Peking to Paris, 36-day Endurance Rally – 12 June – 17 July 2016 – Bristol 403, Car 58, Silvia – the definitive record

Vivre Le Bristol - Bas and Paul at the finish line in Place Vendome, Paris - Congratulations!

On the last day of the Peking to Paris on Sunday, 17 July 2016, Paul Hickman and Sebastian (Bas) Gross, in a Bristol 403, Silvia, travelled the final 180 kilometres of her amazing 13,695 kilometre journey from Reims in France to the finish line in Place Vendome, Paris, achieving 1st in Class and 11th Overall. They were also awarded Best Classic Team and Bas was awarded Best Mechanic – WE CONGRATULATE PAUL AND BAS ON A FANTASTIC EFFORT

The 2016, 6th edition, Peking to Paris Motor Challenge started from the Great Wall outside Beijing on Sunday, 12 June and finished 36 days later with a drive into Paris to cross the finish line in Place Vendome on Sunday, 17 July. Total distance 13,695 kilometres (8,510 miles).

A Bristol car has competed in the Race for the first time in the Race’s long history.

Racing against 114 teams from all over the world, Paul and Bas have completed the total distance of over 13,695 kilometres. On Sunday, 17 July they travelled from the city of Reims in France for the Grand Finale at the Place Vendôme in Paris.

Paul and Bas arrive at the finish line

Silvia at the Finish Line in Place Vendome, Paris
Silvia at the Finish Line in Place Vendome, Paris

The final countdown! The crews crossed the Seine on the left-bank, past the Isle de la Cite and Notre Dame before crossing the Seine again, through the Place de la Concorde and then into Place Vendome at around 1.00pm for the finish line of the ‪‎Peking to Paris‬ 2016.

Awaiting the arrival of the Paris to Peking cars in the Place Vendome, Paris
Awaiting the arrival of the Paris to Peking cars in the Place Vendome, Paris

Team Bristol is awarded Best Classic Team and Bas is awarded Best Mechanic:

See the videos filmed in Place Vendome awaiting the arrival of the Peking to Paris cars:

Silvia and the boys have now travelled through every possible climate from scorching hot deserts to ice cold winter wonderlands. Reaching France for the final leg of the journey, the boys prepare themselves to return back to the real world. Oh what a journey it has been!

Results from the final three days:

Day 33, Thurs 14 July, from San Martino di Castrozza to St Moritz – overall position #10
Day 34, Fri 15 July, from St Moritz to Lausanne – overall position #11
Day 35, Sat 16 July, from Lausanne to Reims – overall position #11

http://www2.endurorally.com/pp2016/results.php

Overall Leader board on 17 July

Final Results Classic Section

1st in Class and 11th Overall – Medal Class: Gold

CONGRATULATIONS PAUL AND BAS!

Bas and Paul with their Trophies

Bas wins Best Mechanic and Bas and Paul win the Best Team Award
Bas wins Best Mechanic and Bas and Paul win the Best Team Award
1st in Class, 11th Overall - Congratulations
1st in Class, 11th Overall – Congratulations

What an adventure! Relive the highlights of the Peking to Paris 2016, a 36-day relentless journey across 11 countries with over 100 entries in a fantastic array of vintage and classic cars.

Peking to Paris – the Highlights

David Hartley, fellow competitor from the UK, shares his adventure in Part 1 and following of 11 videos:

Peking to Paris 2016 – Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery

Post Rally – Silvia travels across the channel to the RAC Club in Pall Mall, London, to a celebratory Champagne lunch with UK Bristol Club members:

BOC members were keen to inspect the Peking to Paris Bristol
BOC members were keen to inspect the Peking to Paris Bristol

FOLLOW THE JOURNEY:

Friday, 10 June
Pre Start Beijing – Car Collection Day

Car Collection Day 10 June

It’s Friday; we know this because the mats in the elevator tell us this. In the jet lagged and excited state that most of the crews find themselves in, this certainty is comforting.

Beijing, at around 34m above sea level is hot, stifling and humid but, a spectacular electrical storm last night, along with driving rain has done something to clear the air.

Part of the reason for this fuggy atmosphere, according to our local sources, is the fact that there are now only one million bicycles here, whereas when we first visited some 20 years ago there were, apparently, more than nine million of them. Replacing them are six million cars which continually ferry the 23 million people around the ring roads, expressways and boulevards of this massive – although only the third largest – Chinese city. Beijing is big, make no mistake about that.

Today – Friday – is the much anticipated car collection day, but first the crews needed to collect their temporary Chinese driving licences which will enable them to drive their vehicles back to the hotel from the customs warehouse. Yesterday evening therefore we were comprehensively briefed by the Beijing police department during a good natured road safety session which culminated with a hundred selfies taken with some slightly bemused uniformed officers. Attendance at this briefing ensured that the necessary paperwork was processed so the licence could be issued.

Down at the warehouse, an hour away from the hotel, are Melvyn, Charlie and Jeremy from CARS, who have been here for a few days already steadily unpacking and sorting the vehicles and paperwork so that when the crews arrived they are pretty much handed the keys and allowed to start the drive back to the Shangri La Hotel.

Some of the cars were reluctant to start but with all sweeps on hand nothing was left behind and by mid afternoon it was mission accomplished and the long trek through the traffic could begin. There were some crews who were worried about overheating in the traffic and at the first service station the two big American LaFrance cars were seen to be fitting a pair of extra cooling fans as a precautionary measure.

Over the course of the afternoon, the once empty hotel car park soon filled up and all manner of tinkering, packing and fixing began. Tomorrow is scrutineering and we’ll find out if this frantic fettling has worked but tonight we enjoy a cocktail party hosted by our friends at Frederique Constant on the lawns of the Shangri La.

Saturday, 11 June
Countdown Day Beijing

Heaven on Earth

It’s Saturday. We know this because, once again the mats in the elevator tell us this. There was more rain overnight so today the morning dawned blue and clear. What a day to get things underway with paperwork and scrutineering on the agenda for everyone.

Shangri La can be translated literally to mean an earthly paradise and indeed, this eponymous and well appointed hotel has much to recommend it. The fine coffee at breakfast, the obliging staff, the well appointed rooms, the five star dining, the pool and spa complex and, the exceptional internet connectivity. It would certainly be a very nice place to arrive at and to spend a few days relaxing.

But we’re not here to relax and, outside the rotating doors it’s obvious why the majority of us can’t sit back and chill out. For this, the 6th Peking to Paris Rally, the Shangri La Hotel car park is once again where the preparation ends and the real deal begins. Here on this humble tarmac, the stark realisation of what lies ahead is brought home to the crews as they cast their eyes over the serried ranks of automotive exotica and indulge in as much packing and refining as the day will allow.

All those hours, days, weeks and months in the workshop have led to this and like all exam candidates there’s more than a sense of nagging doubt in the minds of some that maybe they could have done more. Time will tell. Eisenhower once said. “Plans are useless but planning is essential” and certainly many crews here today will have moved heaven and earth to get themselves and their vehicles to this point but however tough their journey has been so far surely it will pale into insignificance compared to what comes next. Whatever that is it might be well to remember that according a famous German cyclist, Jens Voigt, organisation is for the simple-minded, the Genius controls the chaos.

Among all of the excitement however, Mattia Nocera is feeling anxious. His Chevy took a bit of a tumble during pre-shipping testing and tells us that the Italian liveried car has subsequently developed a bit of an alignment and vibration issue with the radiator mounting. As a veteran of the 2010 Peking to Paris he knows what’s coming however and has been seen consulting with ERA sweep Simon Ayris on the best way to proceed.

