Tales of the Modern Road Rally
What is life like on a modern road rally? A lads holiday on wheels or bewilderingly formal?
Well neither actually, what it is [The Rico Rally anyway] in a sentence is bloody good time. The general consensus on driving events is that they fall under two categories, having an emphasis on partying or nightlife & the other being on maximizing driving pleasure: not being one for partying myself Rico seemed a great fit for me and the holiday I wanted, basing its route on the most amazing roads you can fit into 6 days in Europe without being over zealous on time spent in the car; maximizing enjoyment if you will.
Crossing northern France & heading for the alps, the Irn-Bru Audi A1 185 proved a fantastic Rally car. Picture by @Autobant on Twitter.
So a sober affair? Sounds a little upper crust.
Make no mistake, once you get to the pre-booked & very nice hotel in the evening drinking, late nights and lots of banter ensues but not to the infamous Gumball levels; not that there's anything wrong with a party road trip, if that's what you want that's fine, and there is plenty of catering for you, but I feel an image that 'all European road trip holidays are parties, parties, parties' has been cast on the genre - and if you don't want that perhaps you feel you're too boring or have missed the boat etc - that's not the case however & you're not alone. Events like the Rico Rally (other similar road trip holiday companies are available, see Epic Rally or Adventure Drives) are for someone who wants to experience the best driving elements a road trip has to offer, wants no hassle organisation & meet like minded people. From what I have seen the demand from customers, and the product offered in a majority swings to the second category.
Ok so you had a good time, but what did you actually do?
I'll talk you through it from the beginning, in January of 2018, when the world seemed so simple, I and my good friend Stephen entered the Rico Rally, simply booking online. Being car enthusiasts since birth and not finding anything going cheap in Maga we wanted a good holiday & I found Rico just by scrolling through my Facebook feed long enough and seeing their promo video.
The start line was in the UK, in Kent to be exact but not too exact, and while the routes and destinations vary from year to year, most routes centre around mid-Europe (same goes for most of these style Rally companies). Early morning set off, straight to the Euro Tunnel and into France, then the long slog across the top and into Germany, with a de-restricted blast on the way. Quite easy but unfortunately long, and it's necessary evil until we invent moving mountains. Day one ends with a nice and provided meal at a fantastic hotel in Freiburg.
Day two sees a departure from Germany and move south into glorious Switzerland, & the first 'good' roads [Susten Pass & Route De Saanen]. I say good in quotation marks, as by an reasonable stretch of the imagination these, especially Susten, are masterpieces of civil engineering but was sadly overshadowed by the ribbons of asphalt that followed in the days to come. Also, word to the wise, if this is your first proper mountain road like it was mine, go easy on the brakes on way down otherwise you'll need to stop and look a real Tillerman while they cool off - once they have its off to the next nice hotel, this time just over the French border in Evian (yes where the water comes from).
Day three, my personal favorite driving day, today we go to the dog road. The route sees us heading south along beautiful views, lovely 'A' roads with Mont Blanc in view due north at times. Beautiful, enjoyable & noteworthy but I don't mean to diminish them but honestly, Grand St Bernard pass is the best road I've ever driven, and made all these lower sunken down in the mountains roads seem so simple in comparison - I'm sure there are better roads in the alps, Dog pass doesn't make into the usual top 3, but until I drive those in the near future this ones staying at the top. Speaking of the top, the view from the top is absolutely spectacular; that cliche of "i'm king of the world" is really all that comes to mind; with that said there is only one view I enjoyed more (and no it wasn't the Italian/Swiss waitress at the pub at the top) and that was the view of the next hairpin. The road goes on and on, getting better, more technical & tighter with every passing bend - perfectly smooth surface gives so much confidence to push despite the drops, horsepower does not rule here - agility rules the day, the higher you go the more rock faces there are to bounce gear changes off. I'd love to come back here in my MX5 or a Lotus or something to get even more from it. The hotel was back in Switzerland, but I was sad to see the end of this road.
