Motoring: Up to 18th place, but melting in the heat and dust: The challenge and magic of India capture Gavin Green on the London-Sydney Marathon, although the rally claims two more lives

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
DAY 12: Ankara to Delhi - The Antonovs did all the work today. Two giant Russian military cargo planes, now earning a living lugging commercial freight, carried all 102 cars left in the rally from the Turkish capital to the Indian. We are 24th.

DAYS 13, 14: Rest days, Delhi - Time for fettling cars and refreshing drivers. There was not much refreshing about Delhi when we arrived: only 7am, yet the temperature was over 90F. It had topped 100F three hours later when I drove the Escort from the airport to the hotel. An elephant, ridden by a small boy, was wandering down the slow lane of the dual carriageway into town. Monkeys scampered across the road. Later, I took the Escort to the only Ford dealer in Delhi. The starter motor had to be repaired. It took six mechanics four hours; a good British mechanic would have done it in 30 minutes. But the bill was only pounds 7.

DAY 15: Delhi to Simla - We left from the centre of Delhi in our rally positions, one minute apart. An out- of-tune brass band played 'Colonel Bogey' in front of a makeshift grandstand of dignitaries.

Today's run took us north to Simla, in the Himalayan foothills, a favourite summer resort of the Raj. We had one special stage, a nine-mile dash on narrow tarmac through

the hills. There were no safety barriers, and severe drops if you left the road. Nobody did. The annual Himalayan Rally uses similar roads and usually has at least one fatality.

The most hazardous part of the trip was the traffic. Vehicles travel down dual carriageways the wrong way - as do dogs, pigs, goats and bullocks. We had to leave the road twice to avoid oncoming vehicles.

DAY 16: Simla to Delhi - Back, almost the way we came. The temperature was over 110F, and much higher inside the car. I wore thick-soled shoes, yet my feet were burning as I rested them on our carpetless metal floor. Today's special stage, in the Himalayas, suited nimble cars like ours. We've climbed to 19th.

DAY 17: Delhi to Jodhpur - A Peugeot 504 driver had a thermometer in his cabin today and it showed 140F. The scenery - majestic, undulating desert terrain, vast gorges and trees with fine, vivid green leaves - was magnificent, but I was almost too hot to appreciate it. A few drivers passed out; many were unwell that evening with heat exhaustion. The co-driver of an MG got a rude shock when the passenger seat suddenly caught fire: the exhaust was touching the floorpan, which, in turn, ignited the seat. We stayed in the Umaid Bhawan Hotel, aka the Maharajah's Palace, Jodhpur. It sits atop a hill above the city. If it isn't the world's grandest hotel, I'll be surprised.

The special stage today was the fastest of the rally: a high-speed run down a single-track six-mile road. Our Escort was doing well over 100mph in places; the faster cars were touching 130. The villagers stayed well off the road - although there were thousands watching. That didn't stop a dog wandering just in front of me on one of the fastest sections. I narrowly missed it.

DAY 18: Jodhpur to Udaipur - Tragedy has struck the rally again. Although details are still sketchy as I write, it seems George Barbour, a Kenyan in a Peugeot 504, hit a spectator on today's special stage, killing him. The stage was a twisting 11-mile run through undulating desert, through three villages. Although police closed the road, and held back the massive crowds, there was always a danger of someone straying on to the track.

The stage was cancelled after the accident. It was the second fatality involving Barbour: three days earlier, in a transport stage, he hit a boy who ran out in front of him. The child died instantly. Barbour was absolved from blame, but since the latest accident he has retired from the rally. Spectators closely lining rally routes are not new - it happens all over the world, including the RAC Rally in Britain. But it is particularly hazardous in India, where rallying is a very new sport, and where few of the spectators have any idea of the speed at which the cars travel on the special stages.

The weather was not as hot today as yesterday, although it was still well over 100F. None the less, the Wiltshire driver Basil Wadman in a Hillman Hunter passed out just before today's finish in Udaipur. He is in intensive care in the local hospital, suffering from heatstroke.

With one day to go in India - before the rally is airlifted from Bombay to Perth - we have moved up to 18th place. There are 99 cars still in the event, with Briton Francis Tuthill's Porsche leading.

Search for used cars

Comments