On pretty much every ERA event, scrutineering is the first hurdle to overcome however and under the eagle eye of Andy Inskip and his team of sweeps, every single car is poked, prodded and checked for eligibility and safety. Thankfully, after a full day of horn blowing, brake testing and box ticking all of the cars are declared fit and are given the green light and the next stage of the pre start ritual begins.

Our Clerk of the Course, Kim Bannister gives his almost traditional briefing, whilst Rally Director Fred Gallagher delivers a short, uplifting and welcoming overview of the event. Medical matters and last minute paperwork are taken care of by the leader of the team of four doctors, Delle Grimsmo whilst Nikki Bannister and Owen Turner wax lyrical about hotels and breakdowns respectively.

There are some beautiful machines and indeed some big beasts, on display in the car park such as the trio of chain driven LaFrance cars. Ingo Strolz and Werner Gassner are back with us after their heroic 2013 effort but are joined this time by Steve and Katherine Trafton and Tim Taylor and Ike Trafton from the USA in their American LaFrance versions. This is the first time we’ve had such a three car chain gang and as usual everything from stateside is bigger than their European equivalent.

Naturally there are some smaller cars sitting alongside this lot with possibly the most diminutive being the Austin Mini of Paul and Chris Hartfield who should have been in a Packard, but that’s another story.

There’s also a very shiny 1954 Bristol 403 with a bare metal polished body and an equally shiny 1940 Chevy Coupe still sitting in its original paintwork.

Amidst all the hustle and bustle, controlled panic and anxiety, Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson, veterans, winners and all round legends of the modern day Peking to Paris however look as good as they ever did. Alongside their 1974 Leyland P76 also known as The Time Machine, an air of calm surrounds them as they take questions, lend a hand where required and offer well grounded advice.

We mustn’t forget however that while we’re still sitting in the lap of luxury, the advance car, comprising Dick Appleton and Stuart Wood has already left on its journey and is already telegraphing route information and road conditions back to Kim and Fred.

This evening we dined, once again, with our friends at Frederique Constant, but tomorrow it’s an early start so the bar is quiet(ish).

Sunday, 12 June
Day 1 – Beijing to Datong, China – 388 kms

Under Starters Orders

In the predawn half-light almost 300 bleary eyed Rally crews and organisational personnel filed into breakfast from 5.00 am onwards. They didn’t need the elevator mats today, every one of them knew that it was Sunday and that they had a date with destiny at the Great Wall of China. Our time in Beijing has been a good one but now it’s time to move on.

An old Mongolian proverb says “Do not start if afraid, once begun do not be afraid”. Another, geographically neutral proverb, meanwhile insists that a journey can start with a single step. In our case however, today’s journey started with the turn of a key and the dropping of a flag.

Such was the case at Badaling, an imposing section of the Great Wall of China, as 107 vintage and classic cars lined up beneath the stone walls and battlements waiting for Gill Cotton, the official timekeeper to start their clock running.

Impressive as the Great Wall is no one seemed to have had the time or inclination to climb the wall or visit the temples and pagodas found within the courtyard. Minute by minute the nervous crews busied themselves with checking, tightening or resetting whatever came to hand as they inched forward to begin what for most will surely be a life changing experience. Ahead of them over the next 36 days lies a total distance of 13695 kilometres (or 8510 miles if you prefer) across almost half of the world.

As well as the crowd that was the Rally, another one had gathered comprising a mixture of curious locals, family, friends and tourists. Traditional dancers, drummers, dragons and ceremonial lions laid on by the Organisers upped the tempo and gave everyone else something to think about as the clock ticked inexorably towards 8.01am.

If all had gone according to plan, the three massive LaFrance behemoths whose gigantic engines beat out their own powerful rhythm would have started within the first two minutes with only a Bentley between them but today there was a hiccup. Ingo Strolz, here once again with Werner Gassner in car no 2, who, in 2013 had arrived in Paris with bleeding hands and the soles of his shoes burned almost beyond recognition today couldn’t make his start time because of a problem with some bolts holding the fan mounting assembly. Ever resourceful, Ingo, Werner and the sweeps set to with an electric drill and some taps and dies to sort the problem out. Unfortunately it was all to no avail and this big beast had to be trucked up to Datong for further remedial work. Down but certainly not out.

Andrew Davies and Mike Thompson also had a slight problem before the start when their Chrysler boiled over but this didn’t delay these two old hands and nothing was lost save for a litre of fluid and we’re happy to report that they made it all the way today.

The honour of flagging the cars away this morning went to Sebastien Cretegny from Frederique Constant – who are the official time keeper of the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge. Once Sebastien had dropped the bright red banner that is the Chinese Flag in this ancient setting the route took the crews straight into modern day China with its high quality, wide freeways complete with rest areas, toll booths and traffic jams. The road threaded its way through the tunnels and hills past trucks and tour buses whose occupants stared open mouthed at the parade. Many of the crews were also surprised at what they saw along the road as well such as vineyards, massive tree planting projects and a thriving wind and solar power generating industry.

This fast freeway was a great way to get some miles knocked off but all good things must come to an end and soon enough we pulled off the six lane highway and took to the local roads which led us through old walled towns, a bustling market with a fantastic and authentic atmosphere where we saw Mani Dubs and Robi Huber out of their Rockne and glad handing some of the tradesmen and shoppers and posing for the inevitable selfie.

At times the going was tough, it was a hot day and the lorries laden with grain and coal which were companions along the route sometimes compromised the airflow over the engines. Cooling issues therefore were very much at the top of some peoples list of concerns and we came across Joost Van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein stopped in a roadside garage looking to raise the bonnet of their Mercedes to allow better airflow. If this doesn’t work then they’ll be cutting some holes in it. Jeff Bardens and Linda Bellinger in the Cadillac La Salle have also had some minor cooling issues with multiple fan belt failures giving them an early opportunity to get stuck in under the bonnet.

There were a couple of cultural highlights today as well as that afforded by the start at the Great Wall. The Hanging Monastery on Hengshan Mountain was the first one, a site which the Peking to Paris Rally first visited in 2007 and nothing seems to have changed. Crews brave enough to climb up the narrow and slippery wooden walkways rubbed shoulders with Shaolin Monks and Buddhist Nuns who were paying their respects in this most precarious of locations. The second was thankfully a much lower attraction; the Yungang Grotto, a series of decorated and embossed caves.

Hanging Monastery of Hengshan Mountain

From here the day was just about done and an easy run into Datong took the Rally to the night halt where the scene in the carpark was naturally a busy one and the mood in camp was undoubtedly a good one. For those lucky enough to be here, their excellent dinner tonight could easily have been washed down with some of the wine that we saw on our route such as Great Wall Chateau Sun God. A cheeky little vintage with notes of ……? Steve and Chaz Gray in the AC 16/40 Weymann might be drowning their sorrows with something a little stronger however, as sadly they have had to abandon and leave the Rally, shortly before the start they lost second gear and were forced to head back to Beijing.

Peking to Paris is indeed a special rally given its history and its geographical scope and, as in years gone by we’re all aware of Prince Borghese looking down on us, but today many of us are aware of another pioneering force suffusing the start area. The spirit of the ERA founder, Philip Young, who recreated Peking to Paris in 1997, seeing what we have seen today should have been very pleased with what he set in motion.

Tomorrow might be a little calmer but it certainly won’t be any easier.

