Friday, 5 May 2017

Finished the Samurai Challenge Rally

Sorry for the lack of a blog on this rally. I couldn't get blogger to work properly. No ides why but that's the Internet for you.
We have finished the Samurai Challenge Rally , we have had a fantastic time.
Molly Porsche never missed a beat and Julie was brilliant at the navigation.
In fact team Molly Porsche worked so well that we won our class, we won the competition know as the Sado Cup and we came 7th overall out of 52 cars.
We were also the highest place porsche 356, and the oldest porsche 356 in the rally.
All in all an amazing result and an amazing rally covering the 4 main Islands of Japan.
There are lots more pictures on our Facebook page. Go onto Facebook and search for Molly Porsche in Japan.
Hopefully on our next rally to Asia I will get blogger to work properly :)
Porsche 356 winning best in class
Team Molly Porsche with our winnings

Porsche 356A on the race track in Japan
Molly porsche on one of the 6 race tracks

Porsche 356 at the foot of Mount Fuji.
US at Mount Fuji

Molly porsche 356 in some serious snow
They get some serious snow here

Porsche 356 in snow
Very serious snow :)

Sunday, 23 April 2017

We have arrived up in the mountains of Japan. Stunning scenery it seems really strange to have mountains and cherry blossom but it looks fantastic.
This will be a very short blog entry.
Still having problems with Blogger and the Internet.
The rally is going very well. It's a very busy schedule but then there is a lot to see. There are a lot of driving tests which are good fun. Julie and I have got the hang of them and molly porChe is going really well. We think we are 12th overall and 3rd in class, which we are really pleased about.
Below I have copied an entry from the Rally Round blog. Hope you don't mind :)
They don't seem to be having the problems that I do.

  1. National treasure - the feudal castle of Hikone, on the shore of Lake Biwa

    Day 11 of the Samurai Challenge started very early, with 6am prayers at Koyasan accompanied by incense, fire, brimstone and lots of smoke. It's easy to see why so many temples have burned down over the centuries, and why people with asthma might be reluctant to join the religious community (now we know why Heidi never became a Buddhist monk). Nevertheless many of the competitors lining up at the morning's 'out' control expressed their appreciation and enjoyment of a very special experience. 
    On track, more or less - the 1967 Ford Mustang of Hans Middelberg and Jurgen Grolman

    We have seen a few minor reliability issues today, not least among the participants with dodgy joints who were grateful for taxis to carry them from the car park to the Nihon Showa Mura museum where we stopped for lunch amid fascinating displays of Showa period (1929-1989) culture and architecture. The 1967 Ford Mustang of Hans Middleberg and Jurgen Grolman likewise looked a bit wobbly as it arrived with deranged front wheels, quickly re-aligned by RPS mechanic Simon Ayris. Meanwhile the Ravensteijn/Vermeulen Jaguar XK140 is being delayed by fuel flow interruptions caused by the high ethanol content of the local petrol, which is boiling in the carburettors and drawing dirt through the system. The 1932 Alvis Speed 20 of Jose and Maria Romao de Sousa had a battery drain issue, so they fitted a fresh one and left the other to be recharged by the rally mechanics, while electrical gremlins have also attacked Dean and Kendal Golding's 1969 Rolls-Royce Corniche (originally sourced on Ebay for our 2014 Road to Mandalay Rally in Burma/Myanmar) - one side window is stuck fully open and the other only remains half-closed thanks to wedges made of chocolate wrappers. It's hardly a Rolls-Royce solution but better than nothing, as it is pretty cold up here in the mountains. 

    We are following the historic Nakasendo road, a popular route in feudal times that is little used today. Indeed this is ideal regularity territory, and several leading cars got lost on the day's final section; in their 1968 Porsche 912, Alastair Caldwell and Lauren Smith report that they twice overtook the 1974 Leyland P76 of Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson. Philip and Laurette Macwhirter also had problems in their 1969 Morgan Plus 8, but they didn't lose as much time as the 1977 Triumph Stag of Phillip Garratt and Kieron Brown, hitherto running well in second place overall, which finally succumbed to a recurring problem with the clutch control arm on a tight uphill hairpin; other competitors came to their rescue, pushing them up the mountain until the clutch could be freed, but Philip and Kieron have wisely (if reluctantly) decided to back off and preserve the car from here on, enjoying the spectacular drive rather than focusing on the competition. 

    All this has shaken up the leaderboard somewhat; the Aalderings have extended their lead to almost two and a half minutes but now Phillip and Yvonne Haslam have moved up into second place in their 1954 Jaguar XK120, while Marco Halter and Claudia Engelhardt have surged into fourth with their 1963 Ford Falcon, pursued by the Winkenman/Fiore/Karger/Moy Datsun 240Z.
    Canned heat - Keith Ashworth repairs his Jaguar's exhaust

    Having visited the national treasure that is Hikone Castle we settled into our overnight hotel at picturesque Lake Biwa, where a flurry of car fettling included an elegantly executed exhaust repair for the 1955 Jaguar XK140 Coupe of Keith and Norah Ashworth, created by cutting a cola can down the middle and wrapping it around the damaged pipe, secured by a couple of Jubilee clips. Crews then relaxed with a western buffet washed down with sake, entertained by Fiona Easterby's video rushes of the rally so far and a puppet show playing out Japanese legends. We'll see more history tomorrow as we drive 154km to Tsumago, a beautifully preserved former waystation on the Nakasendo road.


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  2. Alphabetical order - the Aalderings' Alvis 

    Everyone has been very considerate today, from the touring crews who kindly delayed their departure from the Nikko Nara hotel until their more competitive fellows had left the start line, to the Japanese lorry drivers who parked up and waited patiently for the rally to complete the first regularity of the day; Liz and Heidi rewarded them with Samurai Challenge caps and stickers. We were not so fortunate at the fourth and final regularity, which was cancelled due to unexpectedly heavy traffic en route to the Buddhist shrines at Koyasan.

    Nevertheless the competition is still tight, with only five minutes covering the top 10 cars. Dutch Alvis Speed 25 crew Martinus and Josephina Aaldering are hanging on to their overall lead, but they are now just 26 seconds ahead of the Triumph Stag of Philip Garratt and Kieron Brown. Behind them, Philip and Yvonne Haslam are still third in their Jaguar XK120 but the Datsun 240Z of Colin Winkelman, Luca Fiore, Adam Karger and Lexton Moy has surged into fourth place ahead of the Crown/Bryson Leyland P76. However, there is still a long way to go - we haven't yet reached the rally's half-way point, so the final result is anybody's guess.

    The route was as lovely as ever, passing through quaint rural villages on roads lined with cherry blossom as we made to Mount Koya, the traditional centre of Shingon Buddhism and a World Heritage site renowned for its ancient temples and a truly remarkable cemetery, where bizarre headstones reflect the occupations of the deceased. Only in Japan!
    Above and below - intriguing grave markers at the Koyasan cemetery
    Competitors spent the afternoon exploring this astonishing mountain retreat before retiring to the several temples in which they would spend the night. It hardly needs saying that a monk's life is not for everyone; some members of our party were surprised to discover that the temple food is exclusively vegan, that the doors are locked at 8.30pm and - shock, horror - that alcohol is not permitted. 

    Happily for some, the teetotal rule is not universal. Alastair Caldwell and Laurel Smith made rather a hash of one of the morning regularities and were also delayed behind a slow-moving truck, dropping them down to eight overall, but have found beer and sake with which to drown their sorrows.   
    Growing horns? Alastair Caldwell has fitted antlers to the bucket that cools his Porsche 912, in homage to the many tame deer we have encountered en route 

    The temple rooms are very clean, if sparsely furnished with little more than a mattress on the floor (with a comfortingly thick quilt), a basin, a toilet and a shared bathroom. Life here is obviously devoted to meditation and the cleansing of body and soul, but some people found it all a bit too reminiscent of boarding school, and accordingly planned midnight feasts, raiding their cars for assorted snacks. 
    The simple life - a temple room at Koyasan
    We are apparently expected to rise at 6.30am for prayers, followed by a blessing and a vegan breakfast at 7.30. Without wishing to appear ungrateful, we suspect that by 7am the little cafe up the road will be heaving with hungry rallyists preparing themselves for tomorrow's 131km drive to Lake Biwa. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak...

    Before moving on, we must express our thanks to Twitter follower Katsu from Osaka (@Katsu_kunkun), who has sent us two nice photos of rally cars arriving in Koyasan: 
    Bentley boys - Engelbertus Kersten and Franklin Soree in their 1931 Bentley 8 Litre
    American retro - Xavier del Marmol and Ines Bodmer in their 1937 Chevrolet Master DeLuxe, followed by Paddy Walker's 1937 Buick Coupe


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  3. Giving it some stick - spear fighters at Nara

    Crews embarked on the second leg of the Samurai Challenge today with a short 74km drive to the beautiful city of Nara, passing through the Uji region that has been renowned since the 12th Century for its superior green tea. 
    Fresh face - Scott Greenhalgh (right) has joined Paddy Walker in Car 14

    We were delighted to welcome Scott Greenhalgh, the second-leg co-driver in Paddy Walker's 1937 Buick, and to welcome back Chris Nunn and Christopher Myers, whose 1929 Bentley now has a new driveshaft. However, we are very sorry indeed to bid farewell to Michael and Eunice McInerney, who worked so hard to overcome their 1940 Ford V8 Coupe's gearbox problems but have been obliged to return home for family reasons. They will be missed. 

    Car 43, the 1972 Mercedes-Benz 350SL of Nicholas Pryor and Lesley Stockwell has also been struggling; a third fuel pump was fitted this morning and the delay forced them to miss the day's time controls, although they did manage to reach the rally hotel with Rally Preparation Services mechanics Simon Ayris and Gary Pickard in close support. 

    The scenery is as beautiful as ever and spirits remain high; crews were especially amused to find Lenham Sports Cars' Andy Actman wearing a mask and bowing as he handed back time cards at his marshalling post on the first regularity section - turning Japanese indeed. Those who aren't terribly concerned about their results and prefer simply to savour a memorable drive have been very considerate towards the ultra-competitive crews, avoiding some regularity sections so as not to get in the way. Nevertheless, competitive or not, everyone is enjoying a spectacular journey. 
    Wise words - Clerk of the Course Peter Rushforth decorates a tile at the Todai-ji temple 

    From the rally hotel crews made their way to the beautiful Nara Park for lunch, where they once again encountered dozens of tame deer. Never less than peckish, these charming creatures immediately ate Car 22 driver Philip Haslam's map and tried to make a meal of Rally Director Liz Wenman's roadbook; happily Liz managed to win the ensuing wrestling match, and can now add deer wrangling to her CV. 
    Animal magic - Rally Round Director Liz Wenman and indispensable Japanese aide and all-round wonder-woman Megami feed a hungry deer in Nara Park

    Amongst others, Jan and Marleen Dingemans (Car 6) and Herman and Vera de Jong (Car 10) rode around the park on bicycles hired from the third floor of the hotel; Jan for one posed more of a hazard on two wheels than he ever has on four. If you're wondering why a bicycle hire facility should be on the third floor, you've probably never been to Japan, where strangeness appears to be the norm; we watched in amazement as Fritz Kozka (Car 52) rode his bike across the hotel's pale marble floor and straight into the lift, yet none of the guests emerging from the lift batted an eyelid.

    At dinner this evening we were entertained by a two-man demonstration of sword and spear fighting. To a casual observer the latter might have looked like an argument between two snooker players, but we can confirm that their weapons were rather more dangerous. 
    Now, now - this is only supposed to be a mildly competitive event! 

    Speaking of battles, the rally leaderboard has changed again; the Aalderings still lead in their Alvis Speed 25, and have very slightly extended the gap to the second-placed Triumph Stag of Philip Garratt and Kieron Brown. However, Philip and Yvonne Halslam have now moved into third place in their Jaguar XK120, ahead of Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson in their Leyland P76 and Alastair Caldwell and Laurel Smith in their Porsche 912. 
    Stag do - the 1977 Triumph of Philip Garratt and Kieron Brown is still in second place overall

    Tomorrow the rally motors on to Koyasan, the centre of Shingon Buddhism, where competitors will spend a peaceful night in a temple. 


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  4. Not exactly representative of a famously beautiful city, but Dr John was particularly attracted to this Kyoto establishment. Rumours that he plans to feed live hedgehogs to Sumo the spider are unfounded (we hope). 

    As mentioned yesterday, rally crews were privileged to visit Japan's most exclusive Geisha restaurant last night, and by all accounts it was a very wonderful experience. The Rally Round staff found alternative forms of entertainment, either at the hotel or out on the streets of Kyoto, where there is certainly no shortage of things to see and do... 

    This being a rest day, crews were free to explore the city at leisure, although their first instinct was to gather round the official noticeboard to check the competitive standings at the end of Leg 1. Martinus and Josephina Aaldering still top the leaderboard in their 1937 Alvis Speed 20, some 42 seconds ahead of Philip Garratt and Kieron Brown in their 1977 Triumph Stag, while Alastair Caldwell and Laurel Smith have moved into third place in their 1968 Porsche 912. We now have links to the day-by-day results no our website page, so you can find more details there.
    Exquisite - all dressed up at Japan's oldest kimono studio

    Inevitably - whether necessary or not - there has already been a good deal of car fettling in Kyoto, although this former capital has many more cultural attractions to offer. Co-drivers Maggie Gray, Antoinette Claessens and Gabriele Jaeger-Kozka accepted a very special invitation to visit studios specializing in kimono design and painting and obi (sash) weaving, courtesy of Mr Yamada, who with Megumi Mesauda has kindly opened a number of exclusive doors for us including those of the Heian shrine yesterday; they were delighted and impressed by the exquisite craftsmanship they witnessed. 

    Kyoto is one of Japan's best-preserved cities, and boasts a bewildering number of gorgeous shrines and temples, amongst them the Kinkaku-ji, Kiyomizu, Ryoan-ji, Nanzen-ji, Arashiyam, Tenry-ji, Jojakko-ji, Adashino and Otagi, and it is no surprise that the countless ancient monuments have secured UNESCO World Heritage listing. It would be impossible to see everything in the time we have available - there are lovely gardens, palaces, Imperial tombs, Geisha quarters and canals too - and many of our party have resolved to return someday. It is a sobering thought that in 1945 this breathtakingly beautiful place was the number one atomic bomb target, and only survived because the US Secretary of War had enjoyed his honeymoon here and removed it from the list. 

