The teams got right in to the spirit of things on the Starting Grid at Folkestone with everyone donning their fancy dress costumes to create a real spectacle in the Eurotunnel terminal car park. There were some standout costumes - everyone had made a massive effort - but the winners of the Best Fancy Dress competition went to the Super Troopers in their ABBA outfits.
The REAL Rally support team were called in to action from the word go, with The Persuaders' Ferrari Dino suffering a major electrical fault. It was touch and go whether this beautiful classic was even going to get off the grid but having finally got it started (in the certain knowledge that the suspect alternator would not do its stuff and once turned off, the Dino would need to be bump started off the Eurotunnel train), all of the teams finally (and very loudly) boarded the train for France.
Having gathered prominently on the forecourt of the petrol station at Calais, the REAL Rally headed off in to France spearheaded by the charity's own REAL Deal MINI Cooper. With a number of "unexpected" routes through beautiful French villages and a couple of confusing detours (trying to keep 25 cars in convoy was beginning to prove a real challenge) an unscheduled stopover in a supermarket car park was hastily organised. Some impromptu aperitifs and hors d'oeuvres offering of red wine (in plastic glasses purchased from the supermarket) and some crab sticks were provided by The Knight Rye-ders and the 76'ers.
This unplanned break proved to be a blessing as the discovery of a potential serious hydraulic fluid leak from a rear wheel hub of the Twatmobile (containing an enlarged occupancy of Batman, Robin, The Joker and The Penguin) was discovered. The Wacky Racers were also able to use the break to review an overheating problem. Luckily their Mercedes was a convertible as in temperatures reaching 37 degrees, their only solution was to turn the car heaters on full for the next hour. Eventually though, the Rally was able to recommence and everyone arrived for their lunch stop in the beautiful Grote Markt in the centre of Ypres.
From there, a relatively sedate and uneventful journey took the entrants in to their first night stopover in the beautiful Bruges. The Bruges welcome party took place in Delaney's Irish pub, where the management looked after everyone brilliantly. Following the Best Fancy Dress Award presentation, all teams made their own way out in to Bruges to find their own choice of restaurant.
The following morning saw some fairly bedraggled looking (and sleep-lacking) faces around the breakfast tables before everyone gathered in the slightly-too-small hotel car park at the starting grid for day two. Once again, the REAL Deal led the rather noisy procession out on to the narrow cobbled streets of Bruges. The intention was to follow the pre-planned route via the on-board satnav. Sadly, the Bruges highways department seemed to have closed 90% of the inner city's exit roads and bridges for roadworks that morning. For those reading this that have tried to navigate their way out of Bruges even on a good day, they will now be nodding knowingly at the inevitable carnage that ensued as our efforts to keep 25 cars together in convoy failed spectacularly!
However, a few group texts enabled the Rally (well at least 20 of us) to regroup at a motorway services en route where everyone was able to witness the not inconsiderable fuel leak encountered by the Porsche Budgeteers 928 as it filled up. This wouldn't have been too bad if one of the missing vehicles from the Bruges departure calamity was the Rally support vehicle and mechanical team, who were by now about 30 miles ahead of us. The Budgeteers took their telephoned technical advice and cautiously continued and eventually the problem righted itself.
The next few hours journey to the second days’ lunchtime stopover at La Coupole proved to be a little challenging. The REAL Deal's satnav decided to go all interactive, randomly choosing new routes to the scheduled ones. To save further embarrassment, let us just say that the teams arrived for lunch in dribs and drabs spread over a one and half hour period!
An easy one hour drive through lovely countryside took the Rally in to the lovely French resort of Le Touquet which was suffering a torrential rain storm and which proved to last all evening. This wouldn't have been too bad if a.) the Rally hotel wasn't a normally very nice 15-minute walk to Jean's Cafe in the centre of Le Touquet where the welcome party was being held or b.) that there was more than just the one taxi and driver serving the whole town that evening.
Despite some significant dampness to those that had made the wet 15-minute walk (most of them without umbrella's) spirits were high as the group gathered for drinks before finding a suitable place to eat. This welcome party saw the award for Best Looking Car go the fabulously pink Wacky Racers Mercedes. There was also a roll-call of thank you's to those that had made the organisation of the Rally possible: Sanna back at AutoRaise who had booked all of the stopovers and a whole load of other supporting materials, the VRVE team who had so diligently updated the www.therealrally.co.uk website and its social media activity, Nik and Pete who had helped put the route together (that Bob then largely failed to observe!) and of course Matt and Paul in the REAL Rally Support Vehicle, who were instrumental in keeping a few of our teams on the road through their technical expertise, knowledge and advice.
Massive thanks also go to Gemini Accident Repair Centres and Alton Cars, who both donated £500 to the REAL Rally.
As each team left Jean's Cafe to find their own restaurants, the rain continued to pour. Because of this and the distance back to the hotel, most groups independently took the decision from their own restaurant to make their way back to the hotel at around 11.00 pm for a quiet nightcap before bed. What resulted was an unscheduled and impromptu full blown gathering at the hotel bar. The husband and wife teams sat in one corner with their gin and tonics, whilst Bill Duffy single handedly ran a poker dice table that involved around 20 people. And the girls from the Lost and Skint team encouraged everyone to do the "REAL Rally Dance" that involve some "whipping" and "nay naying". The bar staff kicked us out at 2.45 am.
Breakfast was a quiet affair for everyone the next morning. Well nearly everyone. The Scabby Cabbies had to make their way to the terminal early and had also suffered the loss of a mobile phone the previous day which had prevented them from making the evening at Le Touquet as they were scouring the bushes and verges of the road outside of Le Coupole. And the by-now very aptly named Twatmobile had to return to Bruges to retrieve two passports from their room's mini-safe! But the other teams enjoyed a relaxed day, with some making their way to the Calais terminal early while others took in the shops and beaches of Le Touquet before waving au revoir and heading off.
The 76’ers (team members James Titchener and Scott Neely from Enterprise) had a bit of a twilight moment before getting back to Calais though. Having driven their beautiful Mercedes Pagoda in to a rest area (they desperately needed fuel and mistakenly thought they had pulled in to a full service area). Realising their mistake they engaged in dialogue with a local who advised that the next fuel station en route was over 30 miles away. Safe in the knowledge that they would not reach there, the local pointed them in the direction of the nearest village that sold fuel. The 76’ers made their way off the main route and down the dusty French lanes until they came to the village signpost. Underneath was a sign saying “Twined with Otford, Kent” and a large Union Jack beside it. Otford is where James sends his kids to school and he lives only a mile so away. Spooky!!!
The organisers would like to thank each and everyone involved in making the second REAL Rally another successful and enjoyable event. Everyone played their part in making this year’s Rally even better than last year's. Because of the number of teams entering from the Vehicle Repair industry, the cars were not just loaded with stickers but had been beautifully crafted and painted to be really eye-catching. Any passers-by who saw (and heard!!!) us go through their towns and villages would not have failed to be impressed by the vibrancy and creativity of the teams’ cars.
We learned some lessons from last year and we have learned some more for next year as we continue to develop the REAL Rally into a standout and must-do charity event that raises funds for REAL - The Ethan Rees Linwood Memorial Fund to help young people in the Uttlesford area and for AutoRaise to help the Vehicle Repair Industry address its chronic skills shortage.
Plans are already underway for The 2018 REAL Rally. We hope it will continue attracting new and previous entrants so please watch this space for more information!
Thank you all!