Monday, 13 June
Day 2 – Datong to Erenhot, China – 573 kms

North by North West

After the hurly burly of Beijing and the ceremonial start at the Great Wall today’s restart was a much quieter affair. The serried ranks of cars behind the hotel, still relatively clean, sat in the grey morning light as domestic staff, cooks and security guards posed for selfies amongst them. Not since 2013 has such a collection of motoring exotica been seen in this part of town.

The start time was a little more civilised than yesterday and, thanks to exceptionally good water pressure, our early morning showers proved as invigorating and as wet as the rest of the day was going to be.

Canyons of tower blocks both new and old guided us from the hotel through the rush hour traffic. The big LaFrance cars, who were out of the gate first drawing gasps of amazement as they throbbed past the scooter riding masses as well as a couple of monks who sat incongruously in the back of an electric three wheel pickup truck. Ingo Strolz and Werner Gassner are back with the pack, hopefully with their fan issues behind them.

Thankfully the weather was much cooler than it was yesterday so engine temperatures weren’t going to be an issue today. Datong sits at some 1300 m but seemingly the payback for this was the rain which hit early and, as we alternatively romped and rolled through both urban industrial and rural pastoral landscapes it became increasingly heavy.

Today was set to be a long tour through the Chinese countryside on a variety of roads from the excellent expressways to wide fast dual carriageways and narrow country roads which eventually took us right into the heart of Inner Mongolia and the fringes of the Gobi Desert. Whatever the road though, we shared it with modern clean living electric vehicles which in turn vied for space with the ubiquitous three wheeled dirty diesel tractors and belching lorries which today seemed to be loaded mostly with bricks and timber.

By mid morning the sun was shining again and in one of the better rest areas on the route we found the 1934 Hudson Terraplane Convertible of Colin Smith and Hernan Zanghellini with Alan Page and Jack Amies in attendance. They were listening intently as something wasn’t right deep inside the engine and although the graceful old machine could limp along, it was quickly decided to have it shipped to Ulaan Baatar for the necessary remedial works. The crew looked glum but we know that it’s not dead yet and where there’s life there’s hope.

Joost van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein had something more serious than their cooling issues of yesterday to worry about as they crawled about beneath their big Mercedes trying to find the cause of a suspected leak of oil from the gearbox. Jamie Turner and Travis Cole, the ERA sweeps also lent a helping hand and, with such a crack team on the job a breather tube issue was correctly identified and resolved and Joost was quickly tearing up the road once again.

Further up this same road Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman were sat disconsolately with a wheel bearing issue. Following discussions with Owen Turner they decided to play it safe and take a truck to a workshop to effect any necessary repairs.

As the day progressed and we drove further into Inner Mongolia the clouds once again began to gather. Within a few minutes we were treated to lightning, driving rain and a howling wind. The Gobi Desert was today giving us a good impression of a rainforest – less the trees of course. By the time the famous dinosaur arch filled the windscreen just outside of Erenhot it would be fair to say that all of the crews had had a real blast literally and metaphorically but none of them expected to see this Peking to Paris landmark shrouded in mist.

Erenhot is a railway junction linking various parts of the Trans Siberian Railway, when we first visited in 2007 it was dusty, fly blown and backward. Today it isn’t. Like the rest of China it has changed, the trains still clank and hoot 24/7 but the hutongs have been cleared and a very 21st century traffic control system manages to make some sort of sense of the many more motor vehicles which are on the road.

Tuesday, 14 June
Day 3 – Erenhot to Undurshireet, Mongolia – 400 kms

The Point of No Return – Driving the Impossible in Mongolia

Borders can be tense places for the overland traveller but this one between China and Mongolia is even more so given that most of the crews have single entry visas and whatever is shipped in has to be shipped out – from the other end. This means that in an old car, when you cross this line you’re pretty much at the point of no return.

From the hotel in Erenhot it’s just a quick hop skip and a jump along yet more superbly surfaced roads to the border complex with its rainbow arch where we say goodbye to the People’s Republic of China and hello to Mongolia at the border town of Dzamin Uud, one of the driest places in Mongolia apparently despite what we saw yesterday.

As well as being our first night in Mongolia, tonight is also our first night under canvas and, Simon Ayris and Nikki Bannister have hustled ahead to set up camp for us. You can take the girl out of the girl guides but you can’t take the guide out of the girl and as in years gone by, her ‘campcraft’ has proved invaluable so the sight that greets our tired crews is a welcome one. A dining shelter, showers and latrines have all been erected and dug and there is hot coffee, tea and biscuits waiting for them as soon as they’re ready for it.

We’ve got quite a few Mongolian camping virgins in our number this year and obviously it’s the first night that they’ve been worrying about. Would they be up to the job, would their equipment perform ….. would the experience live up to what they’d been promised? As the tools were packed away and darkness fell the noises around the campsite changed from excited chatter to that of rustling fabric, a little grunting and the high pitched rip of zippers. Such were the sounds that carried us to sleep.

But what of the day itself? The border crossing went well. We said goodbye to our excellent Chinese agents and hello to Nomads Tours, old hands at this Peking to Paris sort of thing. Much of the paperwork for immigration had been sorted out for us already so after a quick queue and a cursory inspection we drove through the gates into the wind and dust of Mongolia and it was good to be back. Just like its bigger neighbour however Mongolia is modernising at quite a pace and the first 200 km of the day was driven on superb blacktop along which were similar tree planting schemes that we’d seen in China. Desertification is a big issue here and it’s good to see the issue being addressed.

Along this road though we came across a couple of minor situations. Andrew and Anne Boland were removing the number plate which partially obscured their radiator. The Model A was getting a bit hot under the collar and this quick fix it was hoped would sort this out. Another Model A was also getting some treatment for heat exhaustion from its driver, Steve Lambert. He was rewiring the electric fan to be on all of the time rather than rely on a what he suspected was a faulty thermostat.

When the Tarmac ended and gravel began so did the fun and games with two fabulous tests held in quick succession over the last 150 km of the day. Gerry Crown was, as usual omping along and fairly flew past Mike Butler and Georgie Machell in the Leyland ‘Time Machine’. The verdict on these two sections was ‘F@$*&! brilliant’ from Richard Allen. Everyone seemed to give their best shot with Jo Robillard actually bending two rims and shifting his Chevy’s back axle whilst trying. David Gainer and Peter St George meanwhile sheared the six bolts holding their rear wheel on which meant the Datsun was limping for the rest of the day. Alan and Yves Faymonville were found looking underneath their Mercedes for what they thought was a broken exhaust mounting and Scott Tucker and Dave Stuart needed to check the radiator mountings in the Ford Coupe.

The mood in camp? A mixture of ecstasy and amazement. Sure there were repairs to be done and tents to be put up, but with great food, good company and the promise of more of the same tomorrow spirits were high. Richard Nicholl is celebrating a birthday today so we wish him many happy returns.

Missing the camping experience we hear there are four cars going directly to Ulaan Baatar for repairs. With various overheating problems it makes sense for the two mighty American LaFrance cars of team Trafton along with the Hudson Terraplane of Colin Smith and Hernan Zanghellini, and the Ford Model A of Andrew and Ann Boland to get ahead for an extra day of problem solving … There is still a very long way to go.

An early start tomorrow, but with the promise of a five star hotel at the end of it I don’t think there’ll be too much complaint.

Wednesday, 15 June
Day 4 – Undurshireet to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia – 360 kms

The Big Picture

Further to our reporting of the Mongolian virgin situation last night, I’m happy to report today that in pretty much every case the consummation was a happy one.

