We’re finally at our destination. However, where we were expecting a gate, a light barrier for timekeeping and cheering fans, we find nothing. Just head-high snowdrifts on either side of the dark road, while the wind blows thick flakes through the light of our front beams. Perplexity reigns aboard our Beetle, model year 1971.
We have coordinated the 4,800-meter route up to the Dachstein mountain in the Austrian state of Styria (or Steiermark, in German) precisely so that our trip is as close as possible to 13 minutes in length. Both trip counters are at exactly 4.80, and we counted the last ten seconds out loud. Something must have gone wrong. “That’s funny,” says Hans-Joachim Stuck at the wheel, and steps on the gas again; the Beetle accelerates, chugging. We reach the correct destination after three more curves, having significantly exceeded the target time of 13 minutes, of course. This brings us 1,000 penalty points and takes us down from 37th to 48th place. This is not the prologue to the three-day Planai Classic rally that we had in mind.
“We want to have fun there,” Hans-Joachim Stuck had said on the phone a week ago. “Don’t worry, we’re not competing to win.” The Planai Classic is not about being the fastest to arrive at the finish line, Stuck went on to explain, but about completing the tests as accurately as possible. That sounded reassuring for this rally novice who had promised to step in as Stuck’s passenger.