RALLY OF THE IN­CAS

TWO KI­WIS’ EPIC JOUR­NEY THROUGH SOUTH AMER­ICA

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words: Garry Boyce, Ash­ley Webb Photos: Garry Boyce, Ger­ard Brown

When Mercedes-benz afi­cionado Garry Boyce told us early last year that he was se­ri­ously think­ing about en­ter­ing The Rally of the In­cas 2016, our im­me­di­ate thought was that this is not some short, week­long jaunt around a cou­ple of tourist spots in South Amer­ica; no sir, Rally of the In­cas is an epic 28-day jour­ney in Novem­ber and De­cem­ber, start­ing from the Ar­gen­tine cap­i­tal, Buenos Aires. It first heads south along the At­lantic coast to the world-fa­mous Valdes Penin­sula be­fore turn­ing in­land to the moun­tains and the spec­tac­u­lar vol­ca­noes of the Chilean Lake Dis­trict and reach­ing the Pa­cific coast of Chile. Then north through the high An­des, tak­ing in the vast land­scapes of the arid Ata­cama Desert, the ver­dant Ar­gen­tine wine re­gion, and the windswept Alti­plano. It also in­cludes a few un­for­get­table days in the land of the In­cas, vis­it­ing Lake Tit­i­caca, the an­cient Inca cap­i­tal of Cusco, the Nazca Lines, and the lost city of Machu Pic­chu, be­fore the grand fin­ish in Lima, cap­i­tal of Peru.

With his trusty 1964 Mercedes-benz 220SE — which Garry’s owned for 22 years — loaded to the gun­wales with spares, he and co­driver Ken Wil­liams set off on the tor­tur­ous 10,000 km jour­ney, and here they share their story from the start. Take it away, Garry.

Scru­ti­neer­ing

The scru­ti­neer asked if we had pre­pared the car our­selves. Yes, we replied, and, after a short dis­cus­sion about the things we had done, he gave us the stamp of ap­proval that meant we could go on to ‘ doc­u­men­ta­tion’. Then to the sign­ing on, many dec­la­ra­tions and many sig­na­tures. Next to the route books, maps, tim­ing sheets, and all the reg­u­la­tions — the pile was about 100mm high.

Ken and I sat down and started to read the in­for­ma­tion and tried to get our small brains around how all the dif­fer­ent tim­ings, tests, and reg­u­lar­ity sec­tions worked to­gether; it’s not easy. About two hours later, we started to feel that we had our heads around the sys­tem. Then it was the main brief­ing, with all the usual warn­ings about what will hap­pen if you are bad boys. By now, we were rar­ing to go and look­ing for­ward to the start at 9am the next day — we’d leave from po­si­tion 25, so start at 9.25am.

Day one

Day one be­gan with tor­ren­tial rain, thunder, light­ning, and high winds. We had a small mis­di­rec­tion as we headed for the au­toroute out of Buenos Aires. At this stage, a car with a roof and wind­screen wipers was just fine by us. It was only 5km be­fore we saw a Bent­ley

with its bon­net up in the rain and some poor sod spray­ing CRC.

We ar­rived at the first test track; it was still pour­ing down. Ken took over and ped­dled the car at an as­ton­ish­ing speed for the con­di­tions.

Then it was on to the first reg­u­lar­ity sec­tion. We ex­pected rough dirt roads, and, yes, that is what we got. Dirt and clay with no shin­gle, and mas­sive ruts that if you got a wheel in them would give you some test­ing mo­ments.

The av­er­age speed was set at 70kph over the dis­tance, but, the way the event is run, you do not know where the fin­ish will be. So they hide around the cor­ner, and you get about 10 sec­onds to stop, and that may be any­where through what might be a 20 km dis­tance. You have a set of ta­bles that show you dis­tance against time, and the navigator has to keep telling where you are at, at all times, as the fin­ish may be just around the next cor­ner. That 70kph was a chal­lenge, but I loved it. We fin­ished two sec­onds fast. Then it was on to a BBQ lunch at a cat­tle ranch.

The sec­ond reg­u­lar­ity was also at 70kph, on a smoother dirt road with smaller ruts but still a chal­lenge. We got held up by an­other car at the check­point, so were 15 sec­onds late. Many ex­ple­tives.

Tran­si­tion to the ho­tel in Mar Del Plata came after 524km for the day.

Day two

In the morn­ing, the no­tice­board said that car 35 — us — was in eighth po­si­tion out of 38 cars in the clas­sic sec­tion — we were chuffed. Many sea­soned vet­er­ans of th­ese events were well be­hind us.

It was a 7.55am start, with a timed drive to the Museo Juan Manuel Fan­gio in Bal­carce — what a great mu­seum in hon­our of the man, many oth­ers who have been part of Ar­gentina’s rich car rac­ing his­tory, and Mercedes-benz.

Then it was on to the Autó­dromo Juan Manuel Fan­gio cir­cuit for tests on both the small and main tracks. Ken pushed the car to the ab­so­lute limit — boy, you could smell the brakes at the end. His times were just amaz­ing.

Then it was on through pas­sage con­trols to the ho­tel in Bahía Blanca. Again, our tim­ing was per­fect, so no penalty points, and 518km for the day.

Day three

As there had been no reg­u­lar­ity stages on day two, we had dropped to 10th place, but this is an en­durance rally not a sprint. We were not un­happy, as there would be fewer track tests and more reg­u­lar­ity stages com­ing.

Day three was a big day. We left Bahía Blanca at 7.55am, with a 120.9 km tran­si­tion to a time con­trol, then on to a new tran­si­tion to a test cir­cuit at Autó­dromo Viedma. Ken did the track test, which went re­ally well. This cir­cuit suited the more pow­er­ful cars, but we were box­ing well above our weight. Then we had a fur­ther tran­si­tion to the big reg­u­lar­ity sec­tion for the day. Yay, we were back on shin­gle — much like the roads at home. The sec­tion length was 52.72km, with a con­trol speed of 80kph. Ken and I set up a new sys­tem of av­er­age speed tim­ing to make it eas­ier for both of us to un­der­stand where we were in the sec­tion to within 10m. We had a long drive on shin­gle along the coast, and the wind just got stronger and stronger the fur­ther south we got into Patag­o­nia. Then it was back on tar­mac, and long straight roads south through tim­ing and pas­sage con­trols. We es­ti­mated the head­wind

speeds at up to 90kph, mean­ing your foot had to be well down on the pedal to main­tain 110kph — we es­ti­mate we used a third more fuel.

After 769km, we clocked into time con­trol at Puerto Madryn at 6.20pm, with no time points lost.

Day four

Day four was a rest day in Puerto Madryn. Ev­ery­body, in­clud­ing us, was work­ing on their cars. We cleared all the stones out of the top of the belly pans, ad­justed the brakes, re­placed an ex­haust-hanger rub­ber, ad­justed the fan belt, and washed the car. Some of the other cars had much more to do than us.

Day five

We were still in 10th place, but our start­ing po­si­tion had changed from 25 to 41.

The slow­est cars go first, with each car go­ing a minute after the one be­fore, so we went at 41 min­utes after the con­trol time. They do this so that the field bunches up, and the sweeps do not have to wait for the last car — to go later is recog­ni­tion that you are faster than all the other cars in front of you.

We started with a 75 km tran­si­tion to the Autó­dromo Mar y Valle, where Ken did an­other good time. Then it was on to Gaiman, to the Ty Gwyn Welsh tea­house for tea and cake. After leav­ing Gaiman, we re­joined Ruta 25 for the long 159 km tran­si­tion to the next time con­trol.

Then things started to go wrong! The fuel sta­tion at the pas­sage con­trol had run out, and we had al­ready put our spare fuel in the tank. Ev­ery­one was in the same sit­u­a­tion, so we just had to carry on to­wards the next fuel sta­tion at 50kph, driv­ing as eco­nom­i­cally as pos­si­ble, know­ing that we wouldn’t make it. We had trav­elled about 30km when the sweep ar­rived, and we man­aged to get eight

litres from it, just enough to get us to the time con­trol with only six min­utes to spare. We were out of jail, so we had an ice cream and learned a les­son about fuel: it would not be avail­able all the time.

We were still on sealed roads but heav­ily pot­holed. Next was an 84 km tran­sit on shin­gle — long, straight, and dusty. Then to Reg­u­lar­ity Pampa De Ag­nia at a 70kph speed on rough, hard, sharp gravel. Our sys­tem was work­ing well; we were about 10 me­tres ahead, but the fin­ish-line timers were hid­ing in a gully and caught us at onesec­ond late.

An­other long 111 km tran­si­tion on shin­gle to Reg­u­lar­ity Colon Con­hue, ar­riv­ing two sec­onds early, then 22km to the ho­tel at Esquel, for a very late ar­rival, after 692km — much of it on shin­gle — with no time points lost.

Day six

We were now in 11th place and work­ing hard to stay there. We left Esquel with a 123 km tran­sit to the Reg­u­lar­ity Butch Cas­sidy. Good shin­gle road at 70kph, but we got caught out with a sneaky fin­ish line — six sec­onds over. Then it was on to Steam Train Sta­tion for lunch, be­fore head­ing out to the next reg­u­lar­ity, El Maitén, go­ing well on shin­gle and very dusty. We got tricked by the fin­ish around a very sharp hair­pin bend, and were late late by four sec­onds. We de­cided to use the Garmin GPS in fu­ture, and mon­i­tor the shape of the road for up to 500m in front us to see if we could pre­dict where the fin­ish would be so we could com­pen­sate ac­cord­ingly.

Next, we were on to a test at small track Kar­to­dromo Lewis. Ken ped­dled it well.

We were now in the pic­turesque part of Patag­o­nia. We came off the shin­gle and tran­si­tioned to the Ho­tel Llao Llao in San Car­los de Bar­iloche, the best ho­tel of the event so far — it would be hard to beat.

Day seven

Day seven was a rest day. We worked on the car, changed the plugs — we thought we had a bad one — checked the fuel fil­ter and the air cleaner, found a crack in the flex­i­ble pipe be­tween the air fil­ter and the throt­tle box and fixed it with a sur­gi­cal glove with the fin­gers cut off, and found and re­fit­ted screws miss­ing from the mount­ings for the ex­tra ra­di­a­tor fan. We went to wash the car, but all the car wash places had closed, be­ing Satur­day, so we found a place where we could back the car down by the lake and washed it with a can­vas bucket I had been given at an event in Sonoma some years ago.

The next day we’d be go­ing to Chile.

Day eight

Day eight took us north, as we passed the last of the lakes of north­ern Patag­o­nia, then on to very rough gravel and the first reg­u­lar­ity hill climb, Passo Del Cór­doba. It was rough, steep, and twisty, with only a 50kph set speed, which was im­pos­si­ble for us to main­tain.

We were 34 sec­onds late. Two tran­si­tion sec­tions fol­lowed, with time con­trols as the rally con­trollers tried to keep all the cars to­gether. The sec­ond reg­u­lar­ity was can­celled, as word was out that the cross­ing to Chile would be time-con­sum­ing. The road up to the re­mote bor­der at Paso Ma­muil Malal was rough. We knew you were in win­ter snow coun­try by the marker posts on the side of the road.

Pass­ing out of Ar­gentina into Chile took about two hours. What a con­trast! The road was sealed, with kerb and chan­nel. We had an 84 km tran­si­tion to the ho­tel in Pucón.

Day nine

Ken drove out this morn­ing, through coun­try­side that re­minded us of the Waikato dur­ing the tran­sit to the first reg­u­lar­ity at Flor Del Lago. The set speed was 60kph; it was very rough and slip­pery. Ken over­cooked a down­hill hair­pin bend and hit the bank. We got the car out and set off for the end — time lost: 60 sec­onds. We pushed the right front guard out with the help of a log of wood and the power steer­ing.

We were now in vol­cano coun­try, at the en­trance to the Conguil­lío Na­tional Park. We paid the en­try toll and headed into a magic area of lava flows, ash, spec­tac­u­lar vol­cano views, and green-wa­ter lakes with pet­ri­fied tree trunks stick­ing out. The road was very rough, and soon we heard the most hor­rific noise from un­der the car. A sway-bar bush, I thought, but it just got worse. We pulled up in the mid­dle of a lava flow, jacked the car up, and got un­der to see that one of the studs that holds the back of the belly pan had dropped out. We found a re­place­ment in Ken’s ice­cream con­tainer of spare bolts and nuts, and were on our way in about 10 min­utes.

On through two time con­trols to the sec­ond reg­u­lar­ity at Valle Del Cu­lenco. It was back to me driv­ing. The go­ing was very rough and slip­pery, and I spun the car side­ways and ended up sit­ting us across the road. We got our­selves out and back fac­ing the cor­rect way and got to the fin­ish late. We de­cided to back off a lit­tle. This event is a marathon, and we wanted to be at the fin­ish in Lima. Then the tran­si­tion to the ho­tel in Con­cep­ción. It had taken us four days to cross South Amer­ica, from the At­lantic to the Pa­cific.

Day 10

The day started early, with the first car out at 7.30am. We were the 40th car to go, start­ing at 8.10am, on very rough, fine-dust roads to the first reg­u­lar­ity, San Rafael. Within the first 2km and the first log­ging truck, we knew we had no chance of fin­ish­ing within the 60 sec­onds, so just crossed through to get fin­ish points. Most cars did the same, with one car driv­ing past the fin­ish line, as there was a log­ging truck go­ing past it at the time and just no vis­i­bil­ity be­cause of the thick dust.

We then started the long 634 km haul north to Viña Del Mar, through three time con­trols and a pas­sage con­trol, past vine­yards, ap­ple and fruit or­chards, hectares of kiwi fruit, pa­per mills, pack houses, and heavy-in­dus­try plants to ar­rive at the city at about 6.30pm.

Day 11

To­day was a rest day. We had com­pleted 10 of 27 days. The rally had lost two cars. The garage was a hive of ac­tiv­ity that morn­ing as ra­di­a­tors were be­ing taken out for re­build and other ma­jor main­te­nance work was be­ing done. We worked on our fuel prob­lem and felt we had done the best we could to keep the car’s idle from surg­ing. Other main­te­nance was done to keep the old Benz the best she could be. To­mor­row, we’d head back to Ar­gentina over the low An­des.

Day 12

The day started with the threat that the bor­der from Chile to Ar­gentina would be closed by a cus­toms strike. Luck­ily, it re­opened, so all was go. The first reg­u­lar­ity was can­celled to al­low ex­tra time at the bor­der. The climb from sea level to the bor­der in what they call the ‘low An­des’ was in­ter­est­ing but un­event­ful, though things were about to change.

In Chile and Ar­gentina, the fuel is 12 per cent ethanol, and this has a ten­dency to cause vapour lock. The higher you go up and the hot­ter your en­gine gets, the worse it gets. As we rounded the bend at the foot of the Paso In­ter­na­cional Los Lib­er­ta­dores we thought to our­selves, my God, we’d never seen any road as in­tim­i­dat­ing as this climb — 25 switch­backs up what looked like a ver­ti­cal rock face. At the bot­tom, the car was go­ing OK but down on power, then, as we climbed, we started to lose cylin­ders one at a time, un­til we were down to three and hardly mov­ing. We were about half­way up when we had to stop for road­works. This was a god­send, as it al­lowed us to bring the en­gine revs up to 3000 with­out load, and we slowly got all six cylin­ders back. When we started to move again, we pro­gressed on to­wards the top of the stair­case and reached the top on four cylin­ders. Again we stopped, and ran the en­gine at 3000rpm. Once sat­is­fied that we could pro­ceed, we got in be­hind a truck and bus and moved in through the Túnel Cristo Re­den­tor at 10kph to an al­ti­tude 3475m.

Once out of the tun­nel, we sim­ply drove on through Chilean cus­toms and into Ar­gentina, via 12km of no-man’s land to the Ar­gentina bor­der post. The line of cars, trucks, and buses banked up from the day be­fore meant that it took more than two hours to get us, our car, and cus­toms in­spec­tions through the sys­tem. It was down­hill from there to the time con­trol. Then we drove to a pas­sage con­trol, where we could choose to take a di­rect route to the next time con­trol or a rough but spec­tac­u­lar one. With the fuel is­sues, we de­cided to take the di­rect route. We con­tin­ued to the ho­tel at San Juan.

We were back in Ar­gentina, after a big day of many chal­lenges, but we had made it on time.

Day 13

We now started at po­si­tion 36, as there were 46 cars left. First, a short 13km to a track test at the Autó­dromo El Zonda. Ken nailed it at 4.19 min­utes bet­ter than some of the Porsches. It’s called ‘late brak­ing’, which is hard on the floor of the pas­sen­ger’s side, but a great ride.

This is not some short, week­long jaunt around a cou­ple of tourist spots in South Amer­ica; no sir, Rally of the In­cas is an epic 28-day rally

We then had a 22 km tran­si­tion on shin­gle and dirt. This was the most dif­fi­cult road we had been on so far in this rally, with many dips that were washed out, and you had to ap­proach the washout at 45 de­grees to get through. With its in­de­pen­dent rear sus­pen­sion, our car worked a treat. Many big rocks gave the belly plate a ham­mer­ing.

On through a time con­trol to the Reg­u­lar­ity Valle de la Luna. Ken was at the wheel to­day, so it was a hill climb on a sealed road. With his usual late brak­ing and fan­tas­tic driv­ing, he nailed it at four sec­onds too fast. A great re­sult and ride. We then tran­si­tioned through the most spec­tac­u­lar high desert land­scape, with many ge­o­log­i­cal fea­tures.

On to the next track test at La Rioja, where Ken did it again with a spir­ited per­for­mance that was start­ing to be no­ticed by the crowd. The heat was an in­cred­i­ble 37°C, with a wind blow­ing like a blast fur­nace. For the first time, we trav­elled with all the win­dows down, the quar­ter-lights just enough to stop the buf­fet­ing.

It had been a fan­tas­tic day of en­durance rally ex­pe­ri­ences, but there was a hope­less park­ing sit­u­a­tion at the ho­tel, with many cars parked on the foot­path and a big com­mo­tion when the tow trucks ar­rived. We got a great spot right out­side the front door.

Day 14

After Ken’s great ef­forts the day be­fore, we were back in 11th place. We left La Rioja at 8.36am, as we were still run­ning from the num­ber-36 start. It was hot and got hot­ter as the day went on. The first reg­u­lar­ity was can­celled, as the road was just too rough after re­cent rain, so it was tran­si­tions on through time and pas­sage con­trols, and a long day’s driv­ing through north­ern Ar­gentina, over mainly flat, scrubby coun­try. The one reg­u­lar­ity of the af­ter­noon was a hill climb on a sealed road. Only three cars made the time within 60 sec­onds, so the rest of the fleet, in­clud­ing us, got the max­i­mum 60-sec­ond penalty, mak­ing us fourth equal.

For the first time in the rally, we had some wet riverbed cross­ings but not deep enough to test the air-in­let snorkel. It was a long, hot 516 km day to the Sher­a­ton in Tu­cumán.

16

RALLY OF THE IN­CAS

In part two of this story, next is­sue, we’ll fol­low Garry and Ken on their in­cred­i­ble jour­ney north, through Ar­gentina and into Peru to the fin­ish line.

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