Indeed our very own Melvyn Palmer and Dan Harrison who were seen last night looking with some trepidation at their pop up tents and lilo mattresses rose this morning with grins as wide as the steppes as they made their way manfully to the breakfast tent. So impressed were they with the quality of their seemingly flimsy erections that they’re keen to use them again for the rest of the week, if indeed they can get them back in the bag.

What of the rest of today then? The first full one in Mongolia and with a campsite departure thrown in for good measure. The Nomads breakfast was every bit as good as the evening meal had been with fresh brewed coffee, pancakes and fruit on offer. A truly international buffet and as the sun rose and the sky lightened many crews simply stood, breakfast in hand and looked at the beauty of where they were.

A fine landscape, according to Paul Scott Mower is like a piece of music and it must be taken at the right tempo. So it was as we stormed the steppes of Central Asia. The world, seen through the lens of the windscreen of a vintage car is a feature film in its own right and today we are lucky enough to find ourselves cast as extras on the call sheet. For Paul and Julie Brace and Jim Allen, all three veteran P2P film makers, Mongolia is their very own studio with a lighting and backdrops department second to none.

As well as the journey itself there was naturally some competition today with three Tests coming in quick succession along our north westerly trajectory. Grassland, soft sand and hard rocky trails gave the drivers something to enjoy and the navigators something to think about. Choosing the best track whilst skipping from waypoint to waypoint is an art in itself. The tracks might all lead to the same place but some are smoother and therefore faster than others. Luck, instinct and dead reckoning all come into play on this sort of terrain if you want to make good progress. Recent heavy rain which had turned the desert green also gave us a few muddy sections which proved to be great fun.

After the first test, Mattia Nocera found that he had lost a headlight from the front of his Chevy and went on to prove just what a force a roll of gaffer tape can be. It’s got a dark side and a light side and it holds the universe together. Claus Coester and Tjorven Schroeder though would need something much stronger than tape to repair the track rod in their Bentley Sport Special. By the end of the third test there was even more drama to be seen, this is tough terrain and demands respect. Any weakness will be exposed.

Joost van Cauwenberge limped into the control with unspecified engine management issues. This problem has plagued him for two days now and tomorrow, the big Mercedes is due to get a good going over.

Gerry Crown found he had no oil pressure in his Leyland at the beginning of the third test so he and Matt Bryson lost a load of time here while they tried to figure out what was going on.

Dom Bernaz, back in a Volvo to try his luck again after his 2013 departure suffered a broken suspension arm and was spotted waiting for a truck to take him straight to Ulaan Baatar.

Jo and Heather Worth might need to spend a few hours with a bottle of T-Cut tomorrow. Their Volvo Amazon certainly needs a few scratches polishing out.

Francesco and Alessandro Guasti’s Alfa Romeo simply needed a push start and a tow to get going again after flying into the final control whereas Isobel and Nicola Matthew crept in, arriving from the bush some way off the main track.

Paul and Christine Hartfield finished all of the sections without incident. Things were looking promising for them and their plucky little Mini until their rear suspension collapsed. Small wheels and big holes sometimes don’t mix but this is the first Mini we’ve seen on Peking to Paris and we’re all looking forward to seeing it arrive in Place Vendome.

We had our first Borghese moment today whilst following a line of telegraph poles in the latter part of the morning but once the tests were finished it was fast tarmac all of the way into Ulaan Baatar, our destination for the day and the onetime hometown of Chinggis Khan. It’s a thoroughly modern place now, glass, steel and shopping malls. What would Borghese have made of this?

Tomorrow we have a rest day. A chance to take stock and do some cashmere shopping and take a look at what’s coming in the next chapter of the Route Book.

Thursday, 16 June
Day 5 – Rest Day in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

Life as they say writes the best stories. We’ve got the easy job in re-telling them, and on this the first rest day, there is plenty to talk about.

After four days on the road this is a good time to take stock. For most of the crews today has been all about the repairs which need to be undertaken before they set course for the far reaches of Mongolia where things will be, if anything, even tougher than they’ve been so far.

Our workshop of choice in Ulaan Baatar is once again the Mercedes service centre. Their excellent facility is given over to the Rally for the morning and many eager and capable hands from among the staff pair up with the drivers themselves to fix whatever needs to be fixed and to straighten whatever needs to be straightened.

The Hudson Terraplane has been in residence here for a few days now and the engine is out and partially stripped in preparation for the necessary new bearings to be fabricated and refitted. The crew are hopeful that this will be done today and so are we. Mick de Haas and Anthony Verloop disappeared from our radar yesterday but this morning they emerged down at this same Mercedes garage looking for a new sump. Everyone is hopeful that it’ll be done on time and that they’ll make the restart tomorrow. Joost van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein are also here, looking to get to the bottom of their lack of power issue and have all manner of diagnostic equipment plugged into their car but sadly it’s all to no avail. Joost is glum, he had come here to win and now is reduced to limping along. A veteran of ten Paris Dakar and one London – Cape Town this is not the sort of situation he expected to find himself in although he does admit that the car was’t quite 100% when it was shipped. Their big Mercedes barks somewhat but the bite doesn’t quite match.

Paul Smith and Martin Kass hit a bump yesterday and sustained minor damage but by a million to one stroke of luck found a steering rod for their Mercedes 280E in a wrecked car of the exact same model and type by the side of the road. This incredible story has a further twist in that when they get home they’re due to have lunch with the Grandson of Prince Borghese. Peter Weigelt and Beat Hirs are lucky, they’re only looking to straighten out their underbody protection, the Ford Mustang is a low car anyway so this big skid plate is vital if they want to get to Paris. Other than this they’re going well and enjoying themselves immensely. Jo Robillard bent two wheels on the first day in Mongolia and today is having the back axle of his Chevy moved back into place. This was the collateral damage from the very same incident as described but he’s having so much fun he’s not too concerned about it. In more Chevy news, we find that Clint Smith and Trevor Finn have broken an axle but today they’re fitting one that they borrowed from Mike Butler and Georgie Machell.

Claus Coester and Tjorven Schroeder are having the track rod that was broken yesterday welded and refitted, they had quite a trip on the back of the recovery truck and are determined to get their Bentley back into the game as soon as possible. William Medcalf isn’t even on the Rally but as a de facto Vintage Bentley main dealer we found him – yet again – flat out under an appreciative Helmut Rothenberger’s SuperSports “Whenever we get the phone call then we come” William says as he and his colleague Dominic set about the vital spanner checks on the four cars from his stable along with their capable drivers, Marco Rollinger, Bill Cleyndert and Keith Ashworth none of whom are strangers to this long distance rallying game.

Outside of the Mercedes garage in the slightly less glamorous hotel carpark there’s just as much activity but a lot more debris strewn over the concrete. If we were to be unkind we could liken this place to something akin to a yard sale with wheels, tyres, tents and tools stacked up against almost every vehicle. The UB commuters who stop for a quick look on their walk to work leave the scene baffled.

Matt Bryson is as usual in the thick of things and is multi tasking, he’s trying to sort out the oil pressure issues with his Leyland while lending a hand to anybody else who needs it. Yesterday wasn’t a good day for him and Gerry Crown though, with the oil pressure issue and a puncture to contend with in quick succession; but despite this they’re looking cheerful enough this morning. Bjorn Schage and Trond Brathen have been shopping for extra / better suspension to fit to their Morgan plus 4. The auto market that they found left them astonished and now they feel that they’ve got enough springs on board to cope with anything that’s thrown at them over the next few days.