Day four, waking up in Switzerland gives a strong urge to yodel but my room mate kept me firmly in check, I'll settle for the highest road in Swiss' then. Nufenen Pass sadly couldn't match formerly mentioned dog road for incredible driving pleasure for me; it's still great mind you, every road I've mentioned is, but it could beat the views on climb and at the top. Ice walls are a real treat for the eyes on the hair pins plus cold winter like air entering the cabin in mid-June also enters the engine keeping my forced induction happy with all the 'crispness' of it. Moreover the walls of ice make up for the surprising amount and pace of the Swiss haulage industry using Nufenen as a through road, impeding our progress and frightening in process. Altitude and hawks, cafe and dog walks - they should have sent a poet and not a qualified charlatan. Onwards and downwards to the San Bernardino. I remember noting particularly expensive food at the cafe, that could be northern ways taking over, and strange but intriguing rock formations at the coast of the lake, beautiful place and yet another fantastic road - much more advanced in its layout on the way down. Again another night in Switzerland (yodel urge firm again) but unlike the previous hotels this had a water park onsite, it's Hotel Santispark to be exact if you want to look it up. I don't what the staff thought of our gaggle of testosterone playing in the lazy river but I doubt we'll be asked to do the next state visit.
Day five. Tired after a night of tomfoolery in water we leave Switzerland and go back into Deutschland and into the Schwarzer Wald (Black forest). The route hand book gives a choice of heading to the Porsche & Mercedes Museums in Stuttgart or do more fun driving in gateau country, we chose the later. The black forest is a very large area, full of good roads, and frankly I'd be lying if I said I knew the exact roads we did, B500 comes to mind but that could be misremembering. What I do remember however is the waterfall walk & clock shop we went to in the charming town of Triberg. A fairly relaxed and easy day really winding down in another country, Luxembourg. This is the last true day of the rally - tomorrow counts but that's also the day of returning, once you're in blighty you go your separate ways; it's not all gloom though as tonight is the most party night there is; another meal provided and the rally awards.
Day six, the last miles. A much required debugged of the windscreen occurred before take off, the well earned dirt stayed. A little somber, I think anyone is at the end of an amazing trip, the final route saw us travel 3 up out of 'Lux and back into France, running along the top edge; we didn't follow the official route today [which saw some nice country like roads to tackle during the westward journey] but instead make our own so we could stop off at the Reims circuit, something we could have done on day one as well but decided against at the time. Another stop was made for consuming a large and adequate Burger King, before Calais and re-boarding of the train. Say your good byes on the train, then keep in touch over social media.
Each day is setup to have 6-9 hours of driving, I know sounds a lot, but its not 'driving' driving, its pleasure driving - and time passes faster during moments of intense, prolonged pleasure.
You're also not driving alone, this particular trip is 50 cars; not all 50 are together at all times but pretty much after day one you've found your individual group of 5-6 cars that you spend most of your road time with.
Any racing involved?
No, this is a rally not a race; and you win nothing getting to the hotel first.
Stickers, wraps, yay or nay?
Stickers came as part of this event, not all rallies do this i'm sure but Rico do supply a pack as well as some other goodies as part of the lead up to the event & while not mandatory we certainly wanted them on. The wrap is something I wanted to do; meant to be Gulf style but ended up Irn-Bru; and despite emailing them to see if they would furnish our ride with the delicious Scottish fluid, they did not reply.
Uncanny resemblance - and genuinely coincidental.
I know you said no racing, but you did mention awards, can you win anything?
Yes you can, on the last evening there is an awards do and another provided meal. Sadly I didn't win any so we'll leave it at that. No that's unprofessional Burrell, awards are given for 'spirit of the rally' etc, so again there is no point racing and making your enjoyment time shorter.
You recommend it then?
I do, if that hasn't been clear from the aforementioned fondness of my memories. This is not a paid advertisement for the Rico Rally, and I am not on any commission structure with them because frankly I wasn't cleaver enough to set one up beforehand; but if you're a petrol head yearning for adventure, memories, new car friends, and can't be bothered with organising your own route (it's harder than it sounds, I'm doing that very thing now) then I cannot recommend Rico or its contemporaries enough.
If you've made it this far down in my ramblings and shambolic writing then perhaps you're a sucker for punishment, maybe you'd be interested in seeing a video I put together on this event last year (be warned its not good).