heard about the desert being cold at night are very, very true and our accommodation for the night appeared to be an out-of-season Butlins, with Summer time sheeting to match. Whilst the wall mounted heaters did a fantastic impression of actually giving off heat they did in fact simply give off noise and circulated the rooms very cold air! Oh yes, at the moment of writing I am really in-the-zone, mentally prepared for the days challenges, like a coiled string.

A thorough levels check of Colin revealed that the engine oil needed topping-up, but otherwise was good to go.


After a drive of around 120 km’s we arrived at the first timed stage running alongside an underground pipeline. We had deliberately not re-fulled that morning so for once we were light and ready to race. After the initial start all was going well and very quickly we found that we were using top gear (5th) and pulling through the power-band. I glanced at the GPS speedo and this was reading 130kph, not bad considering we were on loose gravel! The car was floating over the gravel and I knew we were in for a good time. Just then the unimaginable happened….. a puncture! Luckily Ces and I had been practising our routine for this and we completed a front drivers wheel change using our trolley-jack and we back driving again within 4 minutes….

Whilst changing the wheel we were overtaken by the Morris 1800 Land Crab but we also saw that the Nissan Pathfinder was in the middle of dealing with a puncture of their own….. they had not been practising! The Datsun 240Z was no where to be see and by now had a commanding lead. After the end of section one we re-strapped all the loose repair equipment into place and prepared for straight into section two. Section one had been a stage of 30kms, whereas the second stage was only 8kms. If we’d only had the puncture on the second stage!

Section 2 went very well and without incident and we recorded a good solid time.

After the timed sections ended we then had a dreary drive to our next hotel for the night.


It was an improvement on Butlins in the sun from the night before, but not much! At least the cars we all together this night and the police we there to help us.

Having settled into the hotel, we stepped out via a back door and over some razor wire and made our way to the local beach. The views were something else and this was most certainly a Blue Flag beach to compete with anything in Devon.

At the time of writing the blog, we have seen the results and despite the puncture we still came in ahead of some of the other cars. Plus stage two was quicker than I had expected, so I am pleased to report that we are now 2nd Overall and 2nd in Class.

A long transit day tomorrow, so I suspect a limited blog to follow….

Thursday 29th January 2009
Time: 09:30 - 17:00
Distance: 180 miles
Rally Position: 3rd from 41 (2nd in class)
Leptis Magna, Libya - Misrata, Libya

The wheel’s wobbling….

A leisurely start in Libya was down to today being purely a transit day, so positions remain unchanged.

We drove for around an three hours to our first port of call, an ancient Roman city called Leptis Magna, recently made famous in ‘The Long Way Down’ series.


What these pictures of calm and civilisation fail to show is the chaos on the roads of Libya. Traffic law is easy to remember here, there isn’t any except that you must stop for a red light. Other than that overtaking, undertaking and driving the wrong way along a dual-carriageway are all genuinely acceptable and seen frequently. The Ring-Road around Tripoli is something I shall always remember!

There is also some interesting cargo carried.


It was whilst fighting for survival on these roads that I noticed that at any speed in excess of 120kph, the steering wheel began wobbling and I could feel some vibration through the pedals. So long as I kept the speed down all was well, but this lack of speed caused two issues. Firstly when the roads did open up, we couldn’t use them properly; And secondly or perhaps more importantly, tomorrow (Friday) there are two more timed stages and both sound to be fast. Therefore once at the nights stop I decided to jack the car and examine the steering. The fact that I had a spanner in my hand, seemed a shock to everyone and even the rally photographer took a picture of this momentous occasion.


It soon became apparent that the inner track rod ends had failed on both sides of the car, even though they were new at the time of departing the UK and so some additional tools and assistance was sought from one of the sweep mechanics, namely Simon Ayris. You may recall from my earlier script that Simon built Colin for the rally and fortunately as part of our equipment list, we were carrying spares!


Once the repairs had been made we then carried out our other basic checks and found that the gearbox oil level whilst within acceptable limits, had started leaking at a greater rate and now needed a two daily check. The exhaust manifold was blowing on the first cylinder and the engine was still leaking. No rev counter and no speedometer were minor issues as was the rattling top-end.