Some cars won’t be rolling out tomorrow though as they’ve sadly had to abandon the Rally. The American LaFrance cars from the USA, Team Trafton, have gone leaving only Strolz and Gassner flying the flag for this illustrious marque. Andrew and Anne Boland will also be leaving us as well, their Model A has cracked cylinder block and there’s no way that they can get a new engine in on time. Hopefully they’ll rejoin in Novosibirsk in either a hire car or a newly refurbished Model A. Meanwhile they’re planning a trip along the Trans Siberian Railway.

For our heroic sweep crews, today is wrongly named for they only get half a day’s rest, they’re officially on duty until 1.00pm but we’ve never yet seen them adhere to this and seemingly the bigger the job, the happier they are.

This is a good time to look at the leaderboard which shows Bruce and Harry Washington leading the Vintageants class in their Chrysler 75 Roadster sitting at the top of the tree. Bruce is now on his third Peking to Paris though so he knows not to get too comfortable here as anything can happen. Jim and Tanya Clarke in the Ford Coupe “Wee Huff” are competing here for the first time and we’re pleased to see them doing so well so early on. Mike Thompson and Andrew Davies are third in another Chrysler 75 Roadster, they’re yet more old Peking to Paris hands with millions of rallying miles between them.

In the Classics division we see that Giorgio Schon and Pierre Tonetti have blasted their Alfa Romeo Giulia Super into an early lead. Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy’s Datsun 240Z is second while Peter Lovett and Tim Smith’s Porsche 911 is third.

When the Peking to Paris rolled through Ulaan Baatar in 2007 the city was something of a backwater. A busy, bustling backwater sort of place with an end if the world feeling that could only come from somewhere so close to middle earth. Today it’s totally different and boasts wide roads, designer boutiques, high rise buildings and a cycle lane! It’s certainly a magical place for a rest day and most of the crews reported that, car problems excepted, they’d had a very good day. We rounded off today by attending a lovely cocktail party and dance evening in aid off the Lotus Children’s Centre, the Charity which this edition of the Peking to Paris Rally is supporting.

Tomorrow we restart from the historic square under the watchful eye of Genghis Khan and doubtless within a few miles this five star luxury we’re currently sitting in will seem to have been only a dream.

Friday, 17 June
Day 6 – Ulaan Baatar to Bulgan, Mongolia – 343 kms

Farewell Ulaan Baatar

There were some tired looking faces at the breakfast buffet this morning. The Ulaan Baatar rest day had obviously been a good one, too good for some who looked as though they’d taken full advantage of the many bars and restaurants available in this cosmopolitan city. Still, an omelette, a coffee and a pastry can fix almost anything and soon the cars were being packed, route books checked and GPS units programmed.

For the ceremonial restart, we assembled in the city square in front of the Parliament building. This is the fourth time the Peking to Paris Rally has visited Ulaan Baatar and once again the cars were assembled beneath the imposing statue of Genghis Khan.

Juxtaposed against the steel and glass buildings that are now taking over the city centre this morning seemed to symbolise the coming together of the old and the new. Bloomberg TV, local newspaper journalists and photographers, radio reporters mixed with the crowds and the crews asking about the cars, the motivation for doing the Rally and what they thought of Mongolia.

A forest of selfie sticks and camera phones sometimes made it difficult to see the cars such was the throng gathered to see this triennial carnival. The UB Police band struck up a rousing tune whilst a traditional Mongolian nine piece string ensemble provided a perfect counterpoint. Fred Gallagher and the deputy mayor of Ulaan Baatar made short speeches and then the clock was restarted and it was straight back into the fray – or the traffic of downtown UB.

The driving day was definitely a tale of two halves, the first part comprised immaculate tarmac making for easy and fast progress through perfectly stunning scenery. The second part was totally different in all respects save for the stunning scenery.

Two long and loping tests provided the sporting challenge for the day, but this paled into insignificance against what the terrain demanded of the drivers. Sand, rocky tracks, dry river beds, off camber turns and soft peaty grassland meant that there was plenty for the crews to do but at times the day was nothing short of a sensory overload. The scent of wild herbs filled our nostrils, the song of skylarks filled our ears while the landscape filled our eyes.

Herds of horses, domesticated cattle and sheep grazed contentedly for mile after mile with their mounted escorts keeping them safe as we passed. This has been a wet year for Mongolia so the grassland is lush and the farmers are making the most of it.

Once this most perfect day had finished we pulled into the well-appointed campsite just outside Bulgan. Nomads Tours once again provided fresh coffee, a three course meal and washing facilities in the most unlikely of settings and around the dinner tables crews swapped their stories from the day.

There were some problems along the road however, Mani Dubs and Robi Huber snapped an axle and lost a wheel this morning while Justin and Kristian Fleming will need to straighten the front end of their Ford Capri before tomorrow’s restart.

Tom van den Berg and Femke Schepers broke their steering but managed to get it fixed with some local assistance. Matt Bryson and Gerry Crown are also here with us tonight. After many long workshop hours in Ulaan Baatar their mystery oil pressure loss was traced to a faulty $5 PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) valve. Now that it’s fixed they are looking to climb up through the results to a more ‘fitting’ position.

Mongolia is certainly hard on cars and hard on bodies but everyone is still smiling and keen to press on and there are no complaints at what has been dished up so far.

09-Bulgan

_DSC9376 (1)

Saturday, 18 June
Day 7 – Bulgan to Murun, Mongolia – 350 kms

When it Rains in Mongolia

Rallying in Mongolia is hard on bodies and hard on machinery, and even with the creature comforts afforded to us by the excellent Nomads team of cooks and bottle washers, the daily diet of dust and dirt is beginning to take its toll on some of the crews and their cars …. and we’re not even half way through this vast country.

Today we were a little lucky though. Freshly laid tarmac for the first 300km meant an easy drive and gave some respite for the Rally. I say some, because the final 70km from Murun to the campsite was not on this magic carpet of blacktop and included one incredible test with a brutal hill climb at the end and some very dramatic scenery.

In broad terms, today’s route took us along the Selenge River to the town of Murun past miles of cultivated fields and yet more livestock grazing contentedly around hundreds of well kept yurt / ger camps. When the sun shines, this part of the world is truly beautiful but today we felt that there was a change in the weather in the offing.

The clouds were sitting heavy and low, the mercury was falling and the wind was getting up. A storm was definitely brewing and by the afternoon’s end the waterproofs were on and the windscreen wipers were doing double duty. Gerry Crown, now taking part in his fifth Peking to Paris couldn’t remember a day with rain in Mongolia in all of the four times the Rally has visited.

From Murun the route turned off the sealed road and onto gravel. We drove over a wide sandy basin and climbed up to a narrow and rocky ridge where the test start was situated. For around 15km there was nothing to trouble most of the crews, navigation was straightforward, the tracks were wide and level and the surface was good. What could go wrong?

The answer stood at the very end of this section, a veritable wall of loose shale and sand with a track carved right through it. There was an alternative of course, a longer looping route which some took by choice, and some took by necessity having been beaten back from their original course by the sheer force of gravity. For those watching this was great sport, engines were gunned, wheels were spun and clutches were tortured as the cars clawed and crawled to the top. Some made it look easy and some didn’t.

David and Jo Roberts tried twice to surmount the slippery slope but were beaten into retreat whereby Jo was ordered out of the car and was seen to be sprinting up the hill as David manfully pointed the Sunbeam up the hill behind her. By the time they pulled into the time control they were almost neck and neck but we think that Jo won by a short head. Jeff Barden and Linda Bellinger almost made it to the top, but slid off the track and got one of their wheels stuck in a rut. Their big La Salle had to be hauled free by a 4×4 and arrived at the summit on the end of a rope.

