After our rest day yesterday today was back to serious rallying. It was the hottest day so far and we have not been below 1000 meters ( 3000 feet for our oversees viewers).
Leaving Rapid City the route took us past Mount Rushmore where as most of you will know they carved a few American presidents out in stone high up in the mountains. Fascinating to be able to see something ‘live’ after all the pictures we have seen about these impressive carvings. They are smaller then I had expected but even so a great experience.
Then we went over a mountain pass called the Needles Highway which is a for the USA an unusual small mountain pass road climbing up to 1900 meters (5800ft) with very narrow rock tunnel passages. We felt we were back in the Alps driving the Fluela Pass with a very beautiful green mountain landscape full of deer and other animals.
I have to admit that I had to make a few illegal passing moves on this pass as the locals in their ever bigger pick-trucks drive up these narrow passes like scared chickens. They are used to wide roads even through the mountain passes and on this narrow road they virtually come to a standstill at a hairpin bends. Near one such a hairpin bend I overtook four of these monsters on the outside before they could make the turn and then around the bend I found the rally photographer Gerard Brown just stationed on the other side of the hairpin. He promised me tonight not to publish this photo otherwise I would be in jail again.
Great road though!
The next stage was through much wider mountain (Alps like) landscape where you have to watch your speed because ‘Smokey ‘ can just be around the corner. The outside temperature began to rise even at 1200 meters and when we reached the lunch control it was sweltering hot.
The afternoon had two regularity tests on the menu both on gravel and both at fairly high altitude. We first had to drive 85 km on dusty gravel roads to get to the start of these tests. It was hot and we were not sure if it was better to drive with the top up or down but we kept it down for the rest of the day.
Now these regularities are becoming a bit of a cliffhanger, as the difference in penalty times between no 11 and 16 in the overall standing is very small.
Grace and I have been doing remarkably well so far but in this company there are some really fanatic Brits in their oily British machines that do these regularities at home almost every week.
Today we started out in 13th place and I was expecting to at least loose a place to the team behind us.
So what happens next?
The first regularity has an average speed of 64 km an hour over very loose gravel at a high plain at approx. 1450 meters and it is really hot. There are two intermediate stops and a finish control. It’s tough and despite the speed, the slipping and sliding and the heat Grace calls the times and speed differences from her charts perfectly. We only loose one second per section.
The test is followed by another 80 km of gravel to the next high altitude test. This time 66 km average over 20 km. No intermediate stops but the gravel road is so rough and twisting and turning that it is very hard to keep the average speed going up hill and down hill as well. We finish the section with one-second penalty!
This is unique in such expert company and most of the competitors lost time on this section because they could not maintain this high average speed. In this case it is not only the navigator and the driver that deserve the credit but also our little red Benz because it handles like a dream and stays cool in these extreme hot temperatures.
After the finish of this test we had another 40 km to find the end of the mountain track before we reached normal tarmac. Finally another 35 km to our destination of the night Sheridan, well know for its rodeo’s.
When we got to our hotel we were exhausted but satisfied because not only did we get our test times confirmed we also learned that many competitors lost time today and we even overtook the British couple in their Triumph TR who we thought we could never overtake in the overall standings.
We are now in twelve place overall but we are realistic enough that tomorow can be a bad day for us as well so we take it day by day.
Nevertheless Grace is really getting very good as a ‘regularity navigator’ even when at one stage in the first session our stopwatch froze she immediately transferred to our second stopwatch and continued calling out the speed differentials without fault. Without the stopwatch you have no idea if your average speed over the given distance so it is an essential part of the game.
During the connecting driving session between one regularity and the other we passed through a mountain ridge to suddenly see in the distance the first peaks of the Rocky Mountains.
Beautiful and that is where we are heading over the next two days.
Tomorrow-another interesting day.
Mick and Grace