Motoring: Excuse me, Officer, can you tell me the way to Dover?: The London-Sydney Marathon's start was the trickiest part. Gavin Green reports from the road

DAY ONE: London-Ypres, Belgium - Two minutes before leaving Chelsea Harbour at the start of our 30-day, 10,000-mile journey, we lost our route book, which gives all the directions throughout the Lombard London-Sydney Marathon. We found it - it had slipped under the passenger's seat - just before the Union Jack waved us away, the seventh car to leave; but my dad, who navigated us through London, still had not found his place as we reached the first roundabout. A friendly policewoman discreetly nodded the way, no doubt wondering how this lot would find their way to Dover, let alone to Sydney.

We negotiated the most worrying part of the whole event - London - and got ourselves to the start of the first special stage, a forest track just outside Ashford in Kent.

The special stages, where the roads are closed and speed limits lifted, are where the event will be won or lost. All special stages are timed to the second: you race against the clock. The Ashford stage was a six-mile blast on a narrow, winding, gravel road lined by trees and spectators. The cars left at one-minute intervals in their Chelsea Harbour starting order.

After about four miles of avoiding the trees and going reasonably quickly on the slippery gravel, we came upon a car much less well-suited to rallying than our specially prepared Escort - Alexander Ipatenko's Moskvitch. Initial euphoria - we'd caught somebody already] - was soon dampened by the realisation that passing him on this narrow, rock-strewn track would be almost impossible. We stayed on his tail to the end of the stage, showered with rocks and gravel. Our time - six minutes and 55 seconds to cover the six miles - seemed promising enough until the first day's results were posted. We were 57th out of 106 starters: bitterly disappointing. The leader - the New Zealander Graham Lorimer in another Escort - was just over a minute faster. Ipatenko had not held us up that much.

From Calais we drove on good roads to Ypres, a transport stage all the way: you merely get there at a reasonably brisk pace. After dinner I spoke to the Australian veteran Bruce Hodgson, driving an Australian-made Ford Falcon V8, about the slow Russian. He'd had a similar problem. 'Have you got a big bull bar at the front of your car?' he asked. 'Yes,' I said. 'Well, use it.'

DAY TWO: Ypres-Trier, Germany - We did, on the first special stage of the day, a six-mile narrow tarmac road through farmland. Going quickly, we came upon the Russian on one of the tightest stretches. Ipatenko - a retired Soviet colonel and self-made millionaire, apparently from aircraft sales - ignored us for a few seconds. So I nudged him with the bull bar. As one, he and his partner rose in their seats, partly from the bump, partly from shock. But they pulled over, almost running up a bank.

We did well on both Belgian tarmac stages, being 17th fastest on the day. We had climbed to 29th overall. At least 10 drivers crashed, but they all continued. The long motorway run to Trier showed the Escort to be a wearying car at steady high speeds.

DAY THREE: Trier-Igls, Austria - A dash through a vineyard in the Mosel Valley first thing in the morning and a blast up a hillclimb circuit in Alsace, France, in the afternoon: those were the only two special stages of the day.

The route took us from Trier into France, then back into Germany heading south. We arrived in Igls, a ski resort near Innsbruck, only 90 seconds before we were due, despite driving very hard towards the end. The car's engine used two litres of oil today - a worrying amount. Also, the cable driving our special mileage distance recorder - crucial for some of the intricate navigation - broke. We have moved up to 26th place. Terry Hunter, a Briton, is in the lead in his Porsche.

DAY FOUR: Igls-Bratislava, Slovakia - I am writing this from the biggest Skoda dealer in Bratislava, grease all over my hands. The Escort is on ramps while the cable to drive the distance recorder is repaired. Navigation is very difficult without it. A slight oil leak has also been fixed.

Today's stage went north, back into Germany, then into Austria again, heading east to link up with the main autobahn to Vienna. We bypassed Vienna and, just before the Slovakian border, did our only special stage of the day, on the private estate of Baron Ernst Harrach. It was on gravel and about five miles long. My dad, an old rally hand, did the driving, his first special stage of the event and first competitive drive since 1977. We did well, although we fell back to 30th overall. Terry Hunter's Porsche hit a bridge. Lorimer regained the lead.

At Bratislava we were given a celebrity reception: police at all the junctions, waving and pointing the direction to today's finish - at the big Skoda dealer. Spectators were cheering and waving.

Mechanics and facilities were laid on at the garage and never has a Skoda dealership proved more popular. Its mechanics helped with whatever task we asked about. They charged for parts, but everything else was free. With 26 days' hard driving ahead, they were a real godsend.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas