Anybody who has competed on any of the longer rallies run by Classic Events will be familiar with this collection of random ramblings that I put together to ease you on your way around the route. Some of the facts and figures have come from guidebooks, many have been Googled from the interweb and some I’ve picked up during the various survey trips that I’ve undertaken. I hope that in places they give you some historical context of the towns you’re seeing, or give you a deeper insight into the communities that you are passing through, or at least serve to keep you awake when there is nothing else to talk about in the car.
Leg 8 - Linz to Salzburg
It is traditional in my Mutterings that I don’t tell you much about the final Leg of an event, and just leave it all as a pleasant surprise. It will start easily enough with a gentle run down the motorway, with the minimum of paperwork to contend with, before a quick coffee in the welcoming (if rather compact) Heidi's cafe. From there you have the only two Regularity Sections of the day in fairly quick succession to get them out of the way.
After you've finished the final section and ceremonially burned your speed tables, there is a long but pleasant link section passing around the shores of the Attersee, Mondsee and Wolfgangsee. As we arrive at the Fuschlsee we turn left past the strangely understated Global Headquarters of the Red Bull dynasty then on to the second TC of the morning in the elegant Landgasthof Fischerwirt in the village of Vordersee. And then it's on to the final Test of the event at the winter driving school on the edges of the Hintersee lake.
When you've negotiated the final Test of the event (snow guaranteed) all that remains is a scenic run into the finish on the southern edge of Salzburg. We use some very narrow and potentially icy roads here ("so what's new?" I hear you say) so please drive sensibly; it would be very embarrassing to end your rally parked against an icicle encrusted rock wall only 15km before the finish.
The Baroque villa of Schloss Hellbrunn is where the finish party begins and we hope that as many of you as possible will hang around there to welcome the eventual winners over the finish line so we have laid on a number of warming refreshments to tempt you. This palace was built by the Archbishop of Salzburg but was only ever intended as a day residence so there are no bedrooms here. Instead, our hotels for the night are just a short drive away, and the bar there is where the party will continue - and from there... well, who knows?
Leg 6 & 7 - Linz to Linz
It's an early start for the last full day of the rally and the Tulips out of Linz will soon have you heading north towards the spa town of Bad Leonfelden. We had originally hoped to stay overnight in this town instead of the city of Linz and there are number of good quality hotels that have just opened which made it look possible. Unfortunately, on closer enquiry, it transpired that although these hotels have plenty of rooms, very few of them have twin beds so sadly we had to revert to plan B in Linz.
The first Regularity starts as we leave Bad Leonfelden and is the longest of the event. Keeping on the correct route through this network of rural roads will be the key to a good result here, and the final challenge is to get through the town of Haslach to the Rejoin Point, although by then you won't need to worry about the timing. We travel along the good valley road to Ulrichsberg before turning into Bohmerwald and an early coffee halt in a modern ski hotel before heading to the Czech Republic.
We cross the border into the Czech Republic at a small crossing point, but since the Czech Republic joined the Schengen group of countries in December 2007, there are no formalities to slow you down. The Czech Republic has not adopted the Euro as its currency and uses the Koruna which at the time of writing had an exchange rate of about EUR 1 = CZK 25. In the Czech Republic, as in Slovenia you must drive with your headlights on at all times and there is zero tolerance for alcohol.
You’ll find the roads in Czech are generally bumpier than you’ve become used to in Austria and they tend to be less heavily treated in the winter. Most roads are ploughed, but only the most major are coated with salt with the result of some excellent winter rallying conditions. By the time you get to Regularity 6.2 you will be well versed in Czech roads and ready to twist your way through the foothills of the Sumava range.
The next link section takes us into the Sumava National Park itself. This high plateau forms the natural border between the Czech Republic and Austria (where the range is known as the Bohmerwald) and Germany (where it is the Bayerischer Wald). It is also the dividing range between the watersheds of the North Sea and the Black Sea, and the high peat bogs together with the Lipno reservoir (that Trial crews will see later today) form an important reservoir for central Europe.
There is little opportunity for competitive sections in the Sumava, and in any case the National Park Authorities would object, so you can sit back and enjoy the drive as you head deep into the Park to visit the Passage Control in the small ski village of Modrava. It is not until we leave the Park that we find the short but interesting (and potentially very slippery) RS 6.3 to quicken the pulse immediately before lunch.
Kasperske Hory plays host to the lunch halt and you're certain of a good feed in the Hotel Kasperk. There is little dedicated parking for the Hotel but thanks to our friend Pavel Kacerovsky the town square will be available for our use and should even be clear of snow. If you need to get petrol during lunch, there is a fuel station on the way out of town to the West ie in the opposite direction to the route.
As ever, the Handouts for the afternoon Regularities will be issued as you leave lunch so you have 15 minutes to prepare yourselves for RS 6.4 which should be quite straight forward to plot and there should be no problems driving the route as Pavel has already ordered the correct size snow plough!
Challenge crews now make their way to a pleasant afternoon coffee halt in Prachatice whilst Trial crews have the short and sharp (and suitably named) Regularity 6.5 to contend with. Prachatice is another typically Bohemian town that rose to prominence on the back of the salt trade of the Middle Ages. It then led a chequered history being passed between various feuding Estates, even at one stage being conquered by the Swedish army, and by 1918 was a part of the Austrian monarchy. After 1945 the German population of the town (and all of the Sumava) which consisted largely of woodcutters was forcibly expelled.
The second of the event's Navigation Sections starts in the centre of Prachatice, but you already have Tulips to get you out of the town, and you should note that there will be no Route Checks until after the Tulips have finished, from which point your full concentration will be required.
From the end of the Navigation Section we have a run across country and around the city of Cesky Krumlov. This amazing historical city is undoubtedly one of the most exquisite towns in the Czech Republic. The whole city is a UNESCO designated site and is kept traffic free. The town is dominated by the chateau perched high above the Vltava that until 1945 was the seat of the Schwarzenburg family who had the special privilege of being permitted to keep a private army of 12 soldiers who doubled as the castle’s private orchestra – handy for when those troublesome Rozmberks gatecrashed the cosy soirees I suppose…
The next Test that runs through the closed streets of the village of Svaty Jan has become something of a Winter Trial institution. Those of you who have been here before may think that you know the way, but can you remember exactly when to start braking for the left turn, or which way to go around the shrine after the crest? Clearly a Test like this would be impossible without the hard work of the motor club and anyone who was on the event in 2018 will remember the Skoda 130RS that was so enthusiastically driven by their leader Karel Mach. This year he has decided to return to take the Skoda on the Monte Carlo Historique but in true Karel fashion will be starting from Athens.
It is very important that you note that the Start of the Test is also the Start of the Regularity Section so you must zero your tripmeter on the line and start your stopwatch for regularity timing as the marshal says "Go". There will be no Timing Points during the Test, so you should approach it in the normal way, but you are likely to have to make up some lost time after leaving the finish marshals. Incidentally, we've been asked to move the final TP of this section so that we are closer to some houses as the local mayor is planning a party to coincide with your arrival!
From the end of the Regularity, Challenge crews head south on a simple route using main roads to the Austrian border and then the newly completed motorway to return to the comforts of the hotel in Linz. Trial crews have no such luxuries as they head along the Vltava valley and past the Lipno dam to the small tourist town of Frymburk. Here they have a nervous dinner halt before discovering the best and the worst that the Czech hills can throw at them during the final night section. It is always this Leg that decides the winner of the Winter Trial, and anyone that completes the whole route tonight is certainly made of tough stuff.
The only other thing that I will say about this section is to acknowledge all of the help that we’ve had from the Automotoklub Rallye Cesky Krumlov and Pavel Kacerovsky in particular, to
set up and run the section. Some of the roads you use are private and they have gained permission for them along with warning all the residents on route to lock up their pets and children for the night! Oh and they’ll also be providing marshals to supplement our team to ensure that at as many controls as possible you will be greeted by a smiling (if cold) face.
