Aston Martin World - Stage 4 - Marrakech to London - Driving Ambition by Barry Weir
Everyone was watching Ronald and Pippa in the pool at lunchtime and unfortunately they were a major topic of conversation. It is pretty obvious that some on the Rally think there is something going on between them. I don’t know if they know. Anyhow I am staying well out of it on the sideline. Tonight they didn’t turn up for the poolside buffet until two hours after the rest of us. I don’t know if they are aware of how much interest they’re attracting.
It appeared that Christine from the Rover had her bum bag stolen with her passport and everything in it. This caused real panic, as you have a number stamped in it at customs and she needed to have that to leave the country. So there were big, fraught panics, all over the place. We were sitting down having a meal with Christine and Tim, and one of the Healey guys, Dick Dyke-Price and his wife were having a really good laugh about all the problems we had had during the rally. A really nice social evening.That started about 7.30 pm for drinks and then we sat down to eat about 8.00 pm.
Day 73 – Tuesday 11th July
Marrakech to Quarzazate – 415 km
Temperatures rocketed for the drive to Quarzazate and we had to work very hard to keep the engine from overheating. The towering Atlas Mountains were just visible ahead of us through the morning mist as we set off from Marrakech. Already it was very hot, and it was destined to be the hottest day of the event so far.
The scenery was similar to the Chinese desert – a black tarmac road flanked by barren scrubland. The main differences here were the tiny villages and tatty looking trees that provided occasional splashes of colour and interest.
Along the edge of the desert, huge herds of camels and donkeys, the preferred modes of transport in the region, grazed the barren land. In the stiflingly hot cabin of the Aston, the thought of being out in the open astride one of these animals seemed infinitely preferable to that of being confined in a stuffy metal box. Its 9.00 am and 30oC plus.
An incredibly hot day. We got through the timed trial all right, running at 32oC, oil pressure and everything else fine, but after that it just kept getting hotter. We placed a plastic bottle between the open bonnet and engine to allow more air through to keep it cool. Very hot.
The view at the start of the trial was fantastic, and there were crickets absolutely everywhere, making an awful racket up in the trees. Well what a hill climb that was, absolutely amazing. Very narrow roads only wide enough for one car but with two-way traffic and lorries coming up. Anyway we flew up and overtook the Busch’s, absolutely fabulous, we had an amazing time.
We are on the level heading to Quarzazate, where we are staying. It was absolutely cooking in the car now. The temperature was just below 32°C, the oil pressure just above 50 and we were doing 3000 revs and 120 kph. Wow it was ever so, ever so hot out there and even hotter in the car. We had the heater going, the de-mister going, we were never going to keep the engine cool – it was cooking!
By mid-afternoon it must have been in the high 40’s inside the car and I could hardly touch anything – the gear lever, gear shaft, the aluminium spokes on the steering wheel – anything. But the Recaro seats were great – a Godsend for this trip. The Alcantara covering meant they could breathe, so even though the heat in the cabin was fierce, the back of the seats still felt cool. Leather would have made us sweat like hell.
We started getting petrol fumes in the car so we pulled in and found petrol was dribbling out of the vent. We had filled up with petrol first thing and the heat had expanded it so much that it was just bubbling out. There wasn’t much we could do about it, so we just kept on going. I am now absolutely knackered. It’s too hot to rest in my hotel room, so I shall drag myself down to the pool to cool off. Then it’s dinner and bed, and I just hope it cools down enough to get some sleep.
Day 74 – Wednesday 12th July
Quarzazate to Erfoud – 400 km
The dramatic North African scenery was more than matched by the drama among the cast and crew. It was a very unusual day, from the morning drive up to the striking red-walled Gorge du Todra, a favourite location with film crews around the world, through to the evening’s desert test stage in the moonlit Sahara.
After the refreshing stop at the Gorge, a beautifully cool place to pause in the heat of a day that peaked at more than 50oC, we had a straight run through desert scrub to Erfoud. We spent a few hours unwinding and keeping cool at the hotel before climbing back into our cars for the evening drive into the desert.
It’s been action all the way tonight. There was a major sandstorm blowing when we set off into the desert and it took us an hour to get out to the dunes for the trial. Fortunately, it had eased off a bit by the time we got there. The Rally crew had put out orange markers to show the way, and off we duly went at one-minute intervals following the signs. The track went either to the left or the right of the orange markers and I wove my way in and out while Ronald told me which way to go. On one section I’m sure Ronald said ‘keep left’ so I did, but then he yelled at me for getting it wrong. Apparently I should have turned left 90 degrees, not gone left. He yelled and screamed at me, which I thought was a bit unfair. If it was my mistake it was the first I’d made in 74 days. I stopped counting his mistakes after the first ten, so I think I’m entitled to make just one.
We nearly missed a passage control and I had to swing the car round sharply into it. I got halfway round and then had to reverse, the bloody car died on me. I restarted the engine and went to reverse, only to find Picasso right behind me, with Morault immediately behind him. I had to wait for Picasso to reverse before I could, and then I stalled again. God it was embarrassing!
Finally, we got into the time control eight minutes late even after hammering it over ruts and boulders in the desert. Freddie Giles lost seven minutes, so we were quite chuffed that we had kept up with the big boys yet again, despite going wrong briefly.
David Hughes in his Rover forced Yves Morault off the road. David was coming down a track the rest of us were going up. Morault must have been stuck in the sand for half an hour. Once he got out he put his foot down and managed to get in with 22 minutes of penalties, but he was pretty ticked off about it. David Hughes got his ‘comeuppance’ later though, because he missed the passage control, earning himself 30 minutes’ penalty. The Brodericks, in the Mercedes and currently lying in second place, apparently approached the time control from the wrong direction – in other words they got lost. Rule seven says that this merits a half-hour penalty but Philip Young said they wouldn’t be penalised. I do sometimes get a bit fed up at the way the rules seem to be interpreted differently depending on who they’re being applied to. New clerk of the course, new interpretation of rules.
We watched the sun set over the sand dunes. It was a late evening picnic. By the time we had finished the special section and dinner it was so dark in the desert that we had to come back in convoy to make sure we didn’t lose anyone along the way.
Back in the bar I got some news that made me smile. It was rumoured that Mr Broderick and another guy were seen having an argument in the car park and they had to be pulled apart.
Day 75 – Thursday 13th July
Erfoud to Tangier – 660 km
It was an easy day on decent roads for a change. It was still dark when we dragged ourselves out of bed, but it was worth it. By mid-morning it was stifling in the car, but we were already halfway to Tangier and we had clear roads most of the rest of the way, so we didn’t have too much trouble keeping the engine cool.
As we drove north we gradually left behind the desert and mountains, and the scenery became increasingly green and fertile. The roads grew heavy with traffic and at Larache we hit one final section of motorway carrying us into Tangier.
We got in early this afternoon and headed as usual for the pool. I reckon I could write a guidebook after this: ‘Hotel Pools I Have Known’ or ‘Where in the World to Get Wet’, also ‘Best Garages in China’.
This was our last stop before the ferry across to Spain where I was looking forward to celebrating my 50th birthday with my family in Murcia. Home was then just a long weekend away.
I haven’t heard any more about the alleged fight in the car park last night, so I’ll just have to keep speculating for now.
It’s a lot cooler so I’m going to sort out the car and get it ready for shipping in the morning. I’m assuming that we’ve now seen the last of the dust so I’ll give it a really good clean. I hope I’m not being a bit premature. After that I’ll have to pack myself off to bed because tomorrow is an even earlier start than today – the ferry leaves at 6.00 am and we have to be at the port by 4.30 am.
Roma, the girls and Donna’s husband, John, have promised to be there to meet us in Murcia with a ringing chorus of ‘Happy Birthday to You!’ I don’t know about 50, I think I’ve aged ten years since I started this rally. It’s so weird now; I can’t believe it’s nearly over. And I can’t imagine what I’m going to feel like this time next week.
Day 76 – Friday 14th July
Tangier to Murcia, Spain – 530 km
Iwas up, not exactly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but awake at least, and ready to leave by 4.00 am. This morning was an annoyingly typical bit of supermarket logic. We got to the port in plenty of time and there were four lanes going onto the ferry. We chose lane three, but it then turned out that only lane two was open. Whatever this law is – the queue you choose is guaranteed to be the wrong one. It was quite chilly sitting there too. We had got used to the heat, so when it drops a few degrees you really notice the difference.
