Marrakesh express



Driving a David Sutton-prepared Lotus Cortina, Spaniard Ignacio Sunsundegui and Briton Dave Nicholson overcame gearbox problems to score a convincing win on the 6th Classic Marathon to Marrakesh. Irishman Frank Fennell, partnered by Colin Francis, took his Volvo 122S to second spot, Ron Gammons having crashed out on the final day.

The organisers took a few risks, not only shifting the event from summer to autumn but also revamping the route. Ignoring the Dolomites on this occasion, the cars were directed through the Pyrenees to Spain, thence to Morocco and the Atlas mountains. The lack of a major sponsor coincided with an absence of media ‘personalities’, but the overall outcome of all these changes was a better event.

The 61 starters in the main event (there were another eight in the ‘touring’ category) set off for a night navigation section from the Palais de Versailles on September 25. By the time the field had reached San Sebastien that evening, the event had lost two of its favourite ladies. Anne Hall/Val Morley were stranded 50 km from the Spanish border when their MGA broke a halfshaft. Oddly enough, Don Dixon was also forced to retire with a broken gearbox in his Ford Falcon – the very same car Hall had driven on the ’64 Monte!

The first challenging night section and eight regularities through Spain kept navigators on their toes and also proved to be a great leveller. The huge MkX Jaguar of John/Sharon Halfpenny shared the lead with the Fennell/Francis Volvo at Tangier.

Once into Morocco, three terrific selectives provided some serious motoring which left some wondering just what might have been. Marc Tipping/Tony Jolly were quickest on two of the three selectives, and second to Colin Anderson’s E-type on the other. Tipping had been delayed for two hours on the first night, however, when a non-competing Frenchman stuck his car in a ditch.

The off-road desert test evened things out for the less powerful cars, the Mk11 Zodiac of Peter Marshall/John Vipond/Linda Brook posting fourth fastest time with Mike Cornwell’s Zephyr eighth. Mark Dixon was similarly impressive in his Rover 2000.

With Gammons trying to catch Sunsundegui, the final test up the Tizzi was expected to be spectacular. Sadly, the former didn’t reach it, colliding with a non-competing car en route. That left Fennell to take second, ahead of Anderson.

The 6th Classic Marathon was certainly one of the toughest yet. There is place for an event which makes true adventure possible and, relatively speaking, the Classic Marathon is accessible. In the past, there have been complaints that the pure grunt cars will always win. This year, the balance was redressed, and less potent cars were able to impress, if well driven.

The top three all won their class, as did fourth-placed Bart Rietbergen/Herman Schipper (Mini Cooper). Other class wins went to John Dresser/lan Bond (Triumph TR3A), Chris Green/John Hampshire (MGA), Peter/Sue Noble (Bentley Continental S1) and, in the touring category, Macko Laquer/ Rob Nolet (Bugatti T46).