This is copy-pasted from the Shire Land Rover Club newsletter. I haven't had time to fix the formatting yet.
To Russia in a V8 Series 3 - what could go wrong?
This is John’s excuse for not doing the last newsletter, and for boring everyone with Russia stories since July, and probably for the foresseable future. “Why not come out to Ladoga next year and do support?” - if I’d been able to think of a good reason, that would’ve been the end of this story. As it happens, I couldn’t think of anything convincing - and Jez, Zuz and Vince had put in some serious hours (and would be putting in a lot more over the coming months) helping me with the 109. Look like I’m going then!
For those unfamiliar with the event, Trophy Raid Ladoga is a race around the largest lake in Europe. It’s 100 miles across, it used to have it’s own navy, and you can fit the Isle of Wight into it four times with room to spare. Around the edge is bottomless swamp - 1200km of it to be precise. The race organiser is Yuri Ovchinnikov, who competed in the 1992 Camel Trophy. Trophy Raid Ladoga is designed to echo the spirit of the Camel events, testing man and machine both in ability and endurance.
There are several classes - there’s the “green laning” of Raid and Tourist class, then the increasingly nuts sport classes, from the standard-ish vehicles in TR1 to the all-out insanity of TR4 Prototype. Guess which one Jez was racing in?
I’ll leave the next six months out - they were mostly spent in the workshop building the 109 and re-building Jez’s proto racer “Petal”. As usual, both builds went right down to the wire, with hours between the nerve-wracking first drive to the MOT station and the start of the trip. Everyone was living on too much caffeine and not enough sleep - doing day jobs and then spending all evening in the workshop till the small hours building vehicles. The builds were a blur, not to mention stories in their own right, so I’ll leave that lot for another day…
So - fast forward to Saturday 26th of May and three vehicles line up outside the workshop - “Petal”, Jez’s Proto racer , “Eddie” my 109, and Dan’s (Northern Dan, not Chairman Dan) Range Rover. The set up was that the Fins would support Petal, and I would support Dan & Charlotte who were entering TR1 class, which is the race class for reasonably standard vehicles. Gear and people are stuffed into packed cars, photos are taken, Dan’s visa arrives with his dad from 160 miles away, Petal is loaded onto Dan’s trailer for the trip to the ferry and we’re off with minutes to spare.
To cut a long story short, we drove for 1000 miles across 4 countries to get to the start line in St. Petersburg. On the way we collected Benny & Leo in Holland, driving a Mitubishi Pajero in “Tourist” class. In Finland we collected Kim, Jez’s co-driver, plus Harry Potter (no, really) and Mikko driving a Volvo C303 as a support truck. In Russia we met up with Vince who flew over from the UK, plus James, Milla and Kai from Finland in Kai’s Toyota Land Cruiser, also doing support.
This was the first time I’d been to Russia, and the roads took me by surprise - the tarmac ones are non-stop potholes, the small ones are like green lanes and the gravel motorways are either scary or fun depending on how well things are going.
Just as I was feeling pleased with my world-class gravel-track rally driving skills, a Lada hurtled past at about 80mph, throwing us into a cloud of dust that left me having to guess where details like potholes, oncoming vehicles, and the edges of the road were.
The starting line-up in St Petersburg is mind-blowing - there are around 200 vehicles from across europe, everything from quad bikes to factory-fresh G-Wagens, from standard vehicles to the prototype monsters with 40” tyres (the race limit) and portal axles. The ingenuity of some of the vehicles is also amazing - many of these guys can’t just order a winch and a load of bolt-on goodies, so they make parts themselves. Everything from axles to winches is made from whatever is to hand, and often performing better than commercial items.
Anatoly in the Spider (below) was a superhero example of this, every part of his vehicle was home-made on a budget that wouldn’t buy you a “challenge” winch in the UK, all the parts were whatever he could get hold of, modified to fit.
The race itself is pure insanity - the stages are sometimes 300km long, and the logging tracks that are considered roads are worse than anything you’d find at a play day. Jez and Kim were unstoppable, they put in strong times on every section, only incurring one DNF when they stopped to help the Estonian Priit Aus who’d gotten into some serious trouble. The DNF for that stage was later over-ruled and they were given a finishing time just behind the last vehicle, but the time lost dropped them from an overall 1st place to 4th by just 4 minutes over 8 days of racing. Priit later pointed out that if he hadn’t hit problems, Jez and Kim would’ve come in 1st and he would’ve been 2nd.
The organisers recognised the sacrifice Jez and Kim made to help Priit and awarded them a special “spirit of the event” award, plus free entry in 2008… looks like we’re going again then!
Dan and Charlotte didn’t do quite as well in TR1 - they arrived from Stage 1 near the end of day 2 looking rather second hand and with no panel left un-dented. They went back out on day 3 but the going was so tough in the Range Rover that they decided to drop out and tag along as support to avoid destroying the car any further. Dan did enter the beach race, with Milla sitting in the navigator seat - evidently the UK/Finland combo works as they set the 2nd fastest time overall! Benny & Leo were as cool as ever, the sum total of the damage on the Pajero was dented doors, a cracked indicator and a slightly adjusted steering guard. As Dan said, “If they weren’t such nice blokes, it’d be real easy to hate them!”
As for me and the 109 - we both made it home under our own steam without any breakdowns - to say I was chuffed is an understatement!