RAID Suisse-Paris Rally

Accepting an invitation from Oris watches to take part in the 20th anniversary Suisse-Paris RAID rally seemed like such a good idea back in April – but not a very good one at all when I was still trying to fettle my 1970 TR6 at 3am, two days before the start… which was 750 miles away, in Basel.

Such was my fear that the old girl would embarrass me by breaking down before we'd even reached scrutineering, that I drove gingerly enough from my Devon home to the Dover ferry, across France and on to Basel to achieve a record 30mpg from the fuel-injected six. After that epic run – the car's first journey of more than 30 miles since it completed last year's Tour Britannia – the actual event seemed easy.

The RAID is one of the leading regularity rallies in Europe. It has been going since 1991 and follows some of the most stunning of France's rural roads over a 600-mile route that begins in Basel and ends in the French capital, three days later.

The event attracts some beautifully turned out and interesting pre-1975 classics (there was even a brace of DeLorean DMCs this year), in categories for veterans, tourism and sport.

The holding point in Basel's Messeplatz drew crowds of spectators and, at the traditional starting time of 12.30, the 20th anniversary RAID got under way with a 200km stage to the remarkable Royal Salt Works at Arc-et-Senans. Having chosen to compete in the 'sport' category, we were then faced with a 117km night stage to Dijon, which involved small roads, occasional thunderstorms, some tricky navigation tests and a midnight arrival at the overnight stop.

Routine checks of engine oil and water the following morning proved the car to be still in excellent health, in advance of the longest stage – a 237km run from Dijon to the stunning Chateau de Bois le Roi in Nailly, where the cars were parked up on the rolling lawns for visitors to admire during the lunch stop.

The next section, a 147km stint to the town of St Denis l'Hotel, demonstrated the need for perfect planning on regularity rallies: we had failed to keep an eye on the fuel gauge and were forced to make a major diversion in order to find a filling station in an extremely rural area. The lost minutes translated into a hefty penalty, which put us well and truly out of the running for any prizes.

A night in Orleans preceded Saturday's first stage to Fontainebleau, which involved driving through some of the most stunning scenery France has to offer. A picnic lunch provided by the RAID organisers was enjoyed in the sunlit grounds of the town's police academy, before the final, 70km leg of the event to the Chateau de Ferrières, where a remarkable classic car bottleneck occurred as everyone attempted to make their way through the narrow entrance in order to reach the finish line. (The one bit of duff organisation on the whole event.)

All that then remained was a gentle, 45km drive into central Paris for a gala dinner and prize-dishing ceremony.

The overall winners were Reto and Nevenka Schmid, in their 1953 Austin-Healey 100M, with just 30 penalties. While de Burton and co-driver James Gurney were not, alas, called to the stage, the elation at having completed the course with no breakdowns was almost enough of a reward in itself.

The organisers, by the way, are keen to attract more UK entries. We were one of just two British teams taking part this year. The 2011 RAID is scheduled for August 25-28. See www.raid.ch.

Oris RAID Limited Edition Chronograph

To mark this year's RAID, rally sponsor Oris has produced a limited edition of 500 RAID chronographs with a dial based on the dashboard instruments of the 1952 Jaguar XK120 that won the 2009 event (above). The 43.5mm steel-cased chrono has a nicely understated, retro look and, in typical Oris style, is reasonably priced at £2300.

Text: Simon de Burton
Photos: RAID


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