    As crews return from their city excursions we will doubtless have many more stories to tell and pictures to show, so we will update this blog post in due course. In the meantime attention will turn to Leg 2 of the Samurai Challenge, which starts tomorrow with a relatively short 74km drive to Nara, though a prefecture that boasts more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other in Japan. The adventure continues!


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  5. Fantastic - the 1954 Jaguar XK120 of Philip and Yvonne Haslam at the beautifully preserved village of Miyama

    After a week in Japan, everyone has settled into the morning routine - leap out of bed, get dressed, dash downstairs, check the official noticeboard, swallow some breakfast (chewing optional), grab some buns for the journey, check the time with Heidi and sign for any route amendment notifications, fire up the car and depart on the correct minute, heading out onto the wonderful roads of Japan, festooned with gorgeous cherry blossom. Spirits are high and happily the sun shone brightly again as the rally made its way to the historic city of Kyoto. 
    All smiles - the 1940 Ford V8 Coupe of Michael and Eunice McInerney is back in the running. Here it leads the 1969 Morgan Plus 8 of Philip and Laurette Macwhirter through Miyama 

    En route we visited the traditional village of Miyama, driving slowly - or 'nicely', as a Japanese policeman might say - between its charming thatched houses, then stopped for a delightful lunch at an equally traditional restaurant, where everyone received tiny bowls of fresh food to cook in individual pots; Mauro and Anna Faldini spoke for all when they said it was the best yet.

    The lunchtime 'out' control opened early, as we had an afternoon appointment at Kyoto's impressive Heian shrine, on the far side of a particularly challenging regularity section. On a very narrow and wonderfully twisty road, local drivers waited patiently for the rally cars to pass and were thanked with rally t-shirts; everyone did very well to arrive on time at the shrine, which kindly stayed open for 30 minutes longer than usual in order to grant the rally another blessing. Competitors, in turn, heaped blessings upon Clerk of the Course Peter Rushforth and Deputy CoC John Bayliss, who together designed the rally route; Jaguar XK120 driver Philip Haslam was full of praise for a "fantastic drive - the best day ever".  
    Counting our blessings - the rally gathers at Kyoto's Heian shrine

    We're also extremely grateful to two Japanese rallyists, Messrs Ishida and Okada San. True motorsport enthusiasts - former Mille Miglia competitors and organisers of rallies in Kyoto and Tokyo - they have given us an amazing amount of practical assistance, finding spare parts, workshop facilities and tow trucks at a moment's notice; this evening, for example, they came up trumps with a workshop in Kyoto that can repair the holed fuel tank in the Woien/Hansen Alvis. They have been altogether brilliant, and we are truly honoured by their presence. 

    Speaking of honours, all the crews assembled at 6pm - including Chris Lunn and Chris Myers, whose vintage Bentley is still under repair - in order to be taxied to the most exclusive Geisha restaurant in Japan. Admittance here is strictly by invitation only - you cannot even book a table in advance - and there is no room for the Rally Round staff, who will instead celebrate the end of the first week - and of Leg 1 of the Samurai Challenge - at the rally hotel. Tomorrow is a rest day, so there might be a few sore heads at breakfast... 
    Beauty and the beast - Biddy and Bill Bolsover at Japan's most exclusive Geisha restaurant 


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  6. Two of the reasons Heidi loves her job so much

    It ought to be impossible to please all of the people all of the time. Some of the rally crews would like slower regularities, some would like them faster, some say they are just right and some simply ignore the timing and enjoy the drive. Masters of mischief Paddy Walker and Peter Hugh Dennis have even been playing games with the marshals, hoping to win plaudits for their uncanny accuracy with a clockwork oven timer (that'll be the day). 

    Given this wide variety of attitudes and approaches it is always hugely gratifying to see crews arrive at the final time control with sunny smiles on their faces, having enjoyed a thoroughly entertaining drive on fabulously empty, twisty roads through spectacular scenery, including the remarkable dunes of the Sanin Kaigan National Park, where crews enjoyed an excellent lunch in a small cafe-shop selling organic produce (Japanese apple cakes, pear biscuits and fruit snacks were especially popular) and visited the nearby sand museum to see some amazing sculptures. 
    Life's a beach - sand sculptures at Tottori

    Unfortunately we were not blessed with actual sunshine today, and instead experienced heavy rain on the 342km route from Matsue to Miyazu; Cornelis Willemse and Ingeborg Van t' Hof got thoroughly soaked in their 1925 Chrysler B-70 Phaeton, yet remained as cheerful as ever. A road closure forced a re-route, and we were advised that roads covered in wet leaves would be extra slippery. Indeed Jan Woien and Jan Erik Hansen slithered off the blackstuff and holed the fuel tank of their 1935 Alvis, simultaneously slipping from first to eighth place overall, but they ingeniously rigged up a couple of jerrycans instead and carried on regardless. Jose and Maria de Sousa also ran out of fuel, but Dr John 'Spiderman' Llewellyn came to their aid with a can from our emergency supply. 

