Fighting for Milliseconds in the Mister Classic
Photography by Máté Boer
As the summer heat disappeared and leaves turned to orange and brown throughout the world, the fourth and final round of this season’s Oldtimer Supercup was upon us. The Mister Classic is a traditional rally on Hungarian, Austrian, and Czech regularity race fans’ calendars, and this year it was held for the twelveth time. Fifty-three teams arrived at the starting line for a nice, two-day drive on Hungarian and Austrian backroads. It’s an important rally for two reasons: the weekend’s results would decide the next champion and for many participants it was the last “classical” drive of the season. My favorite quote about autumn (by William Cullen Bryant) describes the feeling perfectly, “Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.”
Over the race weekend this mythical smile, not only embodied in the beauty of the changing nature, could be also seen on drivers’ and their co-drivers’ faces as well as on the faces of the people we passed.
After following the regularity races since 2005 and covering this year’s Hungaria Classic on Petrolicious the organizers offered me an opportunity to look deeper inside their events and join two teams on this event. It was a dream come true as I had always hoped that one day I’d have the chance to get an inside view of regularity races. This is how I found myself standing next to a 1975 Ferrari 365 GT4 2+2 on a cool and foggy October morning. The sound and smell of the purring 4.4-liter V12 engine was a far better way to start the day than any coffee. I wondered how much space there would be in the Ferrari’s back seats, but the leather-covered closet somehow swallowed me and my camera bag.
In spite of the cold weather, a few dozen spectators came to watch the Mister Classic’s start. It was nice to see how the majority of the drivers “stroked” their cars, quickly checking carburetors or oil levels, and poking fun at each other or telling stories of prior rallies. This is a very small, but very friendly community. Right after the final check-ups and last-minute strategic discussions between the driver and the co-driver we rolled to the starting line, where the speaker mentioned a few words about each car for the spectators.
Only a few hundred meters after crossing the starting gate we arrived in the first special stage. Manual chronographs and bamboo rods appeared in the hands of the co-driver, right after he stuck the well-prepared post-it notes–with huge numbers drawn on them–on the dashboard. Everything had its place and the choreography was well composed. As we rolled to the infra-red gate, the driver took one of the chronographs, because he has a better feeling of the car and therefore a more accurate estimation of when the nose of the “prancing horse” crosses the infra-red line and when the stopper should be started. These are trifles, but they count a lot, when you’re fighting for milliseconds. First gear, slipping clutch, and with a sudden jump we started the stage. Few seconds of peaceful cruising, fifty meters and slowly we approached the next gate, the clock was running, the speed became equal with the top speed of a snail (it isn’t allowed to stop on a stage) and the co-driver started to beat the rhythm of the last 10 seconds with the bamboo rods. Rolling in neutral, slipping clutch, jump again across the infra-line and we finished one of the few dozen specials. Less then five minutes later the phone beeped and the organizers sent the results personally for each team. Although this type of racing is far from pedal-to-metal apex hunting, the catharsis exists.
The short measured sections serve as adrenaline bombs and these are rarely repetitive challenges. The variety is huge, and the organizing team has had more then ten years to develop the portfolio. There are often two (sometimes even three) sections immediately after each other or they are combined etc. My personal favorites are the “Le Mans”-style stages, where the team starts the clock by pushing a button a few meters away from the car and they have to run back, jump in, and drive to the finish line. To sustain the interest – even of the frequent participants – all of the regularity races have their own extra “spice”. For example, this time one of the last stages was held on a gravel driveway of a castle and the loose surface is tricky if you think of the “clutch slipping jumps” across the gates. On this special stage I was already sitting in a 1971 NSU 1000C of a father-and-daughter team. They are closely linked to that cute German car as it arrived to the family on the same day when Anna, the daughter was born. With the small, maneuverable car it’s much easier to perform the specials and the 40 horsepower is far enough to arrive everywhere on time.
Even my friends in the 14-horsepower Vespa 400 completed the race and they achieved the best result on one of the stages! So, what can I say? Precise choreography and discipline, is what it’s all about.