Rally newbie Jakki Phillips got off to a shaky start as the co-driver of one of 70 vintage cars on a four-day road trip in Japan. But all went well for the next few days of motoring through stunning countryside, until...
Rally newbie Jakki Phillips got off to a shaky start as the co-driver of one of 70 vintage cars on a four-day road trip in Japan.
There are many lessons to learn when taking part in your first classic car rally. The most important, I discovered when navigating on day one, is that 0.01 of a kilometre can mean the difference between a sizzling steak lunch with your fellow drivers at a charming hillside barbecue restaurant or a wrong turn, motorway mayhem and a rather dramatic police rescue.
My miscalculation occurred only four hours into Rally Nippon, which also happened to be my first outing in a vintage car. I was directing co-driver Simon de Burton along a quiet country road on the outskirts of Japan’s beautiful former capital, Kyoto, towards our lunch destination, which was up a side road. But I told him to turn a few metres too soon, sending us zooming off through tollgates onto a major highway rather than onto the street leading to the restaurant. With no exit for 15 kilometres, no U-turn permitted and our petrol gauge deep in the red, we were in trouble.
Simon, a Uk-based journalist and keen rally aficionado, pumped the brakes and expertly manoeuvred our 1952 MG TD into a lay-by before hopping out and scrambling up a steep, wooded embankment in search of help. Twenty minutes later he came running down the road with a dozen motorway police behind him—simon clad in tweed jacket with neckerchief fluttering, they sporting bright-blue jumpsuits, semaphore flags and whistles. They spoke no English and we no Japanese, but the officers quickly realised our predicament. Through some enthusiastic semaphoring and a lot of shrill tooting to colleagues further up the road, they managed to stop the traffic and we were shepherded through an otherwise illegal U-turn, back through the tollgates and onto the right track to join our travelling companions.
Our drive of shame into the restaurant car park was met with sympathetic applause from our rally mates. They had even saved us a platter of skewers, which we devoured, and some strange snail-like sea creatures, which we did not.
I could blame my navigational gaffe on the fact we had no map, just a book of rules and directions written almost entirely in Japanese. Using GPS was also forbidden. But if truth be told, the explanation was less to do with my lack of experience and more to do with an excess of something else—hair. With the