It was a pleasant two-hour ferry crossing, which gave us plenty of time for a relaxed chat with some of the other competitors, Shirin and François provided a 50th champagne breakfast. A delightful surprise and very much appreciated. A quick disembarkation and we were zipping eastward along the coast road, slowing briefly through the more congested Costa del Sol, before heading inland to Granada, Baza and finally Murcia, and my birthday celebrations.
We really pushed it getting to Murcia, but it was worth the effort. we were the first car in.
When we arrived at the hotel, Roma was there with Donna and John, Charlotte and Helena, and Helena’s boyfriend, James, and a long-time friend Denise. They’d arranged champagne for all the rally competitors, and there was a birthday cake for me. No candles, but you can’t have everything. Then later on, twenty or so of us went out for a very nice meal. It was a shame we couldn’t stay out longer, but we’d got another early start tomorrow so we couldn’t keep typical Spanish hours. Another 10 hour drive tomorrow.
Day 77 – Saturday 15th July
Murcia to Terrasa – 610 km
The drive to Terrasa took us along main highways and motorways up the Mediterranean coastline, passing Benidorm and Valencia before stopping at our hotel on the north side of Barcelona. The journey was likely to take at least ten hours and since we knew it would be extremely hot in the middle of the day we had decided the night before to set off as early in the morning as possible.
Ronald was supposed to meet me at 5.30 am so we could get underway while it was still cool and miss the bulk of the traffic, but he wasn’t there. I phoned him in his room and he wasn’t even awake!
Roma and the gang are flying home tomorrow. Today they will have been sunning themselves down on a beach near Murcia and knocking back any left over champagne and eating the remaining birthday cake.
It was very drab scenery most of the way to Terrasa, lots of dried out brown and green, but it didn’t matter because I was too busy concentrating on keeping our speed at around 170 kph for hours on end. The motorway services were terribly filthy and under-staffed. I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone. Some of the cars are really starting to suffer from wear and tear, especially the Lagonda and the Jam Tart. I hope we all make it home – it would be a great shame to fall at this late stage.
Day 78 – Sunday 16th July
Terrasa to Clermont-Ferrand, France – 620 km
Another long drive (11 hours) meant yet another early start. For the first day in quite some time the sky was cloudy and overcast and the forecast didn’t look very good at all.
This time Ronald was ready for me at 5.30 am and after a quick breakfast, only toast – I’m getting too fat, we were off. I was aware that a lot of drivers had mentally already finished, so I was determined to get through each remaining day as quickly and smoothly as possible in the hope that someone, somewhere, might still make a mistake. This decision however confirmed that Ronald’s and my own philosophies on the Rally were by now, and had perhaps always been, poles apart.
There was a picnic lunch laid on for us at the halfway point, at Lake Salagou. Ronald wanted to go but I had already told him this morning that we were carrying straight on to Clermont-Ferrand. Everyone was bound to stay longer than they intended and then it would be a mad rush to the hotel. That’s not on my agenda at all. The race is still on and doesn’t end until we cross the finish line at Tower Bridge. Picnic lunches are for the tourists, the ones who are just doing the tour for fun and have no hope of winning any prizes. They can afford to spend a couple of hours over lunch and arrive late, but not me.
Ronald accepted my decision but he obviously wasn’t too thrilled because he kept bringing it up all day, saying I should lighten up a bit, and asking me what was more important, third place in the Rally or our friends. Bloody silly question I think. I’m quite disappointed in Ronald. I thought he would have been more committed to the Rally. I told him when we started that it would be 80 days of solid commitment, but he’s more interested in socialising than winning. He’s paid £30,000 and I’ve shelled out umpteen thousand, more than I care to count. That might be peanuts to him but for me it’s a bloody expensive way of making new friends. I entered this Rally to win, or at least to do the very best I could, and I won’t give up until we cross the finish line. I told him we’d have plenty of time for fun when we got to Tower Bridge. For now we were still in the race and anything could happen in the next two days. The hardest part of any race is the last 100 yards. He didn’t mention it again after that.
