The Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2007
May 27 - June 30 2007
The Great Escape…
We pulled off a mass-escape from Mongolia yesterday – sorry there was no report from the front-line yesterday, but communications have been fraught at the best of times.
The border crossings have been a major worry, as the tiny out-post on the top left hand corner of the map of Mongolia was only recently opened up for overland travellers, and coping with numbers any greater than half a dozen a day is something officialdom rarely experiences…. we rolled up with the biggest single party they have ever encountered. (our picture shows the early morning border queue)
Border guards saluted, but snapping to attention was simply never going to happen…the red and white pole is not lifted before 9.0am, then there is a gate, then a bit of no-man’s land, each stage requiring bits of paper (the first stage is paying out your last payment in Mongolia Tog’s), before reaching Russia. Be quick about it and keep gently pushing forwards is our advice, as the officials take a one-and-a-half hour lunch break, and if you are in no-mans land, you are sent back to the first square of the game. This happened! So, quite a few failed to get through before mid-afternoon – a long day. However, Russian officials truly impressed, and once the system was rolling with the advance information of giant spread sheets which the Rally Office had produced in advance with all lines of information like date of birth, chassis numbers, passport numbers clearly set out, the Russian could really switched things on. Even national TV came along to film the whole process, and this was a model of slick efficiency.
The sweeper-mechanics failed to get in before 3.0am however. The number of runners now the worst is over? We saw around 80 depart this morning from Bijsk, and nothing underlines the gruelling severity of the whole challenge so far than the statistic for the number of Gold Medal runners. There are 35 crews eligible for a Gold Medal – having completed the full course so far, and reached all the Time Controls on time. So ,here we are, less than half way, and nearly 100 crews have failed to score a Gold Medal standard, happily accepting either a Silver or, for those missing out on complete days due to repairs, a Bronze.
There has been a change in the leader-board with the Pioneer Category for cars of a model-type up to 1920…Fred Brown and Tom Stevenson in a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost now heads the leader-board, with an overall title of 63hours, 22 minutes, nine seconds…ahead of Neville Jordan and Bruce McIlroy in another Ghost on 63.53.23, with the Lancia Theta Special third – being driven single handed, an inspiration to the whole rally as he continues to plod on undaunted, carrying our his own repairs, refusing the offers from the official mobile workshops, after his co-driver left him a few days after the start. The Vauxhall of Michael Green has slipped down the leaderboard to 8th.
In the Vintageant Category, David and Sadie Williams in the Chevvy Fangio Coupe have a lead of around eight minutes from Xavier de Marmol in a similar car (but fitted with solid metal bushes in its suspension – incredible, but true – it’s little wonder the vibration caused by removal of the cushioning effect of rubber bushes meant that bashing over ground worse than an East African Safari caused all sorts of suspension bothers, only fixed by their rival Chevvy drivers). Third is Paul and Sandra Merryweather in a similar car, above Paul Carter and Vincence Fairclough’s Derby Bentley. Winner of the Vintage Sports Car Club’s award for top car up to 1931 so far is Gerold Leumann’s Bentley 6.5 tourer.
Classic Category cars see some changes to the leaderboard for this section. The VW Beetle of Garrick Staples has slipped to third overall, as the hard-charging Jaguar Mk11 of Richard Worts and Nicola Shackleton move up to second, but the Mercedes taxi of Han Peter Lindner has a firm grip at the top of the leaderboard with nearly half an hour in hand.
It could all change – much could happen getting across Russia, and there are more Time Trials organised by local motor-clubs in Latvia, Estonia, and Poland, which seems an age away.
The countryside was impressive – after the border-post, we left behind the sandy desert scenes of Mongolia very quickly, within half an hour it was green all around, then our first sight in nearly two weeks of a tree. The green became more lush by the kilometre, steep craggy peaks reminded us of the run into Cortina in the Dolomites, and many others said “it’s just like Austria”….then it changed, more like North Wales, maybe…it changed some more today, and it was more akin to driving up the A11 through the pines to Thetford. Yes, we are now on tarmac, and its been pretty good and very welcome – so far. Russian police sit by the roadside and wave red sticks for improtu checks, but in your correspondent’s car the policy is to just wave back, then a slight lift-off, but with no hint of stopping. We have had our fill of officialdom and forms for a while.
How are the under-dogs? The Flying Dutchmen of Wilhelmus Van Gemert and Johan de Swart slip down to 27th in their Singer Le Mans. This little black two seater with two tiny suitcases on the back continues to bounce from bump to bump but no longer beating Bentley’s in the top ten…but plenty of big heavy metal sits a few places behind them. A car once described in its day as two strips of tin and a pile of match-wood has out-performed many, and the one-litre engine sounded crisp this morning. The 2CV of Simon and Liz Chance continue to buzz along, they secretly get up in the middle of the night to wash their car…how else can they explain why it’s the cleanest and most dust-free set of wheels in the car park?
A good many crews are dining out tonight, relieved that all the desert sections are now just memories. Denis Wilson in car 45, a Rolls 20, sums up the feelings like this:
“Jill does not want to see a desert again unless it’s spelt with two s’s. We are now in a good hotel in the capital of Siberia, 1,000 kms from the Mongolia-Russian border, and she says it took three fills of the bath tub before it ran clear. Sun oil on the skin makes an excellent base for sand to stick to…so I need to be careful not to rub her up the wrong way.
The Rolls is now running well minus an exhaust.” The exhaust was not modified along the lines of the fact-sheets produced by the Rally Office, so like many others that chose to ignore all the reams of preparation advice, this item now lies in the sands of the Gobi.
Tomorrow is a rest-day, even the crews of the mobile-workshops are having a rest day so anyone needing repairs will have to exercise their bargaining skills with the locals, who are fascinated by the whole thing and came out with large crowds to greet our arrival, and yet further national television crews to film us as we crawled up the hotel steps to a welcome beer.