Team Insaner

Day 4 - Salzburg to Prague

After a little early morning argument between me & John(!) we headed into central Salzburg for the Le Mans start to day 4. There were no challenges for day 4, so it was just a case of driving to Prague by any suitable route. We started off in a convoy of a few rally cars on the motorway and this continued through most of the morning. The miles zoomed past and we started thinking that our chosen route was a good 'un. There were 2 main choices, one route via Germany, the other through Linz in Austria. We chose the latter as it seemed a little more direct.

As we approached the Czech border a couple of guys from another team ran up to the car. "The border guards are being really anal and checking VINs and every scrap of paperwork..." They took our passports as we arrived and directed us to park with a handful of other rally cars. After a long and tense wait, during which team Hugh Jarse arrived in Batman & Robin costumes, one of the guards approached us. Andy had already wandered off to a nearby hut and bought another Austrian vignette (the girl hadn't understood him) and a Czech permit, which we attached to the windscreen on the grounds that we were obviously keen to show the right spirit.

Czech point pain

"Who is the driver?" I stepped forward - it made sense as all the car documents were in my name. "Licence, papers?" I handed over my IDP, licence, V5, insurance... "VIN?" We'd already checked the Haynes manual, so were able to point to the VIN plate and also the number stamped on the bulkhead. "Fake, not manufacturer." "No. It's original. See this form, it is the same as the car, the stamp was made by Rover."

He wouldn't accept it. The only other English he seemed to know was "turnaround. Go." We tried discussing it, but he just looked back and repeated his words. There was no choice, but to turnaround and leave the Czech Republic. As we crossed the border post, he handed back our documents. We knew they'd been photocopied, so didn't dare go to a different border crossing. After 1500 miles, and with barely 150 miles to go we'd been cheated of the final drive.

It was obvious that the officials knew what the rally was about - Czech TV crews were filming and most cars had the rally stickers. They were afraid that we were going to ditch our cars in their countryside - something which the rally instructions vigourously forbade. To the best of our knowledge Veronica's VIN was genuine, we had no reason to doubt this. We also had no intention of ditching the car - we even had a for sale notice written in Czech (translated by Stan!) for Prague.

The small restaurant between the Austrian and Czech border now contained 4 rally cars. As we saw the marshalls' van approach we called them on the radio to explain the situation. They got through the border, but Justin in his unmarked 827 was turned away too (due to a documentation problem.) In the car park we tried to decide what to do. I called the TJT guys - they had room for 1 person and did manage to get across the border, and other teams had a couple of spare seats.

Justin decided to head back to Linz and hire a car, he would then collect his 827 the next day. When he talked of hiring a minibus our minds were made up. Along with 2 other teams we would scrap our cars in Austria and wait for Justin to return with the bus.

Knowing that the car didn't have to last any more, Andy started using the engine a little more - though this did result in the Golf 1.2 behind us asking us to slow down as they couldn't keep up! We had to call braking over the radio too - Veronica was very hot on her brakes and Andy did find a couple of places that looked like they might be suitable garages.

Finally, after getting a bad translation from a Mazda garage mechanic we found a garage that seemed to be interested in buying 3 cars for 1 Euro. There was a little confusion as to whether we wanted 1 Euro each for the cars or 1 Euro overall! This all changed when we pulled into the garage and the guy realised that all the cars were right hand drive. Sadly he couldn't use them, but offered to scrap them for 30 Euros each. The offer was accepted and I set to work removing the V-box, along with some trim and relays that Justin wanted for his 827. A few last photos were taken as everyone unloaded their bags before everyone but me headed off to McD's.

Whilst I was starving to death (btw, thanks Andy for bringing me back some food!) an Austrian police car pulled into the garage. They were there to take photos of a drainpipe that had been hit by a car, when they spotted 3 unusual foreign cars. I started explaining the story of the rally and the Czech border in very poor German before switching to English. At this point the others returned from McD's and seemed a little confused to see me with the police!

Shortly afterwards Justin & Karin arrived in a Transit minibus and we headed back on the road to the border. The (different) guard barely glanced at the handful of passports before waving us through. With mixed emotions, we were now in the Czech Republic. I took the opportunity to phone my insurance company to cancel Veronica's insurance.

The cavalry arrive

The road to Prague was mainly single carriageway, with a crawler lane on some of the uphill stretches. Despite this we made good time, due to Justin's habit of overtaking whenever a car in front decided to pull out. If the hire company had fitted a counter to the rev limiter they could have made a small fortune! At one point we were overtaking when a pickup in a layby on the other side of the road decided to leave the layby. The verdict on this game of chicken was UK 1 - CZ 0, but it was a little close for my liking.

As we arrived within radio distance of central Prague I heard from the TJT boys that our apartments were far better than they'd expected. They directed us round Wencelas Square from their lofty perch above the Marks & Spencer store! We piled out of the minibus and headed into the apartments. The balcony was actually overlooking the rear of M&S (with a decent view of the castle) but a small service balcony for the microwave dish and aerials was a few feet higher up and gave us the view of the Square.

Totally worn out and not in the best mood (thanks to our border guard friend) we headed to the restaurant in the Old Square for the final meal and presentation. We'd missed the grand finish - the press had been waiting for the first cars to arrive, but from what we heard the police weren't too chuffed about the cars! After the prizes were handed out, I made the effort to say hi to the winning teams before everyone headed off to different bars.

Prague presentation

A fair number of teams ended up in the Music Bar, where beer was 24CZK (~60p) and tales of border crossings were swapped. Despite everything that had gone wrong with their car TLDB had made it to Prague, as had the Bolton uni guys (whose Mondeo had finally given up outside the restaurant and had had to be craned away!)

The presentation was a bit of an anti-climax for us, meeting people in the bar seemed a better end to the trip.

Added: 20/Sep/06 by Darren

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