McKay has devised a clever navigation scheme for his rallies. Each competitor is given a stack of Michelin regional maps. The route instructions for each day consist of a list of towns and villages that must be visited. Along the way, competitors must find and photograph certain landmarks. At the end of the day, assuming you have finished in the allotted time, you simply show the photographs to a rally official to prove that you covered the entire route. There are penalties for missing photos and for arriving late. McKay had two helpers who carried each team's luggage (microcars can't carry much baggage), and a crew of two mechanics that followed the rally in case of trouble.
Driving through rural France requires experience if you wish to stay on the main road. Small roads are poorly marked, and it's easy to end up in a parking lot or blind alley when you thought you were following the main route. Our Trabbi was the largest car in the event (the car with the largest engine running the event was in a 1937 Morgan F-series three-wheeler-pre-war cars were allowed up to 1,000cc) and we didn't find it too difficult to stay on time. I tried to imagine what it would be like driving over these bumpy roads in a 200cc BMW Isetta three-wheel car. On long uphill stretches, we were sometimes caught and passed by cars like the 500cc Messerschmitt Tiger, an oddly shaped tandem two-seater with a lively power-to-weight ratio, and by a 360cc Subaru, a car that makes the same horsepower as a Trabant with half the weight. On the flat and level a Trabant might be able to reach 60 mph, although 50 mph is more reasonable. Even with the radical climbs and descents, we averaged 50 mpg on gasoline mixed with two-stroke oil. We finished the second day in San Sebastian, on the Atlantic coast of Spain.
One advantage that very small cars have is that they fit just fine on kart racing tracks. On the third day of competition, a timed lap on a Spanish kart track was added to our overall score. Overall, there were three kart circuit sessions during the event. The route next included driving southward across the Spanish plains, where the country's commitment to alternative energy was clear from the many wind turbines and solar panels. We ended one day with visiting a large commercial Bodega where Spanish Rioja wines are produced.
The fifth day brought us to the Mediterranean coast and the World Heritage site of Tarragona. McKay also included several visits to auto museums and collections, including a collection of microcars in Manresa and the National Automobile Museum in the tiny mountainous country of Andorra, a place the rally visited on the sixth day.
The final day was a long one, covering more than 200 miles, and included the stunning Gorges de Galamus. The road through the gorge is so narrow that even a Trabant feels huge. We were destined to finish in the ancient walled city of Carcassonne, and despite a balky ignition coil that left us temporarily stranded on the roadside, we made it to the finish. We brought our underdog Trabant into third place overall, behind the Subaru 360 and Messerschmitt Tiger. It had been an endurance challenge more than a test of speed, and our sturdy East German had proven that it could withstand the climbs and descents and long, hot stretches across the Spanish deserts.
McKay will run another version of the LBL from Belgium to Italy and back in July of 2010, this time for cars with displacements between 600 and 1,200cc. He also has plans for another Micro Marathon, so that more drivers of these tiny terrors can experience the same unique sense of accomplishment that we received-with our unlikely but surprisingly effective Trabant.