Driving a 1954 Austin-Healey 100/4 from Peking to Paris in the June 2019 ERA Rally.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

0134 Baltic States & Poland Days 29-32

0134 Baltic States & Poland Days 29-32
30th June - 3rd July 2019
Getting closer !

Sunset over Tallinn
1929 RR Phantom I in Tallinn
Day 29.  Tallinn to Riga.  356 kms.  Leaving the hotel,
roadworks necessitated some "ERA Arrows" to be posted at the last minute to change our route out of Tallinn.  No problem, except somehow our Monit had changed its distance measurement from kilometers to miles, and markers in the route book (like gas stations or churches) were coming up very early !  After a while I sussed what was happening and got it back to reading kms again !

Laitse Rally Park
We headed off first to the Laitse Rally Park, a purpose built and very popular track - In fact there was to be a local rallycross event held there shortly after our visit, so the local crowds were already building - Or were they there just to see us ? 😊   It was a great little circuit, and we even got some video of us on track courtesy of Noele.  As this was also a TC, we got to wait around afterwards for our re-start times, and therefore got to watch some of the other people on track.  There was also a small museum there with some interesting cars on show.

Halinga Cafe Park
Latvian border
There was then a great drive through the countryside, with some smooth dirt sections
in between the tarmac main roads, stopping at the Halinga Cafe for lunch during another TC wait.  It was then on south, crossing into Latvia where we had to search between parked cars to find the border post !  It was then on down to Riga,
Lunch stop at Halinga cafe
where we had a test on the ex Soviet era Bikernieki circuit, nestling in the forest just outside of Riga. This is a good little tarmac circuit, and once again Ashton took Gidget round in a very respectable time. In fact, so respectable that he beat our target time by some 7 seconds! 

I have to mention chicanes, as they form a very interesting aspect of these circuits we go on, intended as they are to slow us down. 
Volvo in front at Bikernieki start
They are usually very tight chicanes, and from the first time we found them we realised how important it was to know whether they were left-right chicances, or right-left ones, so we could approach them correctly and thus reduce our times.  At road level, and at speed, it is often very difficult from a distance to spot which way they go, so any advance (and correct !) detailing is very helpful.   When they are either unknown, or not detailed correctly on the map, it makes for some quite difficult moments in the car for both navigator and driver !

Factory BMW 326
Russian copy BmW 326
After the track visit, we had time to visit the excellent little Riga Motor Museum,
where one of the displays showed a beautiful BMW 326 next to a......not quite so beautiful BMW 326.  The second one is actually one that was made by someone in Russia who wanted a 326, but couldn't afford one.  So they
Steyr 220
1938 V16 Auto Union
made this one up using parts of Soviet vehicles, trying to make it look like the original - And failing just a little !  For me, the Steyr 220 was just a delight, but upstairs, the replica 1938 Auto Union V16 race car was just sublime, and set off perfectly by the old movie of it on track used as a back drop. While the Riga Museum previously had an original V16 car, that was swapped for a replica which is now on display, while the original now resides in the Audi museum.  But the replica is pretty authentic, and Nick Mason did drive it at the Goodwood FoS in 2007.

Following the museum visit, we headed the short distance to the Radisson Blu hotel, located on the banks of the Daugava River.

Treelined country roads
Day 30.   Riga Latvia (via Lithuania) to Mikolajki, Poland.  524 kms. A long day today, broken up by a couple of tests.  We had breakfast in Latvia, lunch in Lithuania, and dinner in Poland !  In the morning we drove down some great country roads, and there were frequently stork nests up on poles beside the road, usually with storks sitting up in the nests.  After a PC at Baisogala, we headed on down to the Nemanus Ring, where some lunch was made available while we waited for the allocated
Taking a nap at Nemanus
start times.   This took a while, and some people even took the opportunity for a quick nap in the shade !  The track is great, with a section through the forest, and then an undulating and quite tight section before the finish.  We actually caught the VW Beetle in this section, but they kindly left us room to get past !
After Nemanus, it was a long 250 kms down to Mikolajki, where we had a special circuit test very close to the hotel.  The circuit was a figure of 8 loop with a bridge / underpass in the middle, and
Giant restaurant in Mikolajki
had two lanes, so two cars could be on circuit at once, which made it quite exciting.   Again, tight chicanes which needed care.   However they track was very bumpy, with broken up concrete sections, especially on the corners.  If it had been smooth it would have been great, but it was a little extreme for these cars that had suffered over the past 30 days.  We were pleased to be off it.
We then drove the short distance over to the hotel, which was the
Sweeps party in car park
most ENORMOUS place - I don't know how many rooms they had, but the restaurant
One for Jasper
had to be one of the biggest I have ever seen. However the food was excellent, and they had just about every kind of dish anyone could want.  Later on, we went down to the car park where the Sweeps Party was in place - This is a BYO party specifically to thank all the brilliant Sweeps and other ERA staff for all their tireless help during the past 30 days. They do so much to help us throughout the rally, often late at night or in less than ideal conditions, and it is their skills that enables many of these cars to eventually reach Paris.  Unfortunately Ashton heard tonight that his beloved dog Jasper had unexpectedly passed away back in Australia, which was most upsetting for him.  He picked some flowers in his memory.

Day 31.  Mikolajki to Bydgoszcz.   371 kms.    In the morning, after an excellent breakfast in the enormous restaurant, us navigators waited for our start times inside the hotel, while the drivers were sent off to get the cars and bring them round to the front, in roughly starting order !  ERA keep the same starting order for a few days, so we quickly get to know the two or three cars ahead of us, and we watch those navigators so we know when to be ready.  This morning we were all sitting on a large staircase, and, some time before we were due to start, suddenly one of the navigators with a similar start time got up and ran off.  This caused turmoil amongst the other navigators, who wondered if they had either missed their start time, and if not, why he had left.    A couple of minutes later he returned, and, concerned, we all asked "What is going on?".  "Oh, I just had to go to the loo" he said, sitting back down ! Yes, we were all getting weary after 30 days on the road, and if our expected schedules are disrupted, we get jumpy and want to know why !!

Once our times did come round, we set off to the delightful little cobbled town square just down the road, where we were told there was to be a ceremonial start.  Our start time is about 1 1/2 hours after that of vehicle #1, the Contal of Anton and Herman, and when we got to the square, there wasn't a lot going on.  We found out later that the Mayor of Mikolajki, Piotr Jakubowski, (a motorsport fan) had been there in the beginning, to personally greet and shake hands with competitors, along with Polish TV crews and national photographers milling around the Plac Wolnosci.  However, by the time we got there, they were long gone, and had actually gone back down to the bumpy special circuit (which was our next stop) to watch the action there.   Needless to say, by the time we reached the circuit, they had long since left there too !

Parked outside Kwidzyn Cathedral
For our second effort at the bumpy Mikolajki circuit, Ashton wisely decided to take it easy in order to preserve the car, and we were some 10 seconds slower than last night. But the car was good, and we headed out of the circuit and off towards Bydgoszcz, 370 kms west.  The weather was iffy, and, with our roof down, we watched black clouds gathering, and also kept an eye on David & Jo Roberts in the Sunbeam.  They kept their roof down
much of the time, and with their car being the same age as Gidget, putting the roof up took them a while, like us, so we sometimes used them a bit as a weather guide.  We stopped for a TC in a small café, and when I came out, Ashton had decided to put the roof up - David and Jo had already headed off ahead of us, so we assumed they had put theirs up too.  Shortly afterwards, we did have some quite sharp showers, so were pleased the roof was up, but not long afterwards we caught up with the Sunbeam, and they still had their roof down !!  Was good for a laugh later !

A planned stage on an airfield was called off - something to do with preparing the runway for a
Lunch stop at Kwidzyn
parachute competition later in the week - so we continued on to a late lunch stop and TC in the centre of Kwidzyn.  We parked in the shelter of the big 14th Century Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, an impressive structure that towered over the small cobbled central square.   The weather was pretty glum, so we walked around a little until our re-start time came around, and set off again across Poland towards Bydgoszcz.

At Bydgoszcz, right in the middle of the town, is a Kartodrom, which is exactly what it sounds like !  Apparently there is some additional (straighter !) track and they do have motorcycle racing on it, but we were on the Kart track, which was tight, twisty, and an absolute hoot.  I don't think there was any point on the circuit where the rear wheels were following the path of the front wheels !  Have you ever seen 4WD off road tyres smoking ? 

Day 32.  Bydgoszcz to Szczecin.   394 kms.  In the morning it was back off to the Kartodrom, and we did the same track again - But this time in the opposite direction !  Once again, Ashton decided on a change of tactic, with the plane to "drive" the circuit instead of sliding round it.  Not as much fun, but ironically only about 2 seconds slower !!

Today was "Z" day, and we passed through such places as Zdbice, Szczutki, Mrocza, Zlotow, Palac Siemczyno and Choszczno.  This made the navigators task so much easier, and required us to use the system we had used in Russia with their cyrillic alphabet - Just pronounce it phonetically !

From Bydgoszcz Kartodrom, we headed off down to Broczyno,where the organizers had a somewhat complicated 10 km test for us around an old disused Cold War airfield.  Just as we were about to start, the rain came down - And we had the roof off !   We decided to keep it down, and fortunately not far into the test, the rain stopped.  The test started on a tarmac perimter road, included an easy-to-miss layby for a stop-and-go,  and then went off around deep sandy tracks, concrete sections, turns between grass banks, and much more, all done using the precise Monit distance measurements and a few tulips.  Not easy, especially at speed, or when you come across a slow Volvo on a deep dirt track section and he won't move over !  But we just about nailed it, and Ashton picked the very last exit cone which I hadn't seen to make it almost perfect.  Apparently cars were seen going in all sorts of directions, some even circling, as they got more and more lost ! If you want an idea of what it was like for some, then watch this video, and go to the 9 min mark to see some lost cars !!  YouTube video

With the adrenalin pumping, it was off again on the delightful local roads, to a place called Siemczyno, where we pulled into the little cobbled square and parked, and then went into the restaurant of the Palac Siemczyno hotel, where we had a delightful lunched served by obviously some local ladies volunteering to help with our lunch.  An excellent lunch stop before we set off again through the Pomeranian countryside to Szczecin.

Szcsecin is a large city, with the centre focussed around the lagoon and the Oder River that pass through the centre of town.  The raised freeway coming into town was not the easiest to navigate, and we missed a turn off down to the Marina, although we could see where we wanted to go !  A few judicious U turns eventually got us back to where we wanted, but the traffic was pretty bad, and as is often the case in these cities, it wasn't a lot of fun.  We eventually reached the marina, where there was the MTC for the day, and also a ceremonial ramp for us to pass over, amongst all the crowds in the car park.   Eventually we escaped through the traffic, and headed to our hotel at the Radisson Blu.

On a previous spanner check, Ashton had found cracks in the front suspension mounting blocks, and also we had found that the rear damper arm bushes had disintegrated, so there was excessive movement in them.  We had kept an eye on the cracks and they didn't seem to be getting worse, but this evening he set off to a workshop that was recommended and managed to get the cracks welded up, just to be certain.  Not much we can do about the rear damper arm bushes, though.

Day 33.  Szczecin Poland to Wolfsberg, Germany.  375 kms.    Since the German border was only just down the road from our last Polish overnight stop in Szczecin, and nearly all the action of that day occurred in Germany, I will detail Day 33 in the next post which covers W.Europe, as I call it - ie Germany, Belgium, and France.

Rest of the pics are here :-  https://photos.app.goo.gl/Bn1X8PLCGCVxQ1XY6

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Ashton & Giles welcome any visitors, support, and comments as we prepare for our Adventure !