Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
For many teams, this was uncharted territory. The day was a mix of barren plain rising into the highlands of Ethiopia, but the formalities proved lengthy and frustrating. But getting into Ethiopia, ended up involving paying $10 tax, and inching along a queue. Once in, it was a true transformation, with each car being waved into the country in under 10 minutes.
Good job, as the day ahead would prove arduous – and long. But the girls in the MG Maestro started as they meant to go on, pulling out six minutes over the Porsche 911 that had been previously threatening to pass them – the six-times Dakar driver was just one minute behind in the results. Clearly, having the lowest-powered car in the whole rally in the top ten at this stage is something of a major achievement, but holding off a Porsche was something that was never going to last… Of course, it was an error on the part of the Porsche drivers, but it was good to see the MG still running strongly in the top five at the end of one of the rally’s tougest days so far.
At the end of the timed section in the hills, Owen Turner and Matt Fowle put up a good showing to sit outside the time-control having arrived four minutes early… only a handful of cars were capable of this kind of showing, and Jane only just scraped in with less than a minute to spare.
Event blogger, Syd Stelvio summed up the day, ‘Ethiopia has been a remarkable experience. They have never witnessed an international rally before now, and coming into town, the preview publicity on national TV meant every local inhabitant wanted to see what the fuss was all about. ‘Just like India,” said one driver, ‘No, more like the Mille Miglia,” said another. Photographer Gerard Brown who snaps cycle races says ‘it’s just like the Tour de France… police on every corner and crowds going mad everywhere… makes you feel great!”
‘Walls of excited people blocking the road welcomed drivers as they approached the inner city hotel. Crowds lined the streets and the Government prudently had closed some of the roads, which meant thousands of people hung from lamp posts, stood on the garden of a roundabout, and stood up on walls of buildings to cheer on the cars. Children were wildly excited and making progress was at less than walking pace for fear of running of over someone’s foot. ‘Incredible – I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” was Matt Fowle’s reaction. ‘They are treating us like Kings!” said Andy Actman, and he was not far wrong, flower petals were strewn in our path up the marble steps to one hotel, and red roses were clipped to envelopes containing our room keys.’
Top five overall
1 14 41m 48 1 E Andy Actman GB Andy Elcomb GB 2010 Toyota Hilux 3000
2 23 47m 10 2 E Steve Blunt GB Bob Duck GB 2006 Subaru Impreza 1994
3 17 1h 05m 33 1 D Renger Guliker NL Pim ‘t Hart NL 1985 BMW M535I 3406
4 33 1h 10m 06 1 B Owen Turner GB Matthew Fowle GB 2002 MG ZR 1589
5 15 1h 39m 04 2 B Jane Edgington GB Gillian Cotton GB 1986 MG Maestro 1598