Turner and Fowle complete London to Cape Town Rally in fifth place
IT is a course that would test the most experienced of rally drivers. Covering 14,400km and encompassing 14 countries all in just 26 driving days, it is a course of ultra-endurance and for a rally duo from St Albans it proved a once in a lifetime experience.
Owen Turner and his co-driver Matt Fowle completed the London to Cape Town World Cup rally in fifth place despite their MG ZR being hampered by a rear shock absorber failure and an incident that saw them stranded in sand dunes in Egypt.
Despite these mishaps the duo were able to navigate their way all the way to the finish line at Table Bay Hotel bringing an end to a remarkable journey that started for the pair in the Rover Centre in London Road three years ago.
“I had done rally events with the company who were organising it before and they came down to the garage one day and said they were organising an event aimed a clubmen and would I be interested,” explained Turner to the Herts Advertiser.
“We said yes. Initially the Daily Mail were sponsoring us – the event was due to take place last year – but when it was cancelled and moved to this year we decided to do it off our own backs because the Daily Mail wasn’t going to sponsor us.”
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Turner had taken part in a number of rallies prior to this event but none that threw up as many logistical challenges as the London to Cape Town Rally. One such challenge is the problem of transporting spare parts for the cars as support crews were banned.
“I had no experience with a rally of this length before” admitted Turner. “The longest I’d done before was four days so you do get a rough idea. The rallying element is the same but there is no external support.
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“You are allowed to source spares locally but in Africa there aren’t any MGs. In normal rallying you try to carry as little as possible and obviously the more you carry the slower you go so you’ve got to find the right balance. It certainly changes your approach.”
Turner and his team at the Rover Centre actually prepared three cars to take part in the event, his own and two for customers, with all three reaching the finish line.
“We built three cars - my own included and the others for customers,” added Turner. “We sort of formed a team and shared the spares around the cars and all three cars got to the finishing line relatively trouble free although all three cars suffered rear shock absorber failure.”
Turner and Fowle actually led the rally outright from Kent all the way through Europe but the uneven surfaces of Africa saw the duo lose out to the four-wheel drives.
Even so the pair ended the rally with the Kent Cup and the European Cup, after their victories in those stages, and they also topped the 1600cc class.
“We were leading until we got into Egypt” said Turner. “We never thought we’d win the event but we thought we might be able to hold onto third place. If someone had said before we started that we’d have finished in fifth place we’d have been amazed.
“The other teams’ budgets were significantly more than ours and we were surprised we could live with them. However, as it unfolded in Africa, it became clear that the four-wheel-drives had a big advantage.”
When asked what the highlight of the rally was, Turner had no hesitation in pointing to Ethiopia. “When we started we were all a bit nervous about Ethiopia,” he revealed.
“Having seen all the coverage of the famine in the 1980s we all had a pre-conceived idea of a barren land and people struggling with famine but it was very green and they were so pleased to see people coming to their country to compete. The reception we got everywhere was fantastic.
“We were in Ethiopia for about 1,000km and every bit of road we used was closed for us. Everywhere you went everyone was out on the roadside cheering and waving and all the police officers were saluting us. It is an amazing country.”
Due to political issues in Africa the event is unlikely to take the same format again, with a route into Russia the most likely next time.