Tomorrow we need to at least hold our position and hopefully climb the board. More track rod ends will be ordered from the UK tomorrow and will join us in Egypt. We need to push and nurse at the same time, not an easy task!

The timed stages tomorrow take us along the edge of a huge water pipeline in the desert and for the first time we will be relying on GPS for navigation. The route involves a mix of sand and gravel.

On a lighter note Ces is very keen that I share with you a couple of pictures of our wonderful hotel room.


Later blog fans….

Wednesday 28th January 2009
Time: 09:30 - 17:00
Distance: 160 miles
Rally Position: 3rd from 41 (2nd in class)
Sabratha, Libya - Leptis Magna, Libya

Welcome to Libya

We awoke to blue skies and bright sunshine, however the look was very deceptive as the temperature had just about reached 10° and a cold wind was blowing in from the North rather than from the warming Sahara to the South.

A routine check of the car revealed nothing out of the ordinary just the usual small oil marks underneath the gearbox and engine itself and all the rest looked good, if not a little dirty from the previous days stages.

The results of the previous days stages showed that we had been beaten on stage one by the Datsun 240Z by 23 seconds and on the second stage by around 35 seconds. This moved us into 2nd in class i,e, classic rather than vintage or special and into 3rd overall.

1st Place overall being held by the Datsun 240Z.
2nd Place overall being held by a Nissan Pathfinder
3rd Place overall being held by Colin-the-Cortina


The only apparent hazard at this time was the local wildlife in the form of camels….


As we neared the border with Libya we noticed lots of small stalls at the side of the road selling what looked like bottled water. This was in fact smuggled fuel from Libya and the advise we later received was that it wasn’t so much the octane content that was the problem but more the donkey liquid content that bulked it out!


We arrived at the Tunisian exit border at around 11:30am and crossed into no man’s land without issue. Once at the Libyan border post we had to hand over our passports and wait……


And wait……

Three hours later we were issued with our local number plates and allowed to leave.


The police were very helpful and escorted us to our hotel and once there also kept an eye on our cars and the exit from the hotel, to keep us safe.


They also kept a watchful eye on us on the beach, in case there were any problems etc.

All in all it’s proved to be a very long day with little mileage, but at least the car is still running very well. Unfortunately my mobile telephone will not connect in Libya and so I suspect that this blog will not see the light of day until Egypt on the 3rd February.

And now for a quick drink (fruit juice) and then to dinner.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Two Days Update...

Tuesday 27th January 2009
Time: 07:45 - 17:00
Distance: 410 miles
Rally Position: 8 from 41
F*ck me that was close

The day started early at the hotel as the official start point was over an hour away at a Roman ruin.



A review of the previous days timings showed that whilst quick, we were well off the pace and had dropped into 8th position. The Datsun 240Z had certainly shown the rest of the pack a clean pair of heels and had recorded a time of 15mins against our 17mins, so the need to drive harder was certainly there.

The first stage on today’s route was a fast off road section being a mixture of chalk, mud and gravel. Luckily for us were driving on Rally Use Only tyres and they are for mud and snow, so we were confident.

At the time of writing who knows our position but it was some serious fun! I glanced at the GPS speed reading and at one point in loose gravel we were in excess of 110kph, the car was just floating across the surface and pulling like a train. We were fully loaded with fuel (24 gallons) and we knew that the previous day this had held the time down, so this time it was push, push, push and it seemed to have worked… results tomorrow.

The second stage was a bit if a shocker. It was deep sand, mud and gravel with huge water pools and cars with low ground clearance were warned against it.

The car immediately in front of us was the rally prep’d Volvo 145S and he took off after the countdown. I watched as within 100 yards of the start he span and then span again. Mental note to self, go easy, it’s harder than it looks!
I moved up to the start point and waited for the countdown… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 GO!
This time I had built the revs to 6,000 rpm and we left the start line covering the officials in sand and gravel and reached the Volvo’s spin point…. to say it was slippery was an under statement and I span the wheel first one way, then the other to keep Colin straight and floored the accelerator… he pulled straight and through the deep sand. We continued at full chat alongside a railway line and on two occasion the back started to swing wildly… more power kept the car straight but caused some anxious moments in the car! We crossed a railway line and then turned sharply left. As we did so I saw that the route split into two parts travelling in the same direction, in effect a high road and a low road. I chose high and as we did so we saw the Volvo up to its doorsills in mud on the low road…. That ditch was to claim 4 mores cars before the stage was over!