The fast tarmac and short gravel section meant that most crews were in camp early, just as the rain began to fall more heavily but this early finish allowed plenty of daylight to set about the job of making any running repairs. Those lucky enough not to need any spanner time were treated to an Andy Actman singalong session before dinner.

The camp itself is set in a stunning location right on the banks of a river which is doubtless filled with Mongolian Taimen – a large trout – one of the worlds most prized gamefish.

For those who’d forgotten their fishing tackle, the hot showers were very much in demand hot water was fed from this self same river through a pipes to a holding pool and then on to a wood fired boiler. More than a hundred grubby crew members set to sluicing down and sprucing up for the nights social scene.

Outside of the bar area though the sweep crews laboured long into yet another night along with Claus Coester and Tjorven Schroeder who found that the shock absorber mounts on their Bentley were now too low and have damaged the brake lines and some welding was required this evening to put things right. Sia and Eric’s Rolls Royce suffered a fuel line problem right at the bottom of the last climb which was sorted out at the roadside by the sweep crews.

We learned today that Joost van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein are heading directly to Novosibirsk to see if they can repair their Mercedes so that they can make an attempt at winning the Peking to Paris European Cup. Competition for this trophy though will likely be fierce as Gerry Crown will no doubt have similar ambitions.

This evening we’re without rally director Fred Gallagher and Simon Ayris who have gone ahead to assess the course for tomorrow. This has been a wet month up here on the Mongolian plateau and the 48 hour car has reported lots of water damage to the intended route which looks like it’ll be a muddy one.

Mongolia

Sunday, 19 June
Day 8 – Murun to Uliastai, Mongolia – 390 kms

Confucius He Say

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop, so goes the Confucian proverb. Mongolia is beautiful that much is clear, but she is a cruel mistress and we can see that that she has many suitors. Those who fall for her charms and accept her embrace however can be sure of one thing, a wild ride.

So it was today, epic, wild and untamed. We crossed mountains, rode plateaux, forded streams, stormed gravel highways and zigzagged up and down dusty hairpins. Not one inch of tarmac was seen beneath the wheels of the Rally today and all concerned felt better for it by the time the sun had set.

With a day such as his there was always going to be lots of drama and it certainly didn’t disappoint but the many minor incidents such as punctures, timing issues and suspension problems were overshadowed by the engine fire that Sia and Eric suffered which has put them out of the Rally. Both are safe but they and the car are on a flatbed rolling back down to Ulaan Baatar. They are popular competitors and their stately Rolls Royce cut a fine sight. It was beautifully prepared – and also well driven – but despite the words of his old English teacher that luck is when opportunity and preparation meet, Sia’s luck unfortunately ran out today. We hope to see them back with us soon.

Ground clearance was crucial for most of the 390km of the day and as Mary Poppins would no doubt have said had she been with us, Super Chevys are fantastic when tracks are atrocious. These cars sit high and mighty and don’t seem to be troubled by anything beneath them. Having said this however we have to salute the likes of Peter Weigelt and Beat Hirs who have ‘only 10cm’ below their throaty Mustang.

Mike Butler and Georgie Machell needed help this morning with a suspected fuel leak, their Chevy has two tanks which hold 150L of fuel in total so, with such a load of petrol on board Georgie was placed on standby fire extinguisher duty as husband Mike and Sweeps, Jamie Turner and Travis Cole got to grips with the situation. Giorgio Schon and Pierre Tonetti our Classic category leaders in their Alfa Romeo Giulia Super also had to stop and seek the attention of the sweeps this afternoon as an eagle sat on a fence post and looked on.

The run in to the evenings campsite was as tough as anything that the rest of the day had thrown at us with one final curve ball. A small area of thawed permafrost which sat between two perfectly good tracks. Antonio Viana and Joao Baptista tried to cross from one side to the other with predictable results. Their 1939 Plymouth Coupe sank deep into the gloop.

An ERA Hilux was quickly on scene to pull them out but one wasn’t enough such was the density of the mud and the weight of the car. Another one arrived and a hitch was attached, the Plymouth popped out like a cork and Hilux number one drove on satisfied with its handiwork. Hilux number two however had started to sink and despite frantic efforts by the crew was soon stuck fast. A third Hilux managed to pull number two free shortly before succumbing itself to the mire. Three hours, ten Mongolians, four telegraph poles and a thousand curses later though the situation was resolved.

The towing day wasn’t finished yet though. As the convoy of muddy Hilux trucks drove into camp they found Ingo Strotz and Werner Gassner who had slipped a wheel of their LaFrance (The Beast) into a deep gully. Ropes and shackles were attached and all ended well.

It’s cold in this most remote camp sat at 2,200m, but most of the Rally basked contentedly in the warm glow of a job well done over yet another superb evening meal.

Monday, 20 June
Day 9 – Uliastai to Chjargas Lake, Mongolia – 350 kms

Under a Deep Blue Sky

Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. Gustave Flaubert. In a country the size of Mongolia, the 19th largest in the world, this sentiment hits the nail the head and what we saw today made us realise that this country is one full paradox and contrast.

Mongolia, a cruel mistress as observed yesterday, is also a two faced one, and like Janus himself we saw both sides today. A complete contrast in terms of weather, landscape and road surface.

There were three tests as well as the unique geography of the area for the crews to contend with and, it’s difficult to say which they found the most challenging, keeping ahead of the clock or keeping the car on the road.

The day started cold at 2,200 m with horizontal rain slashing down from the mountains surrounding the lake which bordered our campsite. Packing away wet tents and starting old cars isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time so the breakfast queue was longer than usual as crews tried to put off the inevitable.

Once on the road, water damaged tracks led us along a valley punctuated by muddy pools and clear streams through which we splashed and slithered. Jeff Bardens and Linda Bellinger came to grief early on one of these narrow tracks as their Cadillac Lasalle slipped into a ditch and sat see sawing on the differential. A rescue party was formed comprising, amongst others, Matt and John Peckham and Antonio Viana and Joao Baptista. They jacked the car up into a position suitable for towing and pulled the big cruiser back on track. Sadly, much further into the day, some 42 km out of the campsite however Jeff and Linda broke a front axle which will need much more attention.

We were losing height throughout the day and the ground beneath our wheels changed gradually from the wet boggy type to the dry sandy variety which began to catch some competitors unaware causing them to skitter and skate through the corners which they would have carved precisely only a few kilometres further back.

The rivers were wider, the bridges better and there was the odd town here and there for us to enjoy along the way. More importantly the weather was improving and from mid-morning onwards the sun beat down from a deep blue sky showing the dramatic landscapes at their very best.

Clint Smith and Trevor Finn weren’t having as much fun as some though and we found them beside the road battling to repair a broken radiator with the front of their Chevy propped up in the sand beside them. They’re keen and resourceful but even they reckoned they might need some help from the sweep mechanics.

They weren’t the only ones to have suffered along the way. The rough and rocky roads were taking their toll as much as the errors in navigation and driving. Steve and Ruth Lambert had to stop twice, once with a fuel system problem and the second time with a leaf spring shackle bolt that failed.

Andrew Laing lost a pair of reading glasses in the dust somewhere around the end of test two, whereas Jo and Heather Worth lost themselves somewhere in the middle of test three. A wrong slot resulted in the Amazon ending up in splendid isolation atop a grassy sand dune some 2 km off rally route. An ERA team Hilux soon pulled the battered Swedish Saloon back onto the straight and narrow.