On Tuesday we’re booked on the 11.15 am ferry, but we’ve been advised to get the 10.15 am, otherwise we might not get to Brands Hatch in time. We would have checked out at 6.00 am for the later ferry, so now we’ll be leaving at 4.30 am. There’s no way we’re going to miss that ferry and end up with 12 hours of penalty points. Ronald looked a bit shocked when I mentioned it to him.
Day 79 – Monday 17th July
Clermont-Ferrand to Laon – 520 km
At this stage of the Rally the driving was really secondary for most, something to be got out of the way as smoothly and easily as possible so that the partying could get underway. But not for me!
Today we drove up through acres and acres of bright-yellow sunflowers, stopping for lunch and coffee at a few places along the way, but didn’t see another rally competitor until we got to the hotel. By mid-afternoon most cars had arrived in Laon, north of Reims, and even the latecomers were home for tea, or more accurately, champagne.
We’ve had early starts every day since about halfway across America. This morning it was 4.30 am, to miss the worst of the traffic. I’m really looking forward to Thursday morning so I can have a lie-in in my own bed (Wednesday we’ll still be in London).
I found out that Syd Stelvio who’s been writing Tappet’s Chatter, the Rally diary for the Classic Rally Association’s website, is in fact Philip Young! That was a surprise – with everything else he’s had to do I don’t know where he has found the time, there must have been a lot of burning of the midnight oil.
Champagne and canapés courtesy of the Moraults this afternoon, which was rather nice, they are a really great couple. We also had a presentation for the mechanics to thank them for all their help and hard work – although not for us. We had to ‘do it yourself ’ because they were so busy fixing other cars! This evening there is a buffet for all entrants.
Both Ronald and Pippa have told me separately that I should lighten up and enjoy the party, but I can’t, not yet. The event is still on until the finishing line!
Maybe I do need to ‘lighten up’ a bit, but Pippa needs to watch it at the other end of the scale. At the bar she admitted that she’d fallen asleep at the wheel today and Christine had to grab it before they hit one of the safety rails on the motorway. Then at dinner Christine went to get some food and by the time she got back to the table Pippa had invited so many other people to join them there was no room left for her to sit down. She got a chair from somewhere but was obviously very upset and after a few minutes she just got up and walked out. She said she’d ‘had enough of bloody Pippa playing Miss Sociable.’ I took her meal to her at the bar where the Mustang boys looked after her. They really have been good fun with a great sense of humour. I had a pleasant evening though. After calling Tim about selling all the leftover spare parts because we won’t need them any more, I spent the rest of the time having a very nice time drinking champagne and chatting with all my Rally friends.
Day 80 – Tuesday 18th July
Laon to London, England – 360 km
This final day was long, tiring and very exciting and I must have experienced every possible emotion as we went from being competitors, to boys with their toys for a while, to returning heroes, and then finally to husbands and fathers once more.
Ronald was up and ready to leave at 5.00 am, without the hint of a complaint. We set off in dense mist.
Whether it was the change in the weather or the fact that I knew I was reaching the end of a very different chapter in my life, I was affected by all that I saw as we drove up towards Calais and the ferry home. When the mist eventually cleared this morning and the sun came up it was like a bright yellow peach coming over the horizon. It was absolutely stunning, but looking around I suddenly realised how much everything has changed now that we’re back in Northern Europe. We’ve been through wide-open ranges through most of Asia and America, with open-style housing and gardens and no recognisable borders. But all at once it’s high hedges and six-foot walls, it’s all about marking your territory – a completely different way of life.
Ronald was cheerful this morning; positively raring to go in fact, which was quite a surprise after his attitude the last couple of days. However, he missed a turning on the way to Calais, so we had to retrace our steps. I told him that such unforeseen errors, along with the mist, were two good reasons for giving ourselves plenty of time today. He agreed and saw my point of view.
We got the 8.10 am ferry and drove rather gingerly to Brands Hatch. I didn’t want anything going wrong at this late stage – that would have been really stupid. We were the second ones in. Ralph Jones in the other Aston was first – he came over last night.