As we neared the end marker we had to cross a water splash that was about 25 feet long but with no idea of the depth. I checked the speed and it was 100kph, no time to brake so foot down and in… As we entered the water I saw a pedestrian crouched at the far end by the exit taking photos…. We hit the water hard and some squirted up into the cockpit through floor-pan holes, the screen was mudded out and I went for the wipers. Although I could not see what I did know was that the car was turning at high-speed towards the photographer…. I literally waited for the bump as we were surely going to hit him…. Apparently he must have jumped for his life because some how we missed him! My wife, who is a lady don’t you know said “F*uck me that was close”……. I laughed, but thought closer than you know!



After a lunch break stage three was cancelled due to flooding! Welcome to the desert I thought?

The afternoon was now free of competition to we have pushed further South towards Libya and tomorrow we cross the border. The mountain roads en route have been deserted and I travelled at speed for 40 minutes before seeing another person. My Lotus Elise would have a blast here!


The internet in Tunisia has been very hit and miss, so my rally following chums this might be the last posting until 3rd February when we enter Egypt, but who knows.

Car: Coolant leaked stopped, gearbox still leaking but manageable, engine oil leaking but again manageable. The tappets are as noisy as hell and driving me mad, but at the moment don’t fix what isn’t broke! Still pulling like a train!

Come on Colin…………

PS. Bulletin just published.... we're 2nd in class and 3rd overall...!?!?

Monday 26th January 2009
Time: 09:09 - 16:00
Distance: 240 miles
Rally Position: Starting point position No. 19 from 41

This what it’s all about!

Looking around the car park on Sunday afternoon revealed both expensive and well prepared vehicles, not necessarily both together.

The first well prepared car I made a mental note of was an Morris 1800 Land Crab, arch-rival to the Lotus Cortina having competed head-to-head in the 1968 London-Sydney Daily Telegraph race. The car looked the part and had been signed by Paddy Hopkirk having been one of the original recon vehicles.


The Nissan 240Z also caught my eye as did a fully prepared Volvo 145S.Throw in a selection of Jaguar MKII’s and an E-type we were in for some fast roads…



The drivers briefing took place on Sunday night and it was a relief to be in a conference room that was not pitching and rolling. We were allocated start number 19 and given warnings re local wildlife, accidents, fuel etc.

After the briefing Ces and I went for a drink in the hotel bar and relaxed into the convivial atmosphere. Within minutes one of the biggest cats I’ve ever seen arrived from nowhere and plonked itself squarely onto Ces’ lap. Having just had the briefing about rabies here was a dilemma…. You see in the local culture, cats are a sign of good fortune and are cherished. This one was not so cherished and soon learn that what was good as a local culture was not so good for my wife….. A long story but that cat wasn’t so lucky!

After a night roughing it in our hotel, we had breakfast and made our way to the car park and starting line.


It would be fair to say I was very nervous but accepted we were as prepared as we could be.

At the designated time Ces came sprinting back to the car and we tore away from the start line, making I felt a really rather good impression of a proper rally car. Unfortunately as I rounded the first corner the policeman didn’t think so and ordered us onto the back of a queue of other rally cars… We were held for 30 minutes and then escorted as a group away from the hotel and out into the countryside…. I started to think that they thought we were Gumball types and that we were to be shepherded the entire route. How wrong can you be…. Once at the city limits we were waved through and away the stream went onto the first timed stage.

The first timed stage started by the remains of a Roman aquaduct and ran for around 40kms. We were despatched at 1 minute intervals, however in our case the marshall made us wait for 2 minutes. Just as well because Colin-the-Cortina was set-up exactly for this stage. A real mix of gravel and mud with tarmac stretches in between. At the time of writing I do not know our time or position, but we caught and passed numerous other cars….. It was fantastic and I thought this is what it’s all about!!

