The first time: with Ellen Lohr at the Arlberg Classic Car Rally.
Mistress of classes.
The ignorant navigator who was surprised to become the co-pilot in a classic car rally is me, a passionate automotive blogger, and the racing driver is Ellen Lohr. Yes, precisely the Ellen Lohr who in 1992 became the only woman ever to have won a race in the German Touring Car Championship in a Mercedes, who has entered the Dakar Rally countless times and who is currently showing her male colleagues where the trailer coupling is located in a truck in the European Truck Championship.
Our competition equipment is a wonderful Mercedes-Benz 190 SLR from the year 1955. The “R” in the name has the roadster mutating into a racer.
No soft top, no windscreen and no bumpers, instead more output, tautly tensioned four-point belts and a Tripmaster beneath the dashboard shape the appearance of the 190 model with starting number 44.
The adventure begins.
With a somewhat uneasy feeling I make my way to Lech am Arlberg on the eve of the event. Once a year when the Arlberg Classic Car Rally starts the cradle of Alpine ski sport is transformed into the Mecca for classic car owners and enthusiasts. This is when, for three days, some 110 historic vehicles meander through the Alpine region of Arlberg via Tyrol to the Bregenz forest and it is precisely this for which I have extreme respect. After all I am to guide last year’s third-place driver safely and precisely through all the tests over three days. But before the starting flag falls it’s time to swot up.
Ten pages of rules and 144 pages of roadbook have to be studied, analysed and digested with Ellen Lohr. This event is littered with tricky competition tests and complicated routes across 535 km, which is also how the Arlberg Classic gained its reputation as a challenging rally.
There is strength in serenity.
Roadbook, competition test, route? That smells suspiciously of a wild chase through the mountains on the hunt for minimum times. But that is far from the truth. With this form of classic car rallies the road traffic regulations strictly apply and it is exclusively regularity and precision which count. Only those who precisely meet the time stipulated by the event organiser to within a hundredth of a second will not receive any penalty points. This means that it is about a relentless fight between the light barrier and stopwatch, as the event organiser has always sent their participants to the road in intensified conditions, as only mechanical time measurement is permitted. GPS, electronics or one of those wonderful apps for the tablet computer are simply forbidden.
The metronome on the co-driver's seat.
So good preparation is essential, and this is where it shows: Ellen is a pro through and through, for she lets me count. Not that I am incapable of stringing together ascending or descending numbers, but it is all about the rhythm. As if controlled by a metronome I have to recite the numerical order. Over and over again, until my pilot is satisfied with me. But it is not just the counting. In addition I also have to point the way for the woman at the wheel plus operate three stopwatches and two odometers. So tough multitasking and therefore not necessarily the strength of us men.
This is why we do not discuss the chances of winning at all, for at such events the teams who win are usually only ever those who are well-established, have had years of practice and sense precisely where their car passes the light barrier.
Reaching the finish as friends.
We are missing all three factors, but we have one unimagined advantage: the chemistry. For this is right from the first kilometre. Smiling and laughing, we feel the wind in our faces as we cover the six stages. It is only at the competition tests that the excitement repeatedly reaches fever pitch and, where I am concerned, sometimes even ends with a slap on the back of my head because I have not counted rhythmically enough or pressed the stopwatch incorrectly. But where did the drive with the rookie navigator end for Ellen Lohr? As “Team Mercedes-Benz Classic” we came in 34th in the overall ranking with 2831 penalty points. A respectable result. And if my best pilot had not made two totally uncharacteristic errors during two competition tests, we would even have ended up in the top 20.
But Ellen would never openly admit that. However I am happy to take official responsibility for this error, as I have the bug where being a co-pilot is concerned, and Team Lohr/Griesinger wants only one thing at the Arlberg for 2015: revenge.