    Most of the other cars are now running well, having sorted out a variety of teething troubles arising from long storage in transit and the humid conditions in Fukuoka; there have actually been very few obstacles en route, as we have enjoyed beautifully maintained asphalt all the way - we haven't yet seen a single pothole! Unfortunately the Lips/Schrijver/Griffiths Mercedes 220B needs a new 6-volt battery; this will have to wait until we arrive in Kyoto tomorrow so the car was transported to the hotel by a truly remarkable Japanese tow truck. 
    All aboard - why lower the load bed when you can raise the truck?
    The most dramatic incident of the day befell Car 25, the 1956 Jaguar XK140 of Rob van Ravensteijn and Ellen and Willem Vermeulen, which broke down in a tunnel. Japanese law forbids towing on the expressway by anyone other than the police or the JAFA roadside rescue service, so rally mechanics Simon Ayris and Gary Packard watched in awe as the car was surrounded by flashing lights and swiftly extracted by extremely helpful police officers; happily it took only a short time to diagnose and fix a minor fuel pump problem, but driver Rob made the most of the drama by turning up to dinner this evening wearing a high-visibility vest over his kimono.
    High viz van Ravensteijn - Rob's emergency dinner jacket

    Everybody else looked very smart in their Japanese attire, a rare occasion on which we were not all put to shame by the supremely well-dressed co-driver of Car 50, Barbara Konopizky, who somehow manages to look immaculate at all times. Sitting cross-legged on the floor in more or less authentic fashion, we enjoyed an exquisite meal before moving on to the bar, which did a roaring trade. It takes more than a few raindrops to dampen the rally's spirit of adventure, and the mood is buoyant - particularly in the 1977 Triumph Stag of Philip Garratt and Kieron Brown, who have today surged into second place behind the Aalderings' Alvis; Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson are still third in their Leyland P76. 

    Tomorrow we drive 232km to Kyoto, home of the Japanese tea ceremony. Put the kettle on...
    Leyland motoring - Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson are still 3rd overall


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  7. The Children's Peace Monument at Hiroshima
    (Photo by Fiona Easterby)

    The rally has reached Matsue and the competition is tight, much like today's regularities on which crews faced twisting climbs, tight hairpins and numerous speed changes. 

    However, the day started very quietly, with an early morning pilgrimage to Hiroshima's Peace Park, a sombre monument to the devastation and catastrophic loss of life that followed the use of the world's first atomic weapon on 6th August 1945. The personal testimonies of those who survived the attack are terribly moving, and the visit was a highly emotional experience. 
    Silent witness - a relic of Hiroshima

    Putting thoughts of nuclear conflict aside (probably best not read any newspapers for a while), crews returned to their cars and set off on the 298km drive to Matsue. After lunch in the fishing port of Hamada, the route climbed into the mountains via Iwami Ginzan, a fascinating 16th Century silver mine and World Heritage Site. Shortly after this, and quite unconnected to the incident in which Marion van Gemert mistakenly directed husband Jan to drive their Ford Mustang into a bemused local's garden, the crews of Cars 27, 28 and 29 were startled by the appearance of an ancient Japanese woman dressed in white, who leapt into the road with an old pram and a bucket, gesticulating wildly. Fortunately the cars were only travelling at 20km/h, and everyone escaped unscathed, albeit slightly spooked. 

    It was something of a relief then to head for the magnificent 6th Century Izumo Taisha shrine, possibly the oldest in Japan and certainly one of the most important; the Shinto deity enshrined here is believed to be Japan's original creator, Okuninushi. En route, hundreds of local people lined the road, waving Union Jacks and cheering the rally on its way; in fact our competitors hail from 15 nations, but the gesture was much appreciated nevertheless. We were even more honoured to be allowed to enter the shrine itself - a very great privilege, seldom awarded, that took months of negotiation by Rally Round Director Liz Wenman. The rally was blessed by a Shinto priest, whereupon all were entitled to make a wish. Whether we actually finish with 51 crews in equal first place remains to be seen. 
    White hares - at Izumo Taisha

