Road To Mandalay
Regular readers will be familiar with the story of the P76 campaigned by Matt Bryson and Gerry Crown in the 2012 Trans-America Rally (see BMCE Issues 2 & 3), finishing second, and the 2013 Peking to Paris; winning the event outright (BMCE Issue 7).
Last year the pair decided to do the 2016 Peking to Paris, again in the P76, but new rules were set out for the event restricting some modifications to the cars. Primarily, these banned fuel injection and remote canister shock absorbers. The P76 was rejigged with the new rules in mind, and the 2015 Road To Mandalay Rally was selected for the car’s shakedown run.
This was seen to be a good test, as a number of the other competitors in the event were also entered for the 2016 Peking to Paris; including Peter and Zoe Lovett’s Porsche 911 that chased Gerry and Matt across Asia and Europe in 2013.
While the Trans-America was all Regularity Trial and the Peking to Paris is basically all special stage rally, The Road To Mandalay was to be a combination of both with the common thread being the navigation across hundreds of kilometres on tough roads every day.
Regularity Trials have a set time to complete the course, requiring maintaining a good average speed, with points deducted for either arriving early or late. Time trials are simply about covering the course in the quickest time. To be successful in such an event requires a quick car, exceptional navigation skills and good time management.
The attraction of the rally was that it would be travelling through four countries that rarely, if ever, see this sort of event: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma). The rally was also the first time in about 60 years that foreigners had been permitted to cross the land border from Thailand to Myanmar.
The rally departed from the world-famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore on the morning of Sunday 1 February. 66 classic and vintageant rally cars, ranging from a 1907 Itala 40 to Ford Mustangs, Datsun 240Zs and Porsche 911s, as well as the lone Leyland P76.
No sooner had the field crossed the border into Malaysia than the first Time Trial took place. Although only around 8km, it was very tight and twisty, through a recently-planted palm plantation, with a high degree of navigation to get the correct route. The route was very slippery and the big P76 was quite a handful, but Gerry and Matt were up to the task and managed to win the special stage by four seconds; from the Lovett Porsche 911 and Grant Tromans and Simon Russell in a Datsun 240Z.
This was to set the tone for the whole rally as these three crews were consistently in the top group and trading fastest times. The first five days of time trials were collectively designated The Malaysian Cup. Although the 240Z was the fastest over two of the four time trials, the P76 was fastest overall and led the rally at the first rest day in Georgetown, Malaysia.
Many cars were already experiencing problems, including a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle which required a clutch change. The only problem with the P76 was the exhaust flange bolts had come loose and blew the gasket. Matt dropped the sump guard, then replaced the gaskets, nuts and bolts. Everything else was OK. Despite being the oldest driver in the event, at 82, Gerry Crown was also the fastest to this point.
On Day 7 the rally crossed the border from Malaysia to Thailand. Before leaving Malaysia, though, there was one more time trial which Gerry and Matt won by 11 seconds, to Tromans/Russell and the Lovetts.
The quote of the day came from Phillip Lunnon, driving the 1938 Jaguar SS 100, who asked Matt after seeing the P76’s time; “is that a car or a time machine?”
The run through Thailand took the rally past some of the worst-hit areas from 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. It was on Day 8 that the regularity tests started. Up to this point The P76 was on top, but with a good result in the regularity tests the Lovett Porsche moved past the Tromans 240Z.
Day 9 was another rest day in the tsunami-ravaged town of Khao Lak. A wander through the car park told many stories of woe from the rally. The Greenhalgh/Slowe 1939 Alvis had taken a tooth off the crown wheel in their differential and weren’t expected to get much further.
Heather and Jo Worth’s 1968 Volvo Amazon had its throttle jam wide open, resulting in a dropped valve, holed piston and damaged head. The pushrod was removed and the car continued on three cylinders.
The Malaysian crew of the Jamalullails holed a piston in their Jaguar XK150 and full credit to them as they were told by several mechanics that they wouldn’t make it. Using five litres of oil a day and two spark plug changes every day, they nursed the car to the end. Gerry and Matt used the time to rest as the P76 was fine and there was still a long way to go.
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The BMC Experience Issue 14. Jul-Sep 2015 Magazine
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