Leg 5 - Leoben to Linz
Leaving the comfort of the Falkensteiner Hotel you need to be up to speed quickly as the first Regularity Section is just 20 minutes away from the Hotel but you do have Tulips to get you there. Although you won't see the Handout until you leave MC 5.1, there should be nothing for you to worry about as it is quite straight forward. The big question will be the weather conditions, as some parts of the section are low on the ploughing priority list, so overnight snow could result in a last minute change of route!
Regularity 5.2 follows hot on the heels of 5.1, but after that initial flurry of activity there is plenty of time to get the "office" in order as we use the main road to head north through the mountains. That said, some of the higher passes are not fully cleared of snow, and in December as we drove through a snow storm there were a few lorries which had ceased forward motion on the uphill sections.
We skirt the city of Mariazell which, as well as being a popular winter sports destination, is an important site of pilgrimage for Catholics. The object of veneration is an image of the Virgin Mary reputed to work miracles, carved in lime-tree wood. This was brought to the place in 1157, and is now enshrined in a chapel adorned with objects of silver and other costly materials. The large church of which the chapel forms part was erected in 1644.
On a more prosaic level, Mariazell is also the end of a narrow-gauge railway that winds its way through the mountains to St Polten. Shortly after the line was opened in 1907 it became apparent that the steam engines of the time were struggling to make the journey so the decision was taken to convert to electrical power. This was revolutionary at the time as no other line of such length or traffic was running in this way. Hydroelectric power stations were built to meet the energy requirements and the line was fully electrified by 1914. Some of the engines that were developed back then are still in use today, all be it in a rebuilt form.
From Mariazell we divert from the main road and up the Wastertal to another coffee halt with history. The Gasthaus "Zur Wuchtlwirtin" began operating in 1852 and experienced its most popular period between the two World Wars when horse-drawn carriage excursions from Mariazell were all the rage. In the winter time, runners were attached to these carriages and on a beautiful winter day you could meet up to 50 sledges on their way here. Hopefully there won't be so many today!
Returning back to the Eisenstrasse and the Mariazellbahn we head further north and start to see the end of the high mountains. This gives us a chance to squeeze in the day's third Regularity in an area with a few alternative roads and junctions to keep you busy before turning south to lunch in the Restaurant of the lovely Kartause Hotel in Gaming. This Hotel occupies part of a Carthusian Monastery that dates back to 1330.
Suitably refreshed in body and spirit we return into the high mountains for the day's test in a meadow beside the main road to the small village of Gostling. During the winter months this meadow is transformed into a basic winter driving centre in a similar way to the Ice Trophy circuit, although not on the same scale. This will give you plenty of opportunity for wheel spinning and arm waving as you negotiate the icy route.
We turn north again after Gostling and with some Tulips to guide you through the tunnels of Waidhofen you will comfortably arrive at the first of three afternoon TCs today in the Gasthaus Hundsmuhle. You ought to have a bit of time for a break here, but the main reason for the TC is to start on the event's first Navigation Section and, friendly that we are, you won't get the route information until you leave the TC halt giving you an opportunity to test your Plot 'n' Bash skills (as we call it in the UK). That said, there is a clue in the last Tulips about which way to turn out of the Hundsmuhle.
If you drive the correct route of the Navigation Section you will pass a number of Route Checks. Some of these will be manned, but most will be checked remotely using the RallySafe system. There will be code boards at the road side so you know that you are on the correct route, but these will not be used to calculate your results. The overall average speed for the section is relatively low, so unless you get badly lost you should have time to comfortably get to the final TC near Wallsee.
