Oberstaufen in Allgäu: a charming holiday get-away, ringed by forests and mountains, the Große Alpsee lake just around the corner. Sticking out like a sore thumb are the boldly decorated rally cars gathered for the start of the Allgäu-Orient Rally 2017. And the village is out in force, despite the torrential rain, to celebrate the intrepid explorers in their midst.
The nerve-jangling is in full swing. Regina barely had a moment to pack her stuff, the rally having already hoovered up her annual holiday allocation. And Basti has barely slept, not surprisingly given his choice of overnight accommodation. Bedding down under canvas alongside the cars in the centre of Oberstaufen was far from ideal, what with the other teams either staying up late or rising with the larks. To top it all, the rain is still streaming down and there’s a wind to chill the bones. Taking refuge in one of the rather inviting local hotels is not an option, though: the six-strong Team 5ever will be doing things properly, as a matter of honour. This is an endurance rally from the Allgäu to the Middle East, not an all-inclusive jolly on the beach. Ergo, it’s meant to be tough.
A colourful spread.
Competition for the winner’s camel (yes, that’s the prize on offer) will be stiff and the assembled entrants display a remarkable eye for technical detail. That estates are the genre of choice is no surprise and the appeal of the BMW 5 Series Touring – in both E34 and E39 vintages – is obvious. Several crews had the same idea as Team 5ever when it came to their wheels for the event. Kitted out with a self-welded roof-rack, a 5 Series Touring has space in abundance to go with its inherent comfort. Which is handy, given the amount of cargo the teams need to take with them. Kids bikes and play cars are both on the checklist, their future owners at the finish in Amman awaiting their arrival excitedly. These gifts are an integral part of the rally, and the cars themselves will also be left behind. There, they will be stripped and sold as parts, and the proceeds donated to charity projects.
With the experience of previous years still fresh in the memory, the organisers have also recommended packing at least four spare tyres (already on their rims). So when one guy turns up in a small two-seat roadster with no luggage rack, it certainly raises eyebrows. There’s no shortage of soft-tops overall, among them an E36 BMW 3 Series Convertible. The rocky backroads that await the driver of this broad, low-slung car do not bear thinking about.
Ramping up the pressure.
Every team has a date with the ramp inside the marquee, where they are introduced to the spectators. It’s already a challenge too far for several teams, the rain-soaked wood turning the ramp into an ice rink. It’s nothing a shove from behind doesn’t solve, but neither – as you can sense people thinking – are struggles here a great omen for the 6,000 kilometres ahead. Original paint earns particular applause, some of those present break into song, others are resplendent in traditional dress, and a Swiss team has brought along a lengthy old Alphorn (we are given a blast). The organisers take a dim view of anyone lacking a particular brand of beer on board; offenders are promptly sent away to stock up. In case you were wondering, the beer provided one of various challenges that will cross the teams’ paths en route.
The many Turkish teams at the start are looking forward to travelling back to their home country and beyond in this most spectacular of fashion. Consular representatives are in attendance, likewise a delegation from the TÜV Türk inspection agency. And the participating teams also include entrants from Israel, Switzerland, Belgium and Austria. The Allgäu-Orient Rally is truly an international event.
First stop: Istanbul.
The teams now have three days to make it to Istanbul, along a route they are free to decide themselves. The only no-nos are motorways and navigation systems. Since it would be nigh-on impossible to check who’s behaving themselves, every team has to sign a code of conduct before they set off.
After several hours queuing up, Team 5ever’s heavily laden BMW 5 Series Touring triumvirate pull away from the starting ramp with impressive assurance. There’s just time for some final pictures and a friendly send-off from the master of ceremonies, and the adventure can begin. Fifty metres later, however, comes the first unscheduled stop: the roadbook – the most important document on any rally – has been left in a hilltop station for the teams to collect before they head any further afield.
Everyone at BMW Group Classic wishes them good luck over the next few days.