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...

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

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

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