Motorsport at the end of the World
The 16th edition of the Mallorca Classic Rally took place at its usual time, the second weekend of March. As it did so, the tsunami of the Coronavirus swept across Spain and would overwhelm the event. An absence of common sense or the pressure of a crowded calendar meant that once again the rally clashed with the opening round of the FIA Historic Rally Championship, scheduled on the same weekend across the Balearic sea at Gerona. The privileged Mediterranean island has hosted a classic rally for the last nineteen years and this was the 16th to be organised by Toni Dezcallar.
At this stage, the threat from Covid-19 was acknowledged by all but few could predict its effect on the event. In spite of the clash with the FIA Historic Championship round the rally attracted a capacity entry.
The Coves de Campanet consists of a narrow road bordered by low stone walls with occasional slippy wet patches and blind jumps. The impression of speed is tremendous. It is one for the young and the brave. Rally winner Seb Perez literally flew over it
The first editions of the Mallorca Classic ran to the traditional classes for cars built before 1970. The event has now evolved to embrace a broader variety of younger but none the less iconic rally cars running in the Legends and the Young Timers Race category, the Modern Classics group as well as the Competition Class which is arguably the core of the event. Effectively seeded number one in the Legends after the non-appearance of Miki Biasion (locked down in Italy because of the virus) was Silverstone Auction proprietor and part time Mallorca resident Nick Whale in his BMW M30 E3, with Ian Windress beside him. Another strong contender in this class is a permanent Mallorca resident, the ever-jovial Jim Whelan, driving an Austin Metro 6R4. Allan Harryman was brave enough to sit beside him. ‘Slowly Sideways’ aficionado, Steve Rockingham, with Fiona Scarret, brought his newly acquired ex-Tommi Makinen Subaru Impreza to run in Modern Classics, but the late model Peugeot of Ross Ahlgren and Ali Ashworth would be hard to beat in this class.
It was the Competition Class that looked set to provide the centre of the rally’s entertainment. Fresh from winning the East African Safari, reigning Mallorca Classic Champion Austrian Kris Rosenberger, with Christina Ettel, was seeded number one in his 1981 Porsche RSR. Determined to beat him was last year’s second place crew Sebastian Perez and Gary McElhinney in their earlier version of the marque. In fact, Porsche has become the weapon of choice for Mallorca as their much higher top speed gives them a significant advantage on the more open stages. This was to be no two-horse race, though, as ranged against Rosenberger and Perez were a series of multiple winners of the event. Stefan Oberdörster, three-time victor had his familiar ex-Roger Penske Sunoco Porsche with his wife Beate as co-driver. Another three-time winner Dominic an der Heiden was tempted back after a couple of year’s absence in his Turd design model. The only interloper to Stuttgart in the top ten was local crew Nadal Galiana and Gabriel Flores in their 1976 Ford Escort. Both ‘Tacho’ with Jorge Canellas in a Porsche and 2004 and rally winner John Sheldon, with Sara Adolph in the Ricky Higgs Escort, kept up their record of competing in every edition of the rally. In Regularity Joan Verger and Toni Barcelo looked to be favourites in their regular BMW 2002 Tii.
In the Regularity category local ladies Nadja Rothkirch and Juana Font stayed in front
As the evening fell, after the day of technical inspection, the pressures from the Covid-19 virus pandemic began to be felt. The Women’s Day Celebrations in Madrid the previous Saturday looked to be partly responsible for a massive rise in the number of people infected in Spain. The Spanish Government reacted by proposing, amongst other measures, the locking down of Madrid and cancelling sporting events.
Thursday dawned as a beautiful warm spring day. That was almost the only good news, as word came that the mainland’s Costa Brava rally had been cancelled completely and Toni was urged to do the same with Mallorca. A compromise was reached: The Briefing for the crews was to be replaced by an online version. There would be no podium ceremonies and the post event party, a highlight of the event, was cancelled.
But the 2020 Rally Clásico Isla Mallorca would take place.
Under these circumstances the rally opened, as usual, with two stages run at night. The first retirement came shortly before the start when the popular philanthropist and now retired steel magnate Michael Eschmann, another double Mallorca winner, was taken ill. Not long after that the much anticipated four-way leadership battle started to fall apart. Dominic An der Heiden did not even make it to Estellencs when his Porsche had turbo failure. Then Rosenberger’s clutch blew up just over halfway through the stage. Sebastian Perez had no such problems with his Danspeed prepared Porsche. He showed his familiarity with the stage by establishing a clear 22sec lead. Second were Heiko Becker and Meik Hochweller in their San Remo Porsche 911, followed by the Escort of Nadal Galiana.
The second stage of the night could not be a greater contrast to the first. Perez took this one as well and at the end of the leg, had a clear 30 second lead. Jim Whelan led the Legends ahead of Nick Whale. Ross Ahlgren in the Peugeot 2006 was the leader of the Modern Classics. In Regularity, the Mallorquin team of Nadja Rothkirch and Juana Font in their 1972 Volkswagen Karman Ghia were leading.
Stefan Oberdörster might not be young but he certainly is brave. Here he tackles the legendary Sa Colobra
Day two of the rally was again clear blue sky and 22º, with a relieved field of competitors driving through the now eerily quiet outskirts of Portals Nous. The first stage, the infamous Coves de Campanet, is used nearly every year and consists of a narrow road bordered by low stone walls with occasional slippy wet patches and blind jumps. The impression of speed is tremendous. It is one for the young and the brave.
Stefan Oberdörster might not be young but he certainly is brave, and blitzed the stage as he has done on previous events, going through no less than seven seconds faster than Perez. Martorell won Legends with the top three in this group all recording sub four-minute times for the 7.54 Kilometre stage. That is fast!
The last 4kms of the second stage of the day were almost flat and saw the highest speeds of the rally, tilting the overall result in favour of the Porsches as they achieved 250kph, much faster than the rest of the field.
Perez again won the Competition category from Oberdörster who was in fine form. He went on to record the fastest time seen through Campanet at 3mins 42secs, an incredible performance.
The long lunch halt, always a feature, took place in the restaurant at the base of the Sa Calobra stage. This time it was with a heavy heart that Dezcallar made the announcement that he had to concede to the Mallorcan Government directive to abandon the event. Somehow he managed to persuade the local officials that it was less than logical to cancel the rally when everybody had to follow the rally route back to Portals Nous anyway. He saved the day, as Sa Calobra, with its justified soubriquet of the Mallorcan Pike’s Peak, is everyone’s favourite.
The spectacular Audi S1 Quattro of Hans Juergen Erdbruegger and Christopher Ritter dominated the Show Car category. Photos Courtesy Mallorca Clásico
Perez continued his winning ways over the 12-kilometre stage, with its famous and spectacular 360 degree ‘Carousel’ and 640-metre altitude change, and was probably the only competitor not to be disappointed by the curtailment of the rally.
Seb Perez belied his years with a composed and confident performance, aided by the professional Gary McElhinney, to dominate the Competition category.
The family Oberdörster was a deserved second with Becker and Hochweller third. Jim Whelan was ecstatic for himself and his local sponsors to take the Legends Group from Nick Whale. Ross Ahlgren and Ali Ashworth finally got their hands on some Mallorcan Classic Silverware with victory in Modern Classics. Vogler and Sancho had over a minute lead to dominate the Show Car category. In regularity the ladies crew of Rothkirch and Font stayed in front all the way to the end.
As usual the Rally Clásico Isla Mallorca was a very enjoyable exciting rally over some of the most challenging roads in Europe. It usually sits as a season opener. This year it may represent the entire season.