Colin Clark’s top 10 rallying memories: No rest for the fried

Our voice of rally continues his countdown with a surreal hotel experience during Rally Argentina in 2010

Sebastien Loeb – Action

At number nine in my list of personal memorable moments from my time in rallying is Rally Argentina in 2010. This one was a little different from all the other Rally Argentinas I’ve attended because it was part of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge that year. But that’s not why it’s so memorable to me. That year makes my list of highlights for one reason, and it’s not even really rally related.

Stoke-on-Trent to Carlos Paz that year was the journey from hell.

In many respects, Carlos Paz is a long way from Stoke-on-Trent, but perhaps most obviously is the number of hours it takes to get from one to the other. A good door to door journey would normally be around 32 hours but, for one reason or another, in 2010 it took nearer 40.

Most memorable was an unfortunate delay during a thunderstorm at the domestic airport in Buenos Aires that cost a number of hours. Having aborted our taxi to the runway and returned to the stand, the Captain informed us that a crucial piece of the weather radar wasn’t working but, not to worry, because they’d sourced a new one and it was on its way to be fitted.

Yeah, on it’s way from the plane sitting next to us.

Looking out of the left-side window I could see an engineer’s legs dangling from a service hatch under said aircraft. Next thing I see is the engineer dropping from the hatch clutching what I assumed to be the cannibalised piece of weather radar kit.

Now I’m no expert, but I guess most components within a modern airliner are fairly delicate and this weather radar was, I’m pretty sure, no exception. Did I mention the thunderstorm? Well, this was a subtropical thunderstorm of biblical proportions – the rain was bouncing a metre off the runway. And so, having gracefully slid out of the service hatch clutching the replacement radar part, our game engineer was faced with yet another challenging problem. How to get from the underbelly of one aircraft to the steps of the next without getting the oh so delicate part wet. No problems, the radar was surreptitiously slid inside the engineers jacket and, head down, he bolted.

Straight into a haphazardly abandoned luggage trailer.

To be fair to the engineer, there was no real thought for self-preservation, his precious parcel clearly took priority. But a heavy impact, a roll through a lake-sized puddle and a dislodged luggage case to the head left our gallant engineer staggering and most certainly not bounding, up our aircraft steps.

It came as no surprise then when, half an hour later, the captain announced that the replacement part had been fitted but, surprise surprise, was also not working.

And that further delay went a long way to explaining why I dragged my sorry self into the reception of the Portal de Lago Hotel in Carlos Paz close on midnight and nearly eight hours later than I’d expected. I was tired, in fact I’d go further than that and say I was fried – completely fried actually.

I only just managed to check in and drag myself to my room, which was just off to the left of the reception and bar area. Quick shower and I was into bed and ready for a solid night’s sleep.

But as soon as my head hit the pillow it was clear that there was a problem. Kylie Minogue was obviously doing a turn at the bar and it was coming though the wall as clear as if she was in the room with me. Now there’s a thought – I should be so lucky.

But as quickly as Kylie’s antipodean tones faded they were replaced by George and Andrew’s quite inappropriate warblings about waking me up before you go go! No, let me sleep before I kill kill.

Little Johnny Farnham and You’re The Voice felt like a personal welcome to Argentina, but I wasn’t feeling any love at this point.

Gloria Estefan belted out Anything for You. Oh yes please! Turn the bloody music off. I need to sleep.

And so it went on, a veritable feast of ’80s nostalgia for the punters in the bar behind my bedroom wall.

And then the straw that broke the camels back. Those boys from Wham again and Last Christmas. No it’s bloody not, it’s just past Easter, it’s three in the morning, I’ve had the journey from hell to get here, and now I’m being subjected to this?

Time to call reception.

“Look, I’m a big fan of Kylie and I’m always up for a bit of a singalong with Rick Astley, but it’s three in the morning and I need to sleep. Could you ask the guys at the bar to please turn the music off?”

Lengthy pause.

“I’m very sorry Mr Clark but the bar closed three hours ago and I’m the only one here. There’s no music being played.”

Now, I know I said I was fried but this was too much. I couldn’t possibly have been imagining it could I? Anyway, down went the phone, off went the side light and just as my head hit the pillow, Tight Fit’s The Lion Sleeps Tonight mockingly filled the room with it’s slightly deranged falsetto tones. What sort of madness is this that’s tormenting me and making me question my sanity? Have I actually lost the plot properly this time?

I leapt out of bed and turned the room lights on to try and see if there was a devil sitting in my room chuckling away as he drove me mad with his iPod selection.

And there it was. Literally right by my head. Did I mention that the Portal de Lago was slightly, in fact big time, stuck in the ’70s? Well it is, and so are it’s beds.

Built into the headboard was what in 1972 would have been been a high-tech bedside radio. And this muppet had somehow manage to flick the on switch while getting into bed. The local radio station that plays ’80s music on a loop after midnight completed this somewhat surreal experience.

I did eventually get to sleep that night and enjoyed a fantastic Rally Argentina that was won by Juho Hanninen. It took me a long time to regain my love for all things ’80s mind you, and I’ve never stayed in the Portal de Lago since then.

Some experiences you just can’t get over.