Day two of the 2017 Press Rally in Lithuania opened with excellent weather. Having checked the Polo had retained all necessary fluids for it to compete, we rolled to the start of the first stage of the day. Despite good-hearted chatting with the other drivers, who had heard how little the car had cost to buy, and who were eager to buy it for 120 euros, anticipation welled up in my brain.
We had done well the previous day, keeping a handsome distance from the last place on every account, but there was still a full day to go with little idea what it would take, other than repeatedly studying the provided charts for the upcoming stages. The first day had contained some faster sections, but the second day had a lot of parking lot slalom to do, where you didn’t necessarily need 200 horsepower or more to shine.
The first challenge was a trick one, as it didn’t account for the standings but was shared with the classic cars doing the Tourism class. It consisted of a slalom course on the hotel parking lot, and a tray with a tennis ball was perched on every car’s hood. Naturally, you needed to keep the ball on the tray or lose the stage. This is where my familiarity with the Polo’s high-grabbing clutch served me well; since I had been practicing for ages how to manoeuvre the car smoothly with the least amount of jerkiness, we sailed through the course with the ball still on the tray.
Immediately after clearing the first stage, we headed to the bustling town square of Kretinga. Yet another slalom course was ahead of us, but this was a two-fer: two mirrored courses were set up side by side, divided by a barrier, and we would swap sides with a challenging car after completing the first one.
Our pair turned out to be the Finnish Peugeot Sport team with the 106 Rallye, a perfect match since we were eager to try and beat them whenever possible. A couple errors and too much faith placed on a handbrake turn caused the 106 to have to stop and reverse in a costly fashion; we snuck the Polo through the course under 40 seconds while the 106 spent over 50 precious seconds per attempt.
We called the next stage a football field, as that was what the gravelly tarmac yard seemed like. That played in our favour, since we could see the tracks left by previous cars, so steering from the correct side of the cones was made easier.
In the baking sun, we headed for the last event, which was held at a driver training course near Klaipeda. The place seemed like it was freshly built, and it would house the last drives of the event with the course adjusted during lunch. Figure eights, long straights, a possibility of a jump: looking at the turbo Golfs understeering around the cones provided for trackside entertainment.
Both a Yaris and the brake-burning Colt did a proper jump at all costs, as the guys were trying to match each other just like we were after the Peugeot 106 team. But for us, it was again more about note keeping than outright speed: at the starting line, I focused on the pace notes on the last minute to get the cone sequence right in my head. And it all worked: during the entire two-day event we only missed that one cone on the first day.
As I pulled the Polo to a precise halt on the finish line of the last stage, that was it – we had given it what we got, and there was just a drive to the show finish in Palanga left. What a day.
Tired and happy, we met the cheering, beaming crowd at the town centre. It had been a wild ride, and both Finnish project cars had made it to the end without mechanical trouble. The satisfying results were produced soon after: with 46,15 minutes overall we had only lost by a minute to the guys in the Peugeot, beating several cars despite placing in the lower end of the standings. Stage by stage results saw us in the middle bits on the aforementioned town square slalom and at 9th place with the tennis ball challenge!
Looking at the separate VIP standings (partaking non-journalists who competed on all of the same stages), there were a good number of drivers stretching out to the 50+ minute results. With nine places underneath us, we did well, and so did the Polo.
As a finishing touch, the next day we drove home via the supermarkets on the Latvian border, and it’s frankly amazing how much good Latvian beer the 540-litre trunk of the Polo can hold. I spent much more on beer than I spent on buying the car, so perhaps it’s all been worth it?
This is one of the greatest driving weekends I’ve ever done, and I couldn’t be happier to have done it in the humble 60 Euro Polo.
I can’t wait for the next long drive. The car’s still wearing the stickers, a couple weeks on.
[Images: Antti Kautonen/Lauri Ahtiainen/pressauto.lt]