    The authorities here take rules very seriously, and more than one car has been stopped by the police for not displaying a Japanese number plate. Sean and Eleanor Dixon's Mercedes-Benz 230SL was one such, but they had the presence of mind to show the many official letters of permission and welcome included in the roadbook (in both English and Japanese) and were allowed to proceed on their way. Alastair Caldwell was also stopped, but escaped the long arm of the law with his customary and well-practised aplomb. 
    Cool aid - Chris Evans' modified Moretti

    Climbing through the mountains, Chris and Jack Evans have experienced overheating problems in their lovely little rear-engined Fiat Moretti 850. Inspired by that man Caldwell, who on our 2015 Thunder Dragon Rally in Bhutan modified his Porsche 912 with a cooling air scoop made from half a plastic bucket (still in place), Chris chopped up a couple of traffic cones and stuck them to the Moretti's slotted engine cover with duct tape. They don't do much for the car's Dino-esque lines, but seem to be working well, so far. 

    Working slightly less well, the wine-powered Mercedes-Benz 220B of Johannes Lips, Johanna Schriver and Julian Griffiths suffered a few electrical hiccups, and had to be carried to the hotel in Matsue. The 1969 Morgan Plus 8 of Aussie couple Philip and Laurette Macwhirter has also been struggling - as Philip put it, "We're dragging our arse on the ground" - so he plans to spend the evening working on the rear springs. Meanwhile Keith and Norah Ashworth have lost the power steering on their Jaguar XK140, so Keith will soon have the arms of a Sumo wrestler. On a happier note, we have been rejoined by Michael and Eunice McInerney, whose Ford V8 now has a new clutch; wisely, they plan to take things gently tomorrow. 

    This evening's dinner was a fabulous occasion, accompanied by a local Iwami Kagura dance group acting out a Japanese version of George and the Dragon. With drums, swords, colourful costumes and sparkling dragon fire, it was all very dramatic, and won lot of applause.
    Exit the dragon - drama at Matsue 

    No less dramatic are the latest rally standings. Albeit modified by the 'Joker' system that allows crews to drop their worst regularity performance of the week, the leaderboard could hardly be tighter. Jan Woien and Jan Erik Hansen are clinging on to the lead in their 1935 Alvis Speed 20, but they are just 0.58 sec ahead of Martinus and Josephina Aaldering in their 1937 Alvis Speed 25. Less than a minute behind in third place overall are classic category leaders Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson in the 1974 Leyland P76, a mere 1.19 seconds ahead of Philip Garratt and Kieron Brown in their 1977 Triumph Stag. 

    Things might well change tomorrow, as the 342km drive to Miyazu includes no fewer than four regularity sections. Wisely, most competitors were in bed by 11pm. On this of all days, we wish them a peaceful night.


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  8. Low tide, high culture - the torii gate at Itsukushima Shrine, Mayajima

    A thoroughly entertaining day saw the rally cross the Straits of Shimonoseki and head east on the 246km drive to Hiroshima. The morning's only regularity section was the longest and most challenging so far, albeit slightly easier than originally planned as the wheelbase of some of the rally cars would have made it impossible to negotiate a particularly tight hairpin junction. 
    17th Century engineering - the Kintai-kyo bridge at Iwakuni

    Crews enjoyed a bento box lunch at the gorgeous Kintai-kyo bridge at Iwakuni; completed in 1673, the elegant five-span structure is justifiably considered one of Japan's three greatest bridges. It would have been nice to linger longer here but there were more lovely attractions in store at Hiroshima, where everyone except Chris Lunn and the rally mechanics boarded a boat to the enchanted island of Miyajima. Chris has broken a half-shaft on his 1929 Bentley and it will take two days to fix; like the McInerneys, he and co-driver Chris Myers will catch up with the rally as soon as the car is back on the road. Other problems have been few and far between - Marco Fila and Stephanie Gout have fixed the faulty brake lights on their 1976 Bentley Corniche and the ever-smiling Fritz Kozka survived an excursion into a ditch - one advantage of doing a rally in a modern Nissan X-Trail. 
    Ditch hooking - the Nissan X-Trail of Fritz Kozka and Gabriele Jaeger-Kozka 

    Accompanied by a terrific electrical storm, the evening's luxury boat cruise to Miyajima was a very special experience. The hour-long crossing actually passed very quickly, as attention was focused on the Japanese art of origami. 
    Rally paperwork - it's only a shame that the origami tradition doesn't extend to vintage Bentley halfshafts

    On landing at Mayajima we explored the spectacular Itsukushima Shrine, an architectural wonder that at high tide appears to float above the sea. From here it was a short stroll to the delightful Daisho-in temple, where we were mobbed by friendly deer. They are utterly charming, but don't be deceived - the canny creatures will happily steal everything you own, as Car 20 co-driver Julian Griffiths discovered when he momentarily put down his shopping bag. Understandably, the Japanese consider it unlucky to have deer lurking outside their house, and will shoo them along to their neighbours' place - literally passing the buck. 
    Led astray - rally navigators make the classic mistake of following the guy in front 
    Speaking of animals, Sumo the spider is in for a treat tonight as on the return trip we enjoyed a really delicious Japanese meal, accompanied by traditional music and juggling - a particularly memorable experience for 1955 Jaguar crew Keith and Norah Ashworth, who were celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary and received a bouquet of flowers with our congratulations. 

    Led as ever by Gerry Crown, crews disembarked directly into the hotel bar, although most exercised restraint as we must rise early tomorrow to visit the Hiroshima Peace Park. Gerry has reason to celebrate as he and Matt Bryson are currently leading the classic category in their 1974 Leyland P76. Ahead of them, remarkably, are two vintage Alvises - Jan Woien and Jan Erik Hansen (1935 Speed 20) and Martinus and Josephina Aaldering (1937 Speed 25) respectively hold first and second places in the overall classification. If they can just hang on long enough for Jose and Maria de Sousa to make up 26 places, we'll have a perfect red triangle. 

    Tomorrow rally moves on to Matsue.


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  9. All revved up - the children of Kurokawa Nursery School

    Old cars thrive on being driven, and several competitors are still managing minor problems, many of them attributable to the cars' long sojourn in storage. However, those without spannering duties started Day 3 of the Samurai Challenge with a leisurely exploration of Mount Aso's vast caldera and joined our visit to a local nursery school, built after last year's earthquake, where the excited children enjoyed rides in the rally cars, making  enough noise to put the volcano to shame. 

    It's probably just as well that the youngsters didn't meet Rally Round's newest team member. Rally Doctor John Llewellyn and mechanic Kevin Blackmore discovered a spider as big as a man's hand in their room last night, and having named it 'Sumo' they have made it comfortable in their vehicle and are now feeding it sushi. We can't help thinking that this might be a little unwise. Have they never heard of the Tsuchigumo
    The Tsuchigumo - who knows what might come of Dr John's experiments?

    The day's rally competition focused on another track test, this time at the Autopolis circuit, slightly shorter than the Honda facility we visited yesterday but no less entertaining. Xavier del Marmol took things a little easier, having been obliged to replace his Buick's head gasket after yesterday's performance, and the fastest vintage machine this morning was the 1937 Alvis Speed 25 of Martinus and Josephina Aaldering; the quickest classic was the 1968 Porsche 912 of Alastair Caldwell, in spite of a 10 second penalty for running without co-driver Laurel Smith. Nevertheless the highlight of the Autopolis visit was Clerk of the Course Peter Rushforth's hurried departure - having failed to secure his vehicle's boot, his suitcase fell out and burst open, scattering a variety of smalls on the circuit. Propelled by a powerful (if not divine) wind, Peter's underpants actually posted quicker times than many of the competitors.
    Gone with the wind - even Alastair Caldwell failed to catch Peter Rushforth's underpants 

    A regularity section followed lunch at the track, and crews then embarked on a largely rural 120km drive to Kyushu, our overnight halt on the north coast, where at dinner the day's performance awards were presented by FIVA Steward Detlef Krukenkamp; competitors were also entertained by a geisha show and lessons in Japanese attire (how to wear a kimono). For more entertaining stories, by the way, we heartily recommend the event blog being written by our old friend Barbara Shooter from the co-driver's seat of her 1935 Ford V8 Coupe - go to 

    Publication of the day's results showed that the Aalderings are currently the overall rally leaders, followed by Jan Woien and Jan Erik Hansen in their 1935 Alvis Speed 20 and Philip Garratt and Kieron Brown in their 1977 Triumph Stag. You may view a summary of the first two days' penalties and the current rally standings by clicking the Results button on our Samurai Challenge webpage
    Out in front - early rally leaders Martinus and Josephina Aaldering

    As previously mentioned, a few unfortunate crews still have mechanical woes. Nicholas Pryor and Lesley Stockwell were sidelined for four hours by a fuel pump failure in their Mercedes 350SL, Alan and Carol Pontin have a dodgy damper on their Jaguar E-Type, Bill and Biddy Bolsover are coping with a misfire in their Jaguar XK120, Jose and Maria de Sousa have a dynamo fault in their Alvis Speed 20 and Paddy Walker and Peter Dennis have no brakes on their Buick Coupe. Meanwhile the McInerneys' predicament has gone from bad to worse - after five hours' work the vintage Ford's broken clutch and various associated problems proved impossible to fix, so replacement parts are being flown out to Japan - Michael and Eunice will have to catch up as soon as the car is mended. Looking in the bright side, they're stranded in a spectacular spot.

    We hope they won't be long. But tomorrow the rest of us must move on, heading east to Hiroshima.


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  10. Let's go! Car 1, the 1925 Chrysler B-70 Phaeton of Cornelis Willemse and Ingeborg Van t' Hof is flagged away from the start line in Fukuoka

    As expected, Day 2 of the Samurai Challenge has been extremely busy. Indeed several competitors might call it 'action packed' - and the fun has barely begun! 

    Having completed all the pre-event formalities this morning, and after a Shinto road safety blessing, Rally Round Director Liz Wenman and Rally Coordinator Heidi Winterbourne flagged 49 cars away from the start line at 1.30pm on a glorious afternoon in Fukuoka. It should have been 51 cars, but the 1931 Bentley of Engelbertus Kersten and Franklin Soree and the 1971 Mogan Plus 8 of Lloyd and Treacy Reddington were held back for a while by electrical gremlins. The latter problem was traced to corrosion in the ignition system, possibly caused by the local humidity - the cars have been cooped up in shipping crates for quite some time. Dean and Kendal Golding found mould in the boot of their 1969 Rolls-Royce Corniche, so the idea certainly holds water.
    Drive safely - the rally receives a blessing from a priest of the Hakozaki Shrine

    The rally escaped from Fukuoka on one of Japan's amazing three-layer urban freeways, heading out towards the first regularity section of the event. For readers unfamiliar with regularities, they are sections of often challenging road on which crews must maintain a precise average speed, specified at the start of the section, with a penalty awarded for every second late (or early) at the finish. Competitive navigators aim to 'clean' every section with no penalties at all - entire rallies may be won or lost by a couple of seconds - so accurate timekeeping is vital (average-speed displays are not permitted). Crews generally rely on sophisticated stopwatches, so 1937 Buick Coupe driver Paddy Walker raised a few eyebrows when at the start of the first regularity he presented co-driver Peter Dennis, better known as Hugh, with a Salter clockwork oven timer that led them to collect seven minutes of penalties. What a comedian.
    All clear? Heidi gives 1937 Buick co-driver Peter Hugh Dennis a crash course in clockwork oven timing

    Rather less relaxed were Keith and Nora Ashworth in their 1955 Jaguar XK140, who later reported that had one of the regularity marshals been a divorce lawyer, they would have paid him for a fast-track service. A whiff of stress was also evident in the 1954 Jaguar XK120 of Philip and Yvonne Haslam, who recovered from a wrong turning by reversing back along a motorway. Explaining this to hubby, Yvonne claimed to have found an error in the roadbook - until Heidi pointed out an obscure rally regulation that specifies 120 minutes of penalties for any use of a pork pie. 

    There were impressive performances too. Taking part in his first ever rally, 19-year-old Jack Evans didn't make any navigational errors in dad Chris's 1970 Fiat Moretti 850, while Canadian Porsche 356 crew David and Adele Cohen demonstrated the true spirit of classic rallying when they spent 45 minutes pulling the 1937 Bentley of Jean and Anne Steinhauser out of a ditch. Elsewhere the Walker and Dennis double act found the 1935 Ford V8 Coupe of Adrian and Barbara Shooter broken down at a motorway toll booth, so pushed them through to a somewhat embarrassing chorus of Japanese horns. 
    So far so good - the rally's youngest competitor, Jack Evans hasn't put a foot wrong

    A timed track test followed at the Honda motorcycle factory. In order to reduce their lap times some drivers decided to save weight and take a 10 second penalty for leaving their co-drivers to mind the luggage; appropriately enough at such a venue, several managed to drive parts of the circuit on two wheels. Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson were no quicker, losing a minute when the bonnet of their 1974 Leyland P76 popped open on track. Analysis of the lap times showed that the fastest classic was actually Marco Halter's 1963 Ford Falcon, while Xavier del Marmol took the vintage honours in his 1937 Chevrolet Master DeLuxe.  

    After another easy regularity section the rally reached its overnight halt is Mount Aso. With its 1,592m peak this is one of the world's largest volcanoes and still very active; exactly a year ago today the area was hit by a powerful earthquake. The rally hotel is situated in the volcano's vast and ancient caldera, measuring up to 25km in diameter, so it offers spectacular views, although most of the rally participants spent the evening indoors, making friends with their fellows in the bar. 
    What do you call a Japanese gremlin? Several cars have been afflicted by mechanical problems including the McInerney Ford V8 Coupe  

    There were several late arrivals - the Shooter Ford and the 1976 Bentley Corniche of Marco and Stephanie Fila both have fuel problems, the 1956 Jaguar XK140 of Rob van Ravensteijn and Willem and Ellen Vermeulen has sticky brakes and two cars have clutch trouble: the 1932 Alvis of Jose and Maria Romao de Sousa is being fixed for a second time and the 1940 Ford V8 Coupe of Michael and Eunice McInerney has gone to a local garage for welding. Nevertheless it has been a hugely entertaining first afternoon. Tomorrow, the rally heads off to Kokura. 
    Back on track - the Reddington Morgan Plus 8 on the Honda test circuit

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