After the challenges of the Navigation Section we pass through the middle of Wallsee to take in the splendour of the castle that overlooks our next barrier to progress - the mighty Donau (Danube). Even in this day, it is surprising how few opportunities there are to cross this river, and the one we use must be one of the quirkiest. Instead of a large bridge, we cross using a hydroelectric barrage. The roadway is only the width of one car so the (little) traffic is controlled by traffic lights but, presumably to account for the large number of bicycles that navigate the banks of the Donau in the summer, the lights in each direction are only green for 1 minute every 10 minutes. This is politely explained by a sign where you wait, and there is some extra time built into the schedule to allow for any delays here.
By the time that the first cars are leaving TC 5.6 the sun will be setting so the day's final Regularity will be in the dark for everyone and there are plenty of junctions to keep you on your toes. But don't relax after the end of the Regularity because the route through the back roads as far as Kefermarkt will still require some concentration. After getting through that town things get much simpler and the final run into Linz should present no problems.
Leg 4 - Ljubljana to Leoben
As with Leg 2, and for the same reasons, the day's start control is not in the Hotel in the centre of Ljubljana. Today it is on the north eastern edge of the city in a modern shopping centre cafe, and again we suggest that you allow at least 30 minutes to cover the 16km to get there.
Different from Leg 2 however is that the first Regularity is only 10 minutes away and it is a Self Start so there will be some teamwork required to be ready to start the section at the allotted time. Once the frantic preparations are over you should find that the section itself is a pleasant drive through rolling hills and quiet villages. To avoid any need for you to rush through these villages the Handout for the sections will confirm that, for this section only, there will be no TP for 1km after passing a town or village "in" sign.
After the end of the Regularity there is a chance to catch your breath and get the rest of the paperwork in order as you take a good main road to the morning's test at the country's largest driver training centre. A couple of laps later we use main roads and even a bit of motorway to pick our way between towns before getting back into the hills and back roads that we're more used to. As noted in the Roadbook, the map in this area is particularly tricky to follow, so look closely at the extra information in the Route Details table and you'll soon arrive at the morning's coffee halt in Vitanje at the foot of the Pohorje mountains.
These mountains that rise to over 1,500m are largely wooded, but they also feature a lot of grassland which in summer is used for grazing and in winter is used for skiing. This is Slovenia’s busiest winter sports area and you will see numerous snowy tracks heading off into the trees. The biggest question will be whether you’re supposed to drive along them or not? In fact the winter sport activity here is very helpful as it means that roads that serve no other purpose are generally kept ploughed and in perfect condition for us. That said, as we experienced in 2018, any fresh snow tends to be heavy here and it can take a while to be cleared.
Regularity 4.2 takes a circuitous route to the top of the mountains and the Rogla ski resort, then Regularity 4.3 takes us down the other side of the mountain into the Drava Valley. The River here is one of the longer tributaries of the Donau (Danube) at 710km long and starts in Italy before passing through Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. It is one of the most exploited in the world for electrical power with no fewer than 22 power plants along its length and almost 100% of the water's potential energy being exploited.
The Radlpass that we use to cross into Austria is relatively low at only 670m so we shouldn’t have too many problems with snow here despite it being one of the less major border crossings in the area. From the border we drop down to the town of Eibiswald where there is opportunity to fill up with fuel before taking lunch in the welcoming Romantikhof Kiefer. The entrance to the car park here is a little beyond the hotel, so keep a look out for orange arrows.
From lunch the run along a fast but interesting main road will give navigators a chance to get on top of the afternoon's Handouts and give drivers a chance to muse about the village of Schwanberg that we pass on the left. The village gets its name from the hill that rises up behind the village that has been the site of a fortress since the 9thCentury. The current castle dates from the 13thCentury although it was mostly rebuilt in the 15thand 16thCentury after being badly damaged in a local dispute between neighbouring families. Since 1891 it has been operated as a nursing home for the incurably insane, although I’m sure that there is a more politically correct name for it now…
We are getting back into the high "spine" of Austria now and after Regularity 4.4 we pass a small ski area at the Hebalpe pass before the two categories split. The Trial crews turn left to attempt Regularity 4.5 whereas the Challenge crews, having spent longer at the Romantik lunch halt, turn right to cross the Packsattel Pass. This is where the two routes rejoin and continue along the Hirschegg Valley then climb across the Stubalpe ski fields to the afternoon coffee halt in the Salzstiegelhaus.
This pass has been used since the Middle Ages as a trade route for transporting salt and it is thought that there has been a lodging of some kind here since the mid 1850's. The current wooden structure dates back to 1948 and is still owned by the same family. Although inside the fire will be cosy and the welcome warm, if there is any kind of wind blowing the exposed location means that outside will be bitterly cold as it was in December.
From here we drop into the Murtal valley and the busy industrial flood plain around the town of Zeltweg. Here we head to the afternoon's test at the Murtal Driver Training Centre. This is the biggest of these facilities that we visit and we've put together a Test route that is over 3km long, so make sure you have enough fuel.
All that remains of the day is an easy run up the motorway to Leoben. As this is the first time that the route has used a motorway in Austria, remember that you need to display a Vignette sticker to prove that you've paid the extra tax that is due on these roads. If you don't yet have one, there are fuel stations just before the Motorway where you can get a 10 day Vignette for €9.20.
Leoben is a busy industrial city on the banks of the Mur which built its fortunes on the iron trade. The University based here specialises in mining and the steel-based technology firm VoestAlpine has a huge factory that you will drive past on the way out of the city in the morning. Göss Abbey, the oldest convent for women in Styria which was founded in 1020 and lasted until 1782, was in the historic city centre and only gets a mention here as it gave its name to the adjacent brewery and the famous Gosser Beer that is still brewed in the town and is one of the most popular in Austria.
Legs 2 & 3 - Ljubljana to Ljubljana
The first thing to mention to you is that the start control is NOT in the Hotel. The centre of Ljubljana on a Monday morning is a busy place so we decided it would be more relaxing for you to negotiate this in your own time without the clock ticking. I recommend that you allow at least 30 minutes to cover the 21km out of the city and along the motorway to the control in the Cankarejev Hram cafe in Vrhnika. If you arrive early you'll be able to join the locals for a quick coffee before collecting your route handouts for the morning and heading on your way.
The second thing to mention is that today you will run in a different order than on Leg 1. Whereas you started Leg 1 in simple rally number order, on Leg 2 you will start in an order based on your performance on Leg 1, so the better you are doing, the earlier you must get out of bed! Also note that the Trial and Challenge categories will now be grouped together, with all of the Trial cars leaving before the first of the Challenge crews starts.
Although today is not a super long day we have squeezed enough corners in that your arms will be aching this evening. In general, although we are lower than we were yesterday in Austria, the roads here in Slovenia are steeper – for that reason they tend to be gritted and often salted, but they are still a good challenge, and if we have any fresh snow you will all be getting your daily exercise by fitting and removing snow chains. If you only have one pair of chains, there is also the dilemma of which axle do you fit them to, especially on the downhill sections.
By the time that you get to the start of the first Regularity the navigators amongst you will probably have realised how reliable the official Freytag and Berndt 1:150,000 map is not! Most of the roads that we use are shown on it, but in a number of places the actual detail is a little vague. I have given extra instructions in the Route Details where I think it is necessary, but you may still have to rely on signposts and a bit of good luck to stay on the right road! You will be relieved to hear that different maps are used for the Route Handouts that are much more accurate, although do have a frustrating habit of putting labels for places of interest right on top of junctions...
You'll get your first chance to use these maps as you pick your way through RS 2.1 before arriving at the snappily named town of "Ig" which, my 8 year old son informs me, is what you call an Eskimo's house without lavatory facilities. It is then an interesting drive through small villages to RS 2.2 which the observant amongst you will have noticed is the shortest of the event. We have a few short sections this year, but have something special lined up for them so hopefully they will prove a great deal of fun!
After a brief pause at the morning coffee halt in the Majolka Bar in Sodrazica, we start to climb again to the village of Hrib-Loski Potok and break the 1,000m altitude mark as we get to a roadside Passage Control. We plan to have some marshals there to greet you, but if they are reassigned to more pressing duties, we will rely on the RallySafe devices to check that you've been there. Negotiating the village of Star trg pri Lozu is easy since the new bypass was built and will be easier still when the map gets updated to include it!
Before you know it you'll be lining up by the green recycling bins at the edge of the village of Dane waiting to start RS 2.3. Now I'll let you into a little secret here, I have prepared two different versions of the route handout for this section, and will be waiting for the report from the 48 Hour Car before deciding which one to use. As the navigators are worrying about this, the drivers will inevitably be looking for something else to distract them. After the initial forested section we pass along the edge of a marshy area that features an intermittent lake. The size of this lake varies hugely depending on the amount of recent rain, and due to the interactions with tunnels and underground reservoirs in the surrounding limestone hills can change size remarkably quickly. Sometimes the lake goes for years without disappearing and also been known to remain dry for over a year. When full it is the largest lake in Slovenia and provides an important habitat, particularly for nesting birds.
Today's lunch is in a small lodge in the middle of a forest, it might not look like much from the outside, but will surely provide you with a tasty and filling spread to see you through the rest of the day. As with every other lunch halt from now on, you will collect the Handouts for the afternoon Regularities as you check out, so be sure not to forget them.
Leaving lunch we pass through the valley known as Rakov Skojcan which is enclosed on both sides by sheer cliffs that can reach up to 300m high. Hidden in the trees are a series of caves, natural bridges and Karst rock formations that led to this area being designated the country's first "landscape park" in 1949. More concerning for us though, is that the responsibility for snow clearance on this road is shared between two authorities and each stop ploughing at the border. If there is fresh snow fall it is possible that the road is only passable to that point...
There is a fairly long link section before Regularity 2.4 and you may notice a slight change in the climate as we head away from the Alps and feel the effects of the Adriatic Sea. At the closest point we are only about 15km away and you may catch glimpses through gaps in the hills. This change in climate affects the agriculture here and, if you go the right way, you'll be passing sleepy vineyards during the Regularity.
The afternoon's coffee halt is in the centre of the historic village of Vipava that can trace its roots to times before the Romans. In September 394 the area is thought to have been the site of the "Battle of the Frigid River" which was fought between the army of the Eastern Roman Empire supported by a group of Visigoths, and the army of the Western Roman Empire. Estimates of the size of these armies vary, but the number of men on the field of battle is likely to have been around 80,000! The battle resulted in victory for the Eastern Empire which ultimately led to the Christianisation of the Roman Empire, but also ironically contributed to its demise as the armies of the Western Empire were so weakened that it gradually became harder to control the outlying regions.
Regularity 2.5 is another short one as we return to the hills and head north towards Logatec. The Leg's final Regularity utilises the network of roads between this town and Idrija, and from the finish Challenge crews return to Logatec to pick up the A1 motorway that will painlessly return them to the Grand Hotel Union and a relaxing evening of good food, good wine and good company.
The Trial crews on the other hand turn away from Logatec and take the steep pass between Ziri and Cerkno before a dinner halt in the welcoming Gostilna v. Logu. This is also the start of the first evening loop that will see them heading steadily south on narrow and twisty mountain roads to eventually arrive back at Logatec and a well deserved drink in the Hotel bar.
Leg 1 - Berchtesgaden to Ljubljana
The start line for the 19th Winter Trial is in (or at least close to) the pretty Bavarian village of Berchtesgaden which originally found prosperity in the 14th Century due to the local salt mines. In the 19th Century it became a popular retreat for the Bavarian Royal Family and achieved infamy during World War II as one of the Headquarters used by Hitler and other members of the German Nazi party. Today the town is a busy tourist destination in both summer and winter due to the idyliic setting within the mountains.
In the inevitable excitement that surrounds the start, don't forget to collect a ticket for the Rossfeld Panoramastrasse from the marshal. On a fine day, this toll road provides stunning views in all directions as it climbs to nearly 1,600m. The road's motor sporting history can be traced back to the 1920s when the likes of Hans Stuck and Rudolf Carraciola raced on what was then a steep sandy track. From 1958 the Rossfeldstrassen Bergrennen became a regular race that frequently featured in the European Hillclimg Championship before being laid to rest in the fuel crisis of 1973. It has recently been reborn as a biennial historic festival that unusually seems to include a class for buses!
Dragging ourselves from the stunning Alpine views we drop down to cross the border into Austria and negotiate the town of Hallein before arriving at the first Regularity Section. One of the roads used in the section was closed by a landslide on my first visit here back in June, but was reopened in time for my second visit in December so hopefully there will be no such problem today. If there is, it will first be discovered by our 48 Hour Crew of Dick Appleton and Chris Mills who will drive the entire route 2 days before us and give us time to change the route appropriately.
It is a fact of life on a winter event that some changes can only be made at the very last minute and may involve you copying information from a hastily written notice taped to the window of a café or on a marshal's clip board. If we have a snowy week, you will become used to checking at all TCs for route amendments for the following sections – but that’s all part of the challenge!
After the Regularity Section, we make our way to the morning coffee halt at Scheffer's Hotel in the pretty Alpine town of Altenmarkt. At this time of year the town will be busy with skiers heading off to the nearby slopes. As with most of the daytime TCs on this event you should have 10 or 15 minutes to spare before you need to check out. Get out of the car, have a coffee, use the facilities and generally freshen up before resuming your journey. Please note that although all dinners and lunches are included in the entry fee, anything that you eat or drink at the coffee halts are not – you must pay for these yourselves. I suggest paying cash either when you order, or when you get your refreshments, then there is no possible delay.
From the TC we head out to the nearby fields and the Historic Ice Trophy circuit for the first test of the event. This circuit is ploughed into the snow just before Christmas, and then repeatedly watered, iced and groomed over a number of weeks so that it is ready to hold the annual Historic Ice Trophy races. This year’s event ran last weekend and featured cars ranging from a Peugeot 203 and Fiat 126 through all manner of Porsches to a Matra Murena.
As with many of the tests on the Winter Trial, you will have to complete 2 laps of the circuit. This will mean that as you start you will be merging with other cars that have just completed a lap. Please make sure you take great care at the merge point and if you are running close to another car. I’m sure you’d find it rather embarrassing to finish your event here in a snow bank or against another car!
After the test there is a chance to catch your breath as you take the main road over the Obertauern Pass to an early lunch halt in the castle at Mauterndorf. This pass was closed in the heavy snow last week due to the risk of avalanches, but by now should be all cleared.
The parking space in Mauterndorf is a bit limited so please park tidily and make sure you don’t block anyone else in or cause any disruption to the local residents. You will need to walk from the car park up to the castle, and then find the original Grand Hall where the mediaeval banquet will be held. Here, and everywhere on route, you should look out for the bright orange Classic Events arrows which will point you in the right direction.
The Alps run along the centre of Austria and although they make for beautiful scenery and a great playground for walkers and climbers in the summer, and skiers and snow boarders in the winter, they do cause a few headaches for rally organisers. The high inaccessible ridges mean that there are only a very limited number of roads along the valleys and over the passes and few loops and back roads. In the winter, about half of the passes are permanently closed so the options are reduced even further. For this reason we have another fairly long link section after lunch as we pass through a region of 2,000m plus peaks.
In general the “link sections” that form the majority of the route have been chosen to provide enjoyable and relaxing driving by keeping off of the main roads. Sometimes this means a bit of devious navigation to find those back roads that our classic cars were built for – you need to follow this route closely as you never know where there might be a Secret Check, and with the RallySafe system, they could literally be anywhere! The RallySafe system will also be used to check your speed in built up areas, so please keep to the limits and make sure we will be welcome back to all of these wonderful places.
Back in June when we visited the Marienheim Gasthof that hosts TC 1.4 and explained our requirements, the landlady welcomed us with open arms. Not only did she remember the Winter Trial's previous visit here back in 2010, but after only a short search she produced the book of photographs of the occasion that she had prepared. It is interesting to see which of this year's crews are featured, and how young we all look! Don't get too caught up with reminiscing though as the Self Start of the day’s second regularity is a few metres up the road from the control so make sure you’ve got the correct maps and speed tables out of your bag and all ready before checking out of the control. And you can’t relax when you reach the Rejoin Point at the end of the Regularity. The junction in the village of Strassburg is a tricky one to pick up, but follow the instructions in the roadbook carefully and you should find it first time with only a short overshoot!
The day's second test at Fahrsicherheitzentrum (FSZ) Molbling is the first of a number that we enjoy at a series of driver training centres. The route around the kart track then onto the test hills and skid pans is pretty torturous. You might find it handy to pause as you are driving onto the site to have a look through the wire fence and get your bearings before you are under time pressure. It remains to be seen if there is snow on the track when we get there, but in any case watch out for any light coloured surfaces – they are either the special low friction surfaces of the skid pans, or snow – either way they will be slippery!
On the way to the next TC, you will pass the Hochosterwitz Castle built on the top of a hill. Even from a distance you will appreciate the impregnability of this mediaeval strong hold - which is even more impressive when I tell you that the only way in and out is along a 600m path that spirals up the hill and passes through no fewer than 14 fortified gates on the way.
As we head toward the Slovenian Border, there is another highlight from a previous event as we experience the hospitality of the very friendly and mildly eccentric Florian. In the barn next to his small Gasthof at the top of a steep driveway he has created a small museum. This has a range of different displays, but most are based around a small but interesting collection of old motorbikes. Try to take the opportunity to look around before you head back down the driveway to the start of the final regularity of the day. Oh, and Florian also produces the best ham in the region - just look at all of the certificates on the walls around the bar!
There is just one more Regularity Section today and it starts in Austria and finishes in Slovenia. You will no doubt be relieved to hear that since both countries are party to the Schengen agreement there is normally no need to stop at the border… The journey from the border to the motorway at Kranj gives another dose of dramatic scenery. This part of the Steiner Alps is typified by sheer cliffs and rock pillars similar to the Dolomites, and at one stage our road is twisting along the bottom of a very narrow, rocky gorge. You'll have to take my word for it though as it will be dark by the time you get here.
We use the motorway to ease our route into Ljubljana, so I should mention again the necessary Vignette. These motorway tax discs are required in both Austria and Slovenia, but as we haven't yet used a motorways in Austria you may have got away without one so far. In Slovenia a 7-day Vignette will cost €15 from a fuel station, and there is one of these usefully located just off route before we join the motorway. In Slovenia you must drive with your headlights on at all times, the police can be quite hot on this and will stop you to tell you turn them on, and other drivers will flash you if you have forgotten.
The Sunday evening traffic getting into Ljubljana should not be too tiresome and your route should be simple as it is defined by Tulips. The underground parking at the Grand Hotel Union is limited, and entry is controlled by a barrier (take a ticket from the machine if it closed). Once in the car park please try to take up as little room as possible so that we can squeeze the maximum number of cars in. Note that the Hotel has two Receptions and our MC is in the BusinessReception. Also remember that you have 30 minutes Penalty Free Lateness here so there should be no need to rush into the city.
Ljubljana is a small and very accessible capital city. The social centre is along the river just a few hundred metres walk from the hotel with numerous bars, cafés and restaurants. This is a lovely place to sit on a warm summer evening, sipping a cool beer and watching the world go by. On a dark chilly winter's evening the cool beer is replaced by warm wine and gin and the sun shades by gas heaters, but the world still goes by...