At the race track, Ford were having a track day, trying out some of their research vehicles, so when we had parked I strolled down and had a look. I met Harry Carlton from Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd, got a ticket and badge, signed on, and then there I was driving new line production cars round the track at Brands Hatch – not bad at all.
After driving the DB2/4 with no power steering, power brakes or air conditioning for 80 days, being in a racing car with power everything was unnerving to say the least. I’d been used to leaning my whole body into every turn but in these cars one finger is all it takes – I had an absolutely brilliant time.
Ronald came down later and we both had great fun driving round the track in different cars. I told Harry that we’ve won the Historic Sports Car Class and we were fifth overall, and he’s over the moon, absolutely delighted for us.
I met Ulrich Bez, the new Chief Executive of Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. He was delighted that we had done so well and he said they would be interested in keeping the car at the Heritage Museum at Gaydon. That’s something to think about when we get back home.
We finally left at 2.40 pm to get to Tower Bridge for 3.30 pm. This was in convoy up to Tower Bridge. When we got there I jumped out to take some photos, which we weren’t supposed to, but what the hell! About three quarters of the way across there was a film crew, so we leapt out again and waved to everybody, and then at the end of the bridge Roma and the family were there with their cameras, so I stopped for them as well, so we had loads of pictures.
We got to the Royal Mint Court, the official finish, and when we pulled in Roma and the rest were there spraying champagne all over the car. Tom May was there, and Tim Butcher with the mechanics. We were the only whole team there. It was a fantastic welcome and a bit of a tearful moment too. All the excitement and relief after holding it all together all this time got a bit much and I suppose it all came out at once. I had a little cry.
We eventually went on to the dinner at about 7.30 pm, but then things got a bit up and down. All of the tables were organised for parties of 10 or more so any smaller groups, like Ronald’s party of six, had to just fill in gaps, which wasn’t very nice at all. The food situation was awful: we’d paid £100 a ticket for what was a light buffet dinner, and by the time we got there the hot food was cold and they’d run out of bread.
There was no dancing and no entertainment, and this was supposed to be a party. There was also very little media interest. We were led to expect TV, press, the lot, but there was hardly anyone there. No one seemed interested that we had just driven “Around the World in 80 days”.
I couldn’t help being a bit excited though, and I cheered up a bit after dinner when we went out to watch the amazing firework display over the Thames. Then it was time for the best and most important bit – the prizegiving. Stirling Moss was there again, this time dishing out the trophies, and when Ronald and I were called up as winners of the Historic Sports Car Class and we stood on the podium shaking hands it was just the most fantastic feeling ever. I made it. 80 days around the world! And in an old Aston Martin Sports Car. A world record.
Now I’m just sitting here trying to wind down. My brain feels like it’s still running at 100 mph, like the car, and I don’t know how to shut it down for the night. I can’t believe this is it. Roma and I are back in our hotel room after the Gala prize-giving. It’s been great and yet such an anticlimax at the same time. Driving back onto Tower Bridge was just fantastic, and I suppose I thought it would go on like that, but I feel like I’ve come down to earth with a real, but unnecessarily harsh, bump.
Roma has to decide now whether to let the car go to the Aston Martin Lagonda Museum or get it overhauled and tidied up to use herself. She’ll probably need a bit of time; I doubt if she can even remember what it feels like to drive it, it’s been so long.
I’ve been wondering about the Rally. Would I do it again? Yes. If I had the chance and Roma would lend me the car I’d probably be off again as soon as it was ready. It wouldn’t take too long; it’s really running very well all things considered.
Meanwhile, I’ve got a few days to unwind and then I’ll have to get my head around what’s going on with business. Back to the normal day-to-day routine. Life goes on. We’ll see.
Spirit of the angels… Well I still don’t know what life is all about. No doubt I shall keep looking.
You know, I drove around the world. Broke speed limits, went up one-way streets the wrong way and never got a ticket. However, today, Thursday, I went to get the car and found – yes, you’ve guessed it – a parking ticket. It has to be England! Yes, I am home.
Throughout the Rally the car was cleaned, greased, filled with fuel and checked every night, taking up to two hours, even if we arrived at 11.00 pm. The most important thing was to look after the car, looking after me came a long way second.
“The race is still on – it doesn’t end until we cross the finishing line”