The Twin-Cam was the right engine for the job and the type-9 gearbox that had given us the ability to cruise at motorway speeds to the event, was geared to give us all the grunt we needed in the first four road gears and all delivered between 4,500 to 7,000 rpm.

Once at the check point we were able to make some basic checks and it was just as well. The engine was covered in green coolant and it was leaking fast. We had a ten minute window to find the leak and make a fix. I am pleased to say that the sweep mechanic on the event is also the man who built the car for this rally and within seconds he diagnosed the temperature sensor weeping. He knew this he said because he’d changed the dodgy looking original one for a new one!

We missed our start slot by 5 minutes but the distance to the next check was on main roads and so great that we easily made our arrival time for the next special stage.

The second stage was not so well suited to us, as it was all tarmac with very long straights and some minor gravel or loose sections. I anticipate a Jaguar for the honours here….

Having arrived at our hotel I checked the coolant situation, and the leak had stopped. Downside was that we now had no temperature read-out but hey, what a result. Oil had also been leaking from the rocker-cover and this was tightened down and we’ll monitor the leak to see if it is also finding another route out. I was aware that our gearbox was leaking oil so took the opportunity to jack-up the car and test… Just as well, the box took ½ litre! Again this is now on the watch list….



In summary, going well but along way to go yet….

Sunday, 25 January 2009

You won’t want breakfast!

Saturday 24th January 2009
Time: 07:00 - 08:30
Distance: 2 miles (driven)
Rally Position: N/A

You won’t want breakfast

Yet another early morning alarm, but this time all we were required to do was load the car and head the 2 miles to the ferry terminal.

We arrived at 8.00am as requested by the rally organisers and were shepherded into our own loading area.

For the first time we were able to view some of the other competition cars and what a mix! There were many vintage cars present built in the early 1900’s through to a 2007 Nissan Pathfinder. Within our group we’ve so far sighted a Holden, Nissan 240Z , Volvo 240, Volvo P1800, Austin 1800 (Land Crab) and some MG’s but due to the dreadful weather (yet again) the whole list is not complete.

At the time of writing this blog we’ve boarded the ferry and found our cabin. The actual loading of the ferry has given us our first taste of Africa….. it was chaos and appears to run without any structure! We started queuing at 8.00am but loading began at 10.00am it was only once in the queue having rushed and gone without breakfast that one of the organisers said “You won’t want breakfast, it’s blowing a gale out there”

Well safely aboard with Colin on the car deck there’s nothing for us to do now but relax and enjoy the cruise across to Tunis…. well that’s the version I am trying to sell to Ces.


Sunday 25th January 2009
Time: All night….
Distance: Miles and Miles
Rally Position: Who cares…..

Looks like we’re in for a rough night.

As we pulled away for the berth in Marseille and headed out into open water, the was a real feeling of goodbye to Europe as our next stop was Africa or to be more exact Tunis the capitol of Tunisia, North Africa.



Once clear of the harbour walls, thoughts of Africa quickly faded and instead thoughts of The Poseidon Adventure filled my head. Would I really be able to remember which way to swim to freedom along an upside down stair case and would there really be a priest there to save me….


The drivers briefing after the signing-on procedure was promptly cancelled, in part due to the fact that one of the organisers had his head in a bucket for most of the time. There was no smell of Jeyes fluid in the air, instead something much more overpowering..

The upside was that there was no queue in the restaurant and my last European meal of chicken and chips (it sounded better in French) was fantastic, although the loos seemed permanently engaged. One of the restaurant staff commented that we were in for a rough night, and I thought you’re in the wrong job, you should be a fortune teller.

The local time is now 08:35am and at last the ship has began to settle, the rolling and swinging has stopped and we can see land.

That land is Africa!

We cleared customs in a little over an hour which was a huge surprise, but then had to wait for our police escort honour guard that would take us to the hotel! Apparently the local police chief is a car enthusiast and he insisted...

Once at our hotel some 5 miles from the coast we settled in and then reloaded the car in an attempt to reduce the rear end sag we'd developed.


