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  • Kevin J

Modena Cento Ore 2019

The preparation for the Modena Cento Ore begins the very last day the last one finishes – not just for the participants, but also for the organisers. Year on year the number of applicants increases whilst Luigi Orlandini sticks resolutely to his one hundred car entry.

For this year’s classic rally across swathes of Northern Italy, over one hundred and sixty applications were received within a few days of the entry being opened, thus giving the organisers the unenviable task of turning away sixty eager petrolheads. This, in itself, has dictated that the quality of the cars entered are the very best examples in the world. Can you take part with a Ford Escort? Of course, as long as it’s the ex-Roger Clark or ex-Henri Toivonen car! Can you enter a BMW? Well if it’s an M1 Procar, then maybe!

This year we took two of the 308 rally cars, a brace of MK1 Ford Escort RS1600’s to join my own, as well as, the amazing 1960 Tour Auto winning 250 GT SWB. The Escorts, although ‘entry-level’ cars, the one for Ben Gill is no ordinary Escort, but the Gabriele Terzi MK1 which led the Giro d’Italia rallye in 1975. Ben has often entered in his own 250 GT SWB, however, Classiche certification means the car is currently ‘out of action’. The second MK1, the Colt sponsored car, is entered by Ian Dalglish, his trusty DB4 GT now gone, he has entered the world of Escorts (not for the first time!). The last Escort is my own ex-works AVJ car. These three, all identical two-litre BDA cars – this was always going to be a one-make series!

The 308 Group 4 car has Neil McMahon and his “hot shoe” Italian co-driver with no experience in the car, so the event was a shake-down for both car and drivers. Finally, last but by no means least in our entries, is Adrian Beecroft and his brother Nick in the aforementioned SWB, the star of the event in most people’s eyes – an iconic car with stacks of history, totally original and just a pleasure to see on the circuit not necessarily to win, but to take part.

The Tuesday of the rally sees sports and technical checks outside the Grand Hotel in Rimini which hosts the mandatory driver briefing and subsequent dinner that brings together over six hundred people with the organisers, participants and all support crews all joined by invited guests to start the event in style.

The dinner was very special, however, presented a potential problem for the GTO crew who were sat on the tables including the I Greppi sponsor of one of our entrants. They explained that they had some “special red wine” for a few chosen tables. The “normal” red, I can assure you, is also a fine wine with intoxicating characteristics, I tried my very best to keep the red wine flowing for my fellow competitors to ensure hangovers on day one of competition, however, it seemed they needed no encouragement whatsoever! The following morning, at a very civil half past eight, staring into the eyes of the drivers I realised they could all handle their vino rosso and that Plan ‘A’ had not worked as I may have planned!

The grid line up this year was exceptional. For the first year in the event’s history there was a more competitive grid in post ’66 than pre-66 classifications – possibly a sign of the times or possibly because the Philip Walker dominance in his E-Type had put a few off. In all, there were 27 cars in the first grid and 34 cars in the second. At that point, we knew this would be incredibly tight racing for the upcoming few days. Three kilometres from the start was the first casualty, Richard and Clair Cook’s Cobra had been hit up the back by a truck, a sad sight for everyone a not a happy start. Despite this we all arrive at the first stage eager to play.

Grid one saw the two E-Types leading the table, sadly the GT40 of Richard Meins had an alternator failure and he lost over, one and a half minutes, even at this early stage, a big ask to fight back. The second grid had, bizarrely, exactly the same 1st, 2nd and 3rd finishing positions as last year’s event: 911, Stratos then Escort. The next couple of stages were quire uneventful until Ben hit a straw bale in his Escort that opened the path for me to go faster, thanks Ben.

As Wednesday afternoon came, we moved on to the Misano World Circuit for the first circuit night race. Amazingly, myself and Lee were the overall leaders in the Escort! Starting from the front row, we were told that there was to be a formation lap behind the safety car and a start by a green flag. After an eternity waiting on the grid some cars started to overheat – the first victim was Neil in his Group 4 308 where the fuse broke on the cooling fan causing major overheating and unfortunately game over for the car. With every cloud though, it did give him a chance to stock up on I Greppi for the vast-consumption participants in the group.

