The Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2007
May 27 - June 30 2007
Dancing With Wolves
Dawn breaks on a Biblical scene. Those exiled to roam the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights awake in their village of conical shaped tents just as the sun forces its way up past the tops of the rim of dark hills that circle this vast grassy Mongolian plain where we have spent a freezing night. By 5.0am the colours of the hills changes in the orange sky to a dark purple, and then a rich brown.
The whirr of the generator of the large marquee cookhouse has been running for the past hour, and the geese in the nearby river are now getting so excited their dawn chorus is enough to stir everyone from their sleeping bags. The reason for the geese to get so noisy so early is now apparent. A large grey wolf comes trotting down the river bank on the far side of the water, looking across at the strange site of the rally camp which has invaded its territory. The noise of the geese, the generator, and strong smell of bacon in the breeze, if you were a wolf you too would be full of curiosity. The site of rally-drivers popping their heads out of the tents though is enough for the Old Grey Wolf to change direction for his morning jog and he veers off across the plain.
Today is another 400 kms, and the road surface is a little kinder, for once, but it’s still all dirt. We climb up through a long row of hills and begin the first Time Trial of the day, which twists and turns through the hills.
The second test is more demanding, its more akin to the desert scrub we thought we had left behind, except that when we crest a hill-top there then unfolds vast plains of snaking gravel road ahead and wisps of dust-trails of previous runners give us a clue of what is next. We all thunder on across Mongolia.
This second Time Trial ends just before a river crossing. Some bog down in a patch of sand in sight of the chequered flag flying on the top of Bob Rutherford’s time-keeper’s vehicle. Tony Fowkes is off with his tow-rope and shovel. The river is a different kind of challenge. Those who prepared, with good water proofing, and ignore waving crowd on the far bank, take it steady, keep the bow-wave down, and so chug through the rapids with water up to the axles and no more. Others plunge in, send spray over the bonnet, and then wonder why they are running on two cylinders.
For the Lagonda of Bob Fountain, the sudden spray is enough to damage the over-hot exhaust manifold, cooking under layers of asbestos, and this sudden change of temperature, plus the fact that rally cars with tubular manifolds don’t like long continuous heat-build ups under asbestos wrapping, and the inevitable happens…the exhaust burns through and the Lagonda becomes the latest casualty to require road-side rescue. Others needing attention today include the Spurling’s Morgan - they are spending a night out on the plain as the Morgan’s springs have snapped in half. The pair of 6.5 litre Bentley’s of Peter Livanos, who made it to the camp site but both Bentleys have water spraying out the sides of their radiators. Paul Merryweather, we gather, had a puncture on one of the Time Trials. Vintageant Category leader David Williams in the green Chevy dashed into a small blacksmith’s hut in town to repair broken rear shock absorber mountings. Others were also off to take advantage of a welder who welds without goggles. The red Jaguar Mk 2 of Richard Worts had a broken spring hanger this afternoon but this did not look too serious. David and Joanna Roberts in the ’54 Sunbeam Alpine has broken suspension.
The two girls in the Sunbeam Rapier, Pamela Reid and Nicola Wainwright, have done remarkably well so far but today got stuck in sand and also lost crucial time with a puncture. Jean Steinhauser is coming in on a tow rope having broken a front wishbone 20 kilometres from tonight’s camp. Also coming in on the end of a rope are Chris and Jan Dunkley, as the Bentley carbs continue to cause troubles on the rough fuel. John Hickman’s Alvis is in with broken springs, and is getting repairs by torchlight from Tony Fowkes.
If anyone thinks all this is hard, spare a thought for Car 8, the Spartan two seater 1916 Lancia Special – Jan Voboril from America is driving it single-handed, and always comes up smiling… his navigator, Rick Moos, also from American, walked out on him several days ago – the two just couldn’t get on. This means Jan has no choice but to drive on single-handed and cope with repairs and navigation on his own. He is out of the rally as regulations require a crew of two – but that means nothing to this driver, who reckons its Paris or Bust.
Unless he fancies turning back and going over all we have just driven, he has no other choice. Tonight is 2,200 metres, almost the same height as the top of the Stelvio, and we expect it to be the coldest night of the rally.
Tomorrow will be easier, as there is no timing and it’s a simple run – a chance to catch breath and fettle some more repairs. Two more days and we are in Russia… but will Russian tarmac be any easier?