Talking of towing, Ferdinand Porsche reputedly said that since he couldn’t find the sportscar of his dreams he built himself one. Today we saw that it was a good idea of his to include a towing eye. The two 356’s of Tony Connor and Jill Kirkpatrick and Charbel Habib and Walid Samaha needed pulling out of a fair few sandy sections while the 911 of Peter Lovett and Tim Smith was towed into camp with damaged rear suspension after limping through the third test. They’re strong cars though with good crews and tonight some midnight oil is being burned to get them all sorted for tomorrow.

Giorgio Schon and Pierre Tonetti, our sometime Classics category leaders were once again forced to wait for mechanical assistance as their bright red Alfa Romeo Giulia Super stopped dead in the middle of test three. They’ve been charging hard but perhaps the car is paying for it now.

Despite all of these problems most of the Rally is doing very well thank you. Dom Bernaz and Jean Yves di Martino for example are ticking along nicely though in their Volvo PV544. This is the second bite of the cherry for Dom who in 2013 had to leave us a little early – in Mongolia – thanks to a number of mechanical problems with his Rolls Royce.

The last few kilometres of the day were a blessing – and a relief – and like everything else we’ve seen since waking up, a complete contrast to the beginning of the day. Billiard board smooth tarmac wafted the tired and broken crews into tonight’s camp, on the banks of Lake Chjargas which sits at 1,041m.

Tuesday, 21 June
Day 10 – Chjargas Lake to Olgiy – 350 kms

Despite being in the high desert the Rally today had a distinctly aquatic feel to it and from the route book we could see that from leaving Chjargas Lake we would turn to Khar Lake and then drive onto Achit Lake and negotiate a deep and fast flowing river crossing on the way.

The early birds among our number awoke to the incongruous sound of seagulls, as a pair wheeled and turned over the campsite and the shores of the lake beside which we were situated. This place is many thousands of miles from the sea so we could only presume that they were rally seagulls and somewhere along the way they’d taken a wrong turning. Luckily the route book we’ve all been working from has so far proved to be super accurate with even some bumps and potholes getting their very own waypoint.

One of the hundreds of eagles which have watched our progress through Mongolia also kept an eye on this pair of interlopers from a more lofty position.

From the campsite we had an easy start which was most welcome given what we’d come through yesterday and the fact that some of the crews and the sweeps had been up until 3.30am. Peter Lovett and Tim Smith could be counted in this number and have managed to get their Porsche back into a fit state to take the start once again. A mention must be made of Dana Hradecka for her work in keeping these same sweeps warm and well fed while they work.

Once breakfast was out of the way 70 km of tarmac led us to the first test which was something of a Borghese Special. A 30-km slalom through the telegraph poles and across the most brutal and raw Mongolian dirt imaginable. If anyone was still asleep after the soft start then this would surely have shaken them back to consciousness. Looking ahead was vital and navigator Rene Kuhni from the 1941 – Buick Super 8 was seen sitting high in his seat calling the bumps out to Jan Vyskocil the driver. Every second counts in this, one of the longest rallies on the calendar.

Mick de Haas and Anthony Verloop stopped midway through the second test. We assumed that they’d taken time to look at the view, which was indeed spectacular when in fact an ‘annoying rattle’ needed some attention. Five minutes with the spanners however got them on their way again.

The route today took us through many villages and towns and at every checkpoint eager crowds gathered to look at the cars, smile and wave at the crews and pose for pictures. Mongolia always has been a favourite stomping ground of the ERA and the warmth off the people is palpable. Rest assured we’ll be back.

Small groups of crews have been gathering together at around midday for the past week to enjoy the packed lunches supplied by the organisers and today they tucked into chicken sandwiches, fresh fruit and a Snickers bar – today’s little piece of western decadence. Around them the columns of water which hung like stalactites above the mountains combined with shafts of bright sunlight to give the impression of a huge celestial barcode. Despite this constant threat of rain, the dust trails kicked up by the cars marked the route as accurately as any GPS could.

Veils of clouds swirled menacingly around us for most of he day but thankfully we managed to stay dry until that is we encountered the water crossing which was the curve ball thrown into the desert mix. A full complement of ERA Hilux trucks was stationed by the waters edge to tow the cars through such was the depth and force of the stream.

Barry and Marti Shelton thought that they could drive it themselves without any help but unfortunately their Ford Super Deluxe stalled and had to be towed anyway. Similarly Ludovic Bois gave it his all but came to a wet end before being dragged across to safety and dry land. The Mongolians who’d gathered to watch were much impressed.

Nick and Jessica Sleep unfortunately blew a head gasket in their Mercedes once the hard part was over and now they’re en route to Novosibirsk on the back of a truck. A sad interlude for this popular and capable father and daughter crew.

Two of our hard working sweeps, Jamie Turner and Travis Cole, took advantage of the river crossing to have a quick body wash. In common with the rest of the sweep crews they’ve been burning the candle at both ends for a few days now and a bracing dip was just what they needed to freshen up and wake up before they got in to camp and started on the night shift.

The run into the camp was a spectacular one along a section of the Khovd River which flows thorough a precipitous canyon in places before spilling out onto narrow strips of pasture. As it’s been a wet year the flow of water through the river was quite exceptional.

The Border camp is a special place in the annals of Peking to Paris, it sits high and cold with a righteous sense of achievement and excitement hanging in the air. Talk around the dinner tables is about what has been and what might have been. Mike Thompson, currently lying second to Bruce Washington in the Vintageant category was reflecting on his time in Mongolia so far over dinner this evening. Both he and Bruce are in Chryslers but he’s just a bit down on horsepower and he did have to stop and fix a puncture mid test on day 7. There’s a long way to go he says but he knows that Bruce is hungry for a win.

Unfortunately we also hear that Heather Worth has torn an Achilles tendon and will be flown out of camp tomorrow for medical treatment. Jo is going to continue – naturally – but with a Russian navigator who joined us at the camp tonight.

As usual, the night at this camp is a chaotic one down in the carpark, the cars which are on trailers gather in a forlorn group so that they can taken up to the frontier in a convoy along with their crews ready for the handover to our Russian agents. Those cars which need repair are worked on frantically by crews desperate to keep up and maintain their hard won positions. David and Jo Roberts for example have cracked their sump today and is now being welded back together so they can run to the border and beyond under their own power. Our one time Classic category leaders, Giorgio Schon and Pierre Tonetti, will be one of the crews on a truck tomorrow along with their Alfa Romeo Giulia Super. They’ll be joined by others such as Daniel Schoch’s Bentley and Francesco and Alessandro Guasti’s Alfa.

There are broken cars and some broken bodies with us tonight but there’s not one broken spirit.

Tomorrow we hit the border early where we are told, special arrangements have been made for us to ensure our speedy passage as we enter the beautiful Altai region of Russia.

Wednesday, 22 June
Day 11 – Olgiy to Altai Republic – 180 kms

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet”: William Blake. The Altai mountains might not be the highest in the world, but on a day like today, when you already feel like you’re on top of the world, they might as well be.

When we woke up this morning to a freezing, clear and silent dawn the magnitude of our surroundings and what we’d done in the past eight days began to hit home. Mongolia has been unforgettable but today we have to leave and, to paraphrase Paul Carter from the 2007 Peking to Paris, this morning a whole load of tired old men (sorry ladies) in tired old cars turned up at a border in the middle of nowhere to launch themselves on the second part of The Greatest Driving Adventure.

This was our second border crossing of the trip and thanks to the diligent work of the Rally Office team as well as our excellent Kyrgyz Concept fixers we passed through without any major incident.

Much of the inevitable and tedious paperwork had already been filled in for us so that when the border guards approached, the crews simply had to “point to the numbers on their doors, show them the letter and tell them that they were on a rally”. Unfortunately the numbers, the letter and the word Rally didn’t translate into modern Russian parlance and there was still a fair bit of a wait as our details were punched into the computers.

The team spirit at the border though was exceptional with Max and Julie Stephenson, Jo Worth and Guido Balocco insisting on staying behind to help pull the broken cars through the frontier with their own vehicles as a backup to those offered by the ERA fleet.

Once through the border checkpoints, the magnificent countryside of the Russian Federation opened up before us and we were met at the gates by the enthusiastic motor club members who had worked so well with us back in 2013. Flat bed trailers and the promise of workshop facilities were just what the crews wanted to see and hear after what they’d been through in the crucible that was Mongolia.

Our campsite tonight is just outside of the town of Kosh Agach and thanks to out hosts we were treated to ethnic Kazhak dancing, singing and hospitality while some of the crews worked on their cars with the help of Sergei and his team.

Tomorrow the Rally begins again in earnest and Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy, our Classic Category leaders have to set about defending their lead over the hard charging Rob Garnsworthy and John Teasdale. Meanwhile in the older Vintageant Category Bruce and Harry Washington still, have Mike Thompson and Andrew Davies snapping at their heels so they will need to watch their rear view mirrors for a few weeks more.

Thursday, 23 June
Day 12 – Altai Republic to Aya – 550 kms

From Russia With Love

Our last day in the high mountains and a steel grey dawn with a chill in the air was what we woke up to. To add insult the organisers had declared an early start as well. There were many kilometres to do before we reached “civilisation” again in the Spa town of Aya. The Gobi, Mongolia and the Altai had been fantastic but now it was definitely time for some creature comforts.

There was one test today and it came hard on the heels of our departure from the campsite and as such was a good way to concentrate the mind before the helter skelter downhill through the alpine meadows, rocky gorges and riverside corniches of the Altai region.

Russia is a vast country and today we slowly began to chip away at it taking time to stop at a traditional cafe which was a favourite of the late Philip Young’s where Super Sweep Jamie Turner presented the sticker to the owner, from this edition of the Rally to add to the collection on the side of her well stocked drinks fridge. Paul and Julie Brace and Jim Allen then downed a choc’ ice in his memory.

Jim Valentine and Jonathan Lodge, on their first Peking to Paris have been enjoying the Rally immensely so far despite some issues with their front suspension. Their big blue AMC 5.6 litre AMX usually turns heads wherever it goes and today a herd of cows was treated to the sight of a jet of flame shooting from each exhaust and the accompanying gunshot like sound. Rest assured those cows also turned their heads.

We followed the main road for the early part of today – it’s the only one – to the first passage control in a cafe in Onguday whereafter there was a choice to be made. Rally route turned left towards a much more minor road, the one less travelled in fact, which combined gravel and mud – it rained for most of the day – and led to a summit set in pine trees at 1447 m above an expansive and open grassy range. The alternative, offered to those cars which were limping, continued on the main highway; we’re happy to report that only seven took the softer option.

Along this Rally route proper there were a series of time controls which kept the crews rolling along a decent lick. Any issues with the car or with the navigation would have serious consequences for the clock further down the road.

Unfortunately it was raining and a little cool but once again and we saw the crews in the open cars doing what they do best, battling on bravely. Remon and Emma Vos along with Helmut Rothenberger and Michael Schmidt were seen hunkered well down while Chris and Joe Dillier had put up their hood to better beat the elements.

These conditions didn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm though and later on Remon was seen once again to be getting a bit tail happy through some of the corners and was obviously having a lot of fun in the old Lambda which unfortunately has also seen a lot of action from the sweeps in the evenings.

In another open car, Willie van Loon is having a much better Peking to Paris than he had last time and, sitting in his Bentley Derby alongside Koen Van Den Broeck it was clear that they were both enjoying the whole cold wet wilderness thing, for two Belgians though, cold and wet are a fact of life.

Matt Bryson and Gerry Crown aren’t in an open car but they were suffering as well, in a fashion, they ran out of screen wash and were spotted filling water bottles from a stream such was the amount of liquid mud that was being thrown up as they charged up the field. This wet weather mocked the forest fire warning signs that we passed throughout the afternoon.

Siberia has a fearsome reputation but like it’s near neighbour Mongolia it’s also very beautiful and we passed through countless villages full of wooden cottages, neatly tended allotments with cattle and pigs grazing freely along the roadside. Time certainly seemed to have stood still for some of these people but not for the crews and, as they approached one time control they found John Spiller and Rikki Profitt tucking into some smoked cheese which a local farmer had kindly brought for them.

At another time control, Gary Pickard and Bob Harrod were delighted that the cafe owner called the local English teacher to come and translate for them so that they could order lunch. Both perfect examples of the adage that a journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.

Russian rally fans are more used to this weather than us had come out in force as well in this sparsely populated area and many were parked up by the side of the road in all manner of vehicles from old Ladas and Moskvitchs to tractors and those ubiquitous 4×4 minibuses.

For all its modernity and complexity it’s good to see that there’s an old Russia still there waiting to be discovered and for most of the afternoon we drove through landscapes which were reminiscent of those featured in the works of Chekhov and Tolstoy. Certainly the cars were filthy by the end of the day but being among all of this made the evening car wash worthwhile.

There were a few roadside dramas today. Jo Robillard and Alzbeta Katuscakova stopped twice in the time control section with electrical problems and Marco Rollinger was spotted changing a filthy back tyre on his Bentley on one of the rare tarmac sectors.

By the day’s end this was to have proved the best rallying that the ERA has ever had in Russia judging by the reactions of the crews as they checked into the MTC. The hotel, in the town of Aya, is the first one that the crews have seen for a week now and there’s no doubt that they’ve earned it.

There’ll be a lot of scrubbing, washing and dusting this evening no doubt but tomorrow there’s another long day to Novosibirsk and we’ve been promised more of the same.

Friday, 24 June
Day 13 – Aya to Novosibirsk – 560 kms

Onwards and Upwards

Fully rested from their first night in a hotel for more than a week, the Rally was up and at it bright and early today and, once again the Altai Region had provided an arch and a crowd to spur the drivers on. This was going to be a long day, but thanks to heavy overnight rain and the consequent mud, some sections unfortunately had to be cut from the program.

Since we have been in Russia we have enjoyed excellent police support with an officer and marked car at every junction at times even stopping the traffic for us so that we could more safely negotiate the junctions. Today was no different, and on leaving Aya this morning we dived straight into a rolling pastoral landscape with the trademark dark brown earth from which vivid green crops sprang. We drove through villages filled with wooden houses, brightly painted fences and roofs. A single track rickety bridge set the tone for the morning as the route zig zagged its way over the Katun, Biya and Pestanya rivers. This is a very low lying and marshy area and the recent rain means that these rivers were full and fast flowing with their banks lined with anglers waiting for a catch.

There was a Time Control in Biysk which led quickly to a test set in a dense birch and pine forest with an abundance of sandy gravel and insects the full 14 km of the section had every junction manned by Russian marshals and Policemen while red and white tape marked the course. This obviously wasn’t a navigational exercise!

In the forest, along the route the air was filled with the heavenly scent of wild strawberries and the hellish sound of billions of blood sucking horse flies and mosquitoes, some so big that they looked as if they could carry off a child. Team doctors Delle Grimsmo and Tom Roberts were marshalling at the start and John and Gill Cotton were at the finish control and both pairs of officials took to veiling themselves against the vampiric onslaught. God help any open car crew who was unlucky enