The Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2010
September 10th - October 16th, 2010
SEPTEMBER 13TH, 2010
Sainshand to Ulaan Baatar
Bunfight at the OK Coral…
After 400 kilometres of gut-wrenching, storm-damaged dirt tracks yesterday across vast open plains that stretch as far as the eye can see, most crews pitched their tents early, to collapse into deep sleep… oblivious to a stunning night sky with a crystal-clear Milky Way stretching immediately over our heads.
Another day on the road beckons for more of the same. Dawn breaks over a biblical scene of little tents, with donkeys and goats munching inquisitively around a Bentley on the edge of our “OK Coral” and crews emerged from their tents this morning for more punishment and the final run into the Mongolia capital of Ulaan Baatar. In this chilly morning air the local marmalade spreads with the texture of axle grease. Fried eggs sizzle on a hot plate, and the band of happy-campers are tucking into the reinforcement of a good hot breakfast, including porridge with honey. All carried by a dozen chefs in on the back of Unimog trucks specially for us.
Ahead, the first 200 kms is all on dirt, but, thankfully, a lot of it has been graded dead smooth, with just the odd pot-hole, what blessed relief after the deep rutted sections yesterday that resembled something out of the Dakar or East African Safari.
There were three Time Trials this morning, totalling 90 kms. Many had made overnight repairs, but it’s quickly settling down as a rally where good preparation makes a crucial difference to the results-sheet.
The last part of the day was an easy run across wind-swept prairies that look like something from the film-sets from a Garry Cooper or John Wayne Western. Lee Vincent, what sort of cowboy name is that, he must have played the gangster when he was nine years old, is manning the last checkpoint of the day at a petrol station where all crews fill up – having pre-paid for their fuel we have designated fuel-stations that have received a top-up from our travelling tankers leap-frogging ahead of the rally.
The frenzy around the pumps is a buzz of stories from the string of Time Controls with navigators swopping times to discover who set what time. The Police scoop up cars in bunches of ten, and escort the crews through the streets to our hotel. One driver who clearly can’t stand getting in line drives right past the gas-station and waves… and in so doing, waves goodbye to a Gold Medal. To claim a Gold Medal at Paris, you need to clock in at the final checkpoint each night.
We have a day off tomorrow – but already crews are seeking out the blacksmiths who will work long into the night, with a job list that includes the welding up of petrol tanks, grafting truck radiators into cars, fixing exhaust mountings, patching up engine and gearbox mountings. The local Mercedes dealer has never seen his workshop covered in so many springs and shockabsorbers that have come away from broken mountings.
Too much red mist, too soon? Considering that Andrew Cowan won two London to Sydney Marathons without once setting a fastest time, one wonders what state our cars will be in by the time we hit the gravel sections in the hills of northern Turkey. Steve Hyde in the Chevy is on his second set of shocks, but is at the top of the Vintageants. Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson are near the top of the Classics Category classification, Garry Staples and Son Ltd have booked themselves into the top-dog slot with their pair of softly-sprung VW Beetles.
Among the Pioneers, Max Stephenson in a Vauxhall, and David Ayre in the venerable 1907 Itala, are going great. Daniel Ward, in the Lancia Theta, that rides the ruts better than just about any car on the whole event, alas is stricken with a broken stub-axle, but that’s no big deal, there’s a steam-train museum in town that could fix that overnight.
David Roberts, in the open-topped 1953 Sunbeam Talbot Alpine, said goodbye to us here in Ulaan Baatar when he was on the 2007 event as he reckoned the conditions so severe, he took himself off for a long detour of Siberia before catching up many weeks later. Three years on, he is back, passing on his wisdom of the hard-won lessons of experience. He is in the bar looking happy that the Sunbeam this time looks like continuing for more of Mongolia… he sounds like an old war veteran as he commiserates with the rookies over their stories of broken suspension and broken radiator mountings.
There is a wonderful atmosphere in the bar tonight, which looks like being drunk dry… understandable, perhaps, with so many parched throats in need of as much repair as the machinery lining up at the blacksmith’s hut down town.