Fingers crossed for tomorrow and the start for real. It looks like it's going to be a hard run..... And oh, it's stopped raining!

Friday, 23 January 2009

Watch your speed...

Time: 09:00 - 16:30
Distance: 427 miles
Rally Position: N/A

Waking up in Dijon I threw back the curtains in anticipation of a glorious day. Instead I was met with a view of a steel fire escape and a wet one at that. It was raining....

We headed back on to the autoroute and headed South, this time pushing the car a little harder than the day before. Within minutes my level headed navigator told me to "watch your speed", and without hesitation I thanked Ces for her welcome advice! It was at this point she suggested I look at the speedo....

It became apparent that the rev counter and speedo were in fact part of the same union and had decided to down tools in support of one another. Fortunately the Garmin navigation system we are running also gives your current speed, so law and order was once again maintained.... Phew, I was worried about speeding!

The day continued in a very uneventful fashion and at last I could see the sea....

Well, I could see the sea on my nav system. The weather was so bad in fact that seeing much past the end of the bonnet for spray was in itself an achievement.

There were some breaks in the rain and this did allow some glimpses of local countryside.

The road into Marseille was surprisingly quiet and we arrived at our hotel in good time.

Tomorrow we met all the other competitors for the first time at the rendezvous point near the old port and form up to catch the ferry to Tunisia. The car is running well and at the time of writing all seems pretty good. The next blog update will hopefully be when we arrive at our first hotel of the rally in Tunis on Sunday afternoon immediately after scruntineering and at that time, you'll see some pics of the other cars taking part, including a Holden, Jaguar MKII etc.

As a surprise for Ces, two friends from SELOC (Lotus Owners Club) have driven from Geneva to see us off tomorrow, so for now it's time for a glass or two.....

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Intermittent to mittent?

Time: 07:00 - 19:30
Distance: 429 Miles
Rally Position: N/A

I was already switching-off the alarm as its first beep filled the room. I had experienced one of the worst nights weather that Dover had surely ever endured.... Driving rain and strong winds, just what you want when about to board a ferry!

Once outside in the car park the true extent of the weather situation became all to obvious and any good intentions I had had re checking oil, water, tyres etc soon went by the wayside. Pouring rain and bitter winds, in my opinion do not encourage roadside tinkering.

Once into the car and out of the weather I turned the key and......
nothing, completely dead!

Immediately my mind ran through the electrical items that I could have left switched-on and it was that thought that reminded me I had removed the kill switch key! It's funny how 3 hours sleep plays tricks on the mind.

With the kill switch in place, the car fired and started at first attempt. On went the blower and of course the wipers. It was at this point that the passengers side wiper decided that it did not want to be part of our adventure and promptly threw itself from the wiper arm and off into the dark. I looked at Ces (the wife) and Ces looked at me..... Now I am a modern man and believe that women are mens equal, therefore without hesitation Ces was sent out in the rain to retrieve the wiper blade and of course re-fit it.... Ah, equality, I am a big believer in all things politically correct.

Once loosely fitted back in place we departed the car park, trying not to use the wipers until a more permanent bodge could be put in place on the ferry.

We arrived in good time only to be told that the boat had been delayed due to the bad weather and things were running around an hour behind schedule. In short, wiper fixed!

Once on the ferry we were assured that the boat had stabilizers and that although rough we would glide over the top. I couldn't help but think why the hell didn't we use the tunnel. At least once aboard there was no trace of the smell of Jeyes fluid and that at least meant that the previous crossing had not been too bad...

Breakfast on-board allowed a view of the mill-pond called The Channel and all I can say is, I am glad we had stabilisers.

After an hour and a half on the high seas we joined land and that meant the autoroute system... In summary it rained...
and rained....

It was whilst on this mind-numbing journey that the intermittent Rev counter fault decided to become mittent, no matter how many gentle taps I gave it!

Everything else ran smoothly zooming along at an indicated 80mph and an oil pressure of 50psi and a temp gauge just about cool, the car did us proud....

Well yet again the bar beckons, and another day of autoroute tomorrow.... I can't wait. For the bar that is.....