Believe it or not, I started to work as a motoring journalist back in 1996, specialising in rallying for AutoNews magazine but up until recently I had never taken part in a rally. Thanks to my friend Lionel Vandercam, I recently got a taste of speed and fast driving on a special stage. We weren’t timed, as my friend’s superb Porsche 996 GT3 RS was entered in the Demo class. Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun being his codriver and it was an unforgettable experience. (Translation: Dimitri Urbain)
At home, fast cars and racing have always been high on the agenda and while I could indulge in my motor sport passion through a few endurance races, my steering committee never allowed me to take part in a rally. Back in 2012, as I was turning 40, my best friend did all he could to reveal the rally driver in me but unfortunately that never happened. Ten years later, another friend of mine, Lionel Vandercam, had a slightly crazy idea which finally came to fruition. He stressed the non-racing aspect of the Demo class of the Rally 4 Porsche organised by Yves Matton, from Huy. My Brussels friend can get enthusiastic for a new project in no time and make it happen.
Driving on unknown routes
As we couldn’t drive on the stages to take notes and had to take them like unknow quantities, Lionel hadn’t much choice regarding which car to select for the event. He chose to enter his Porsche 996 in this second “Porsche only” rally that was taking place on Sunday 4th June. Three special stages were on the menu: the 14.35km one in Clavier, a 10.9km one named Moulin de Solières and the 9.94km one in Vaux-et-Borset. The stages had to be run three times, and discovering them took place on the Saturday before. I figured out the three stages in my mind countless times before I started to take notes.
The atmosphere was laid-back and we started the discovery day with… lunch at noon, while some competitors were already discovering the entire course. We set off on the stages after eating some nice Huy meat balls. Bearing in mind that we were there first and foremost to have fun, Lionel dictated his notes to me, relying too often on sightseeing in sections he deemed easy to take. I didn’t get too carried away, even though I would sometimes regret it the following day. I quite liked the Clavier stage whereas Lionel was more fond of the Moulin de Solières one and its small clean grave partl. Vaux-et-Borset seemed a little too bad to suit our race car which would spend the night before race day in the MY’s workshop.
The 996 GT3 RS is more suited to racetracks than rally stages
Lionel’s was so mad about the event that he prompted his father to enter a group B 1974 Porsche 911 SC Gr.B. in it as well. In the past, this car had already been entered in the Spa Legend Boucles. Back in 2010, it was driven by Geoffroy Horion and Romain Dumas drove it a year later. Unfortunately, he had to retire as the car had been sabotaged ! Yves was codriven by my friend Stéphane Halleux and they were right in front of us on the special stages. Even in the very first run, my driver was astonished by the state of the ropes and the quantoty of gravel thrown up by the drivers that were taking part in the speed and regularity races in front of us. One of them even damaged his car in the final curves of the first special stage… which we end up driving without notes as I rushed through two pages in a hurry.
In the Moulin de Solières stage, Lionel had the time of his life, especially on the dirt section in front of the building itself as we drove by it twice. As we thought, Vaux-et-Borset was far too rough for the GT3 RS and Lionel forced himself to ease off. His dad had to stop during that stage because of a loose battery terminal. Fortunaty, one of the marshals had a set of pliers with him and he quickly could get back on the road ! Many thanks to that guy for his kind help !
Growing confidence on the second lap
We were both smiling out loud. Even if the flat 6 sound was a little too muted for my liking, I was enjoying every moment and admiring my friend’s dexterity as he was mastering the steering wheel controls. We even reached 210 km/h on the long straight leading to the Moulin de Solières, before the big bend gets into the narrow road on the right…but I was never afraid. On the other hand, I regret my notes were not accurate enough, as I hadn’t written down all the bends. I was a bit lost but Lionel was very understanding and kept on telling me that we were there just for the fun of it.
And we were going to have even more of it on the second run. I was feeling that my driver was more confident even though he was sometimes surprised by the ever more cluttered roads. I now have a much better understanding of the drivers who mention that at every opportunity. It lessens confidence and doubts inevitably occur but that’s an unavoidable part of rallying.
Broken clutch !
I made the most of the second run through Clavier before being forced to take the alternative route before Solières : that special stage was cancelled as a contestant went off the road and hit a pole… fortunately, no one was injured. Once again, we crossed the Meuse to set off from Vaux-et-Borset. We regained our concentration and Lionel maintained a very high pace despite my unadequate note reading. I mentionned a bump too early and the car’s front blade flew off, unfortunately.
By then, some of the bends were completely modified as the racing cars were leaving some sort of « steps ». The 996 GT3 RS held up and suffered no puncture. On the other hand, the clutch cable was suffering a lot and eventually gave up during a get-together in Villers-le-Bouillet. We had to stop there. This was a relief for all of us : Lionel was feeling he was on the verge of going too far and Yves and Stéphane were suffering from the heat, the loud Flat-6 noise inside the car and the uncomfortable cramped seats.
In short, we all decided to head back to Huy to quench our thirst and be happy. It was a great experience, shared with people I appreciate and it will remain forever on my mind. Many thanks to LVC Racing and well done Yves Matton and the team for putting together such a nice event ! (Pictures: Big Thanks to Jonas Gilles, Jonathan Godin and Tom Maréchal)