Following the removal of overheating cars, the safety car drives off the grid to the side and thirty seconds later the lights turn green… what’s happening? No mention of green lights… utter chaos ensues. The BMW Procar races past at well over a hundred mile an hour… has the race started? It must have and everyone is driving like madmen in the dark! Inevitably, the first corner sees carnage… Glen Jansen spins his Porsche 911 and is collected by another 911. I arrive at the start-finish straight to find frantically waved red flags. I stop in my correct position with cars passing me flat out under red flags, somewhat dangerous and disappointing from the circuit.

We get aligned again and this time a green flag is waved and everyone gets away sensibly as the red lights go out and we are off racing. I drop to 5th position and sit back and watch the show unfold in front of me. It wasn’t too long before not trying to get involved pays off with the carnage with the front runners means we eventually win the race by 12.8 seconds and have an overall lead of 45 seconds! Mamma Mia!

In the SWB Adrian got on well in his night race and over breakfast the next morning his brother Nick exclaims “we are 8th overall”. Taking particular care now not to fluff their lines, they meticulously plan their transit times – hills are executed without error. At lunch they are still 8th overall with all cars in front and behind keeping the same positions. It was then that Nick turned a little sheepish when he realised and confessed that “possibly” they were car number 8 and that in actual fact they were “possibly” lying 37th! Nevertheless, none too shabby.

Day two begins, after a repair until 3am on the Escort with a split fuel tank, with a short drive to Imola. Adrian was away first in his SWB followed by the three Escorts. We start the race at this infamous circuit, what could possibly go wrong? I was comfortable in second place by a couple of seconds and all of a sudden, the gear stick falls off in my hand! I try frantically to stick it back in but to no avail, I was stuck in third for the duration and they only other gear I eventually found was first! I was four minutes 46 seconds behind the car I was chasing…a disappointing 26th position overall.

With Ian 14th overall and Ben 5th overall, our target had now changed to hunting down our teammates. Lee spent 1 Euro on batteries for the Peltor intercom…things are getting serious! Stage 5 – fastest overall, stage 6 – fastest overall, Stage 7 – fastest overall and on circuit at Mugello an outright win from 15th on the grid. In one day we had halved the gap to Ben and passed Ian, though we, of course, didn’t mention it! The next few stages saw us catch and pass Ben to steal the last podium position by a few seconds after four days and night of fantastic rallying.

The food on the event, as you would expect, was a delight and Thursday’s evening entertainment was a bit of Italian culture, operatic singers and a string quartet – right up my street! Friday night saw the beach party and yet another celebration of Italy’s finest vineyards and my chance to pounce on an inebriated Richard Meins, who had casually mentioned that he had lapped half the field on his way to an emphatic victory at Mugello and so the banter starts…

The regularity participants also had a fantastic event – From Coldplay’s Guy Berryman, Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon all having fun in the Italian sunshine and enjoying the first-class venues and hospitality to a number of the ex-racers also ‘retiring’ to the regularity stable.

For me, the circuits are 50% car, 45% driver and 5% luck, with the rally stages more than 50% co-driver – every time we had a pace note issue, flat Peltor intercom battery or page-turn of the course notes, I tried to throw the car in a ditch. As a driver, I cannot imagine not having pedals in front of me, or at least one of them! My hero from this year’s rally stages was Christina Schaffner who suffered from motion sickness on the rally stages, yet despite this, dug deep to get back in the car time after time. I salute all co-drivers.

And the final results, nobody really, if they are honest, really cares. Following the accident with the lorry 3 kilometres in, Richard and Clair Cook recovered to take the pre ’66 crown in their Cobra, whilst in the post ’66 category, Glen Jansen created his own luck to win overall. Second was Perez and Siddall who were steady and sensible throughout and myself and Lee finished 5th, never steady and never sensible. Ben Gill and Dave Didcock were just a few second behind us and Ian Dalglish finished approximately 12th but endured a stupid time penalty. Adrian and Nick Beecroft were a very respectable 36th overall but second in their class.

Modena Cento Ore is now, in my opinion, the best historic rally left in the world, some very tough days but all in all, a total blast! So to everyone with a car tucked away in a garage, workshop or storage, what are you doing? It’s not the Mona Lisa, it is there to be used and enjoyed. With no care who wins, the participants of these events are the ultimate winners, with stories that last a lifetime.

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