Mario’s human (and chief medic!) James has set off to take part in the 2014 Winter Challenge which starts on Sunday from Troyes, South East of Paris and meanders it’s way through the mountainous areas of France to finish in Monte Carlo next Thursday having hopefully completed some of the most famous Cols in rallying history.
James is navigating for Dutchman Herman Mass in a 1967 Volvo 122S. They have been a successful team for a number of years taking part in various Winter Events. Previous years have seen them on the Winter Trial which takes place in January with routes all over Europe from Eastern Holland, through Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Austria and Italy, meaning they’ve often found themselves in very snowy and icy conditions.
It’s not looking like they are going to get such harsh winter conditions on this years Winter Challenge route through France and so James’ position as navigator will be much more important, one wrong slot could make all the difference on the road. James has spent the last couple of weeks busily plotting the route onto his maps, it looks like there will be some rather tricky navigational sections, hopefully they will do well – always a bit of a dilemma, I want them to succeed but you should see some of the trophies they bring home!
James started off taking part in classic rallies more than 25 years ago initially as a driver, in an Austin A35, Mini, Hillman Minx and a pre-war Riley. Lots of fun and lots of adventures were to be had including breaking down in the Riley and being looked after by a family in a very remote part of France, apparently it was like a scene from ‘Ello, Ello’ when the poor husband came home to find two english ‘airmen’ in flying hats and goggles sitting in his kitchen!
He progressed on to an Austin Westminster Police car with navigator Keith Webster in full period police uniform, which became very well known on the classic circuit or you could say notorious – especially for being given a tour of Aix le Bain police station by the local Chief of Police who thought they were real policeman, amazingly they didn’t get arrested although they had rather naughtily had their picture taken in the cells! Unfortunately after a number of years the well performing Westminster met a rather sticky end, embedded in a gatepost in very icy conditions, luckily James and Keith were both unhurt, other than their pride, although James will never be able to forget the words of advise – ‘Don’t overtake the snow plough!’
After success driving in the early days, once James started his restoration business he started being asked by clients to navigate for them and so he began a second ‘career’ on the maps, which he now prefers to driving. As his interest in vintage cars grew, he started navigating in pre-war open top beasts, generally during the winter, the more inclement the weather the better. Several Le Jogs were undertaken in various pre-war cars plus several more visits to the North on the Flying Scotsman.
Now Mario has no intention of becoming a rally car in winter or summer but we have taken his ‘little brother’ Nippy the Subaru 360 on two microcar rallies across Europe. With James driving and Jane as a rather novice navigator we all had a big adventure but that’ll have to wait for the next blog…