The Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2007
May 27 - June 30 2007
Across a lunar moonscape and bouncing on surfaces to suit.
We crossed into Mongolia after the usual hassles of the two border formalities, first on leaving China, and then into Mongolia and within a few kilometres were driving across a lunar moonscape and bouncing on surfaces to suit... and it would be like this for the rest of the day.
The roughest, toughest, longest day of the event was now under way. Rocky outcrops, loose sandy stretches, hard gravel, corrugations, constant ruts, all now came up thick and fast.
Gobi Desert tracks that criss-crossed everywhere made a challenge for the navigation, and we were no sooner into this than the first Time Trial was upon us. Now progress would be measured against the clock.
Those who prepared well would romp it, those who hadn't were soon in difficulty. Cars that were too heavy or too overloaded suffered the worst. The track was taking us steadily northwards and we ran in the company of long lines of telegraph poles for a while, very Borghese-style, but soon we even lost these for company, and tracks across vast horizons were only dotted with the occasional dust-trail far ahead as a reminder that we were not exactly alone.
For some, GPS and the route-book were too much and a handful of cars made serious errors and took wrong turnings to end up well off course. By the end of the day, this was to put the organisation under severe pressure.
The wind was steadily whipping up small dust clouds, an omen of worse to come. The track to the start of the Time Trial was entertaining and a real challenge, the Time Trial was just more of the same, but, a touch smoother, with several changes of direction that could only be decided upon by accurate use of the GPS.
Best performance on the Time Trial, and leading the Vintageant Category by a clear four minutes was the green Chevrolet Fangio Coupe of David and Sadie Williams, with the red Buick straight eight saloon of former Australian Rally champion Gerry Crown, navigated by Matthew Bryson. Gerry competed on the Peking-Paris ten years ago with Ozzie rally legend John Bryson, and is now back with John's son. They seem to have a cool and laid-back attitude to everything that is thrown up before them and their relaxed approach belies a steely resolve that confirms they have the full measure of this event. Clearly the boys to watch as they posted a time that shows that Gerry has lost non of the old-school touch when it comes to bashing over tracks that provided a reminder of the wilder parts of the Outback back home.
Under-dog performance of the day was the heroic efforts of the smallest car, the Singer Le Mans of Wilhelmus Van Gemert - this tiny one-litre two-seater was pitching and bucking over boulders and ditches all day long, lights and front wings flapped in protest to no avail, the crew were clearly enjoying themselves and enjoying every minute of it.
Best performance in the Classics Category was the Mercedes crew of Hans Linder and Frank Wiest, who lead the Category. (see results page for full details).
The day ended at our first camp-site and the first job on arrival was working out how to put up our tents, with the wind now getting more angry by the minute. As the sun dropped, the wind rose all the more and soon we were engulfed in a full-blooded sand-storm. The support we had from Nomad Tours of carefully laid out marquees for dining on hot vegetable soup, and various salads, soon were thrashed totally by the wind. This was serious stuff, and now so bad visibility dropped to ten metres of so, with everything being grit-blasted by sand.
Later numbers, those going too slowly, those who had navigation problems earlier in the day, and those who couldn't find the right track when the visibility was totally clear, were now in real difficulty. Tony Fowkes and Andy Actman set up an impromptu camp for half a dozen crews at the end of the Time Trial and messages were sent on that these crews would be unable to proceed, electing to spend the night in a nearby nomad's compound.
The medical-team of the two doctors, Paul and Lisa Rees, rolled the Organisation's Mitsubishi in the sand storm - they were unhurt, but the vehicle is totally destroyed. The Itala of car two, Jonathan Turner and Adam Hartley, arrived after being towed through the night by The Banhams, severe engine problems are suspected. The Itala of car one, David and Karen Ayre, arrived late but under their own power - just one headlight eerily lighting the way across the sand to the campsite, and an axle bearing is their biggest worry.
Everyone else has suffered a severe bashing. And only a few hours sleep - the wind refused to ebb before midnight, and as soon as the sun rose at 4.30, the wind rose also, but nothing like as fierce as the previous evening.
A hearty breakfast under the marquees of fried egg and porridge was served for those who had succeeded in making it this far, but the longest and toughest day saw some 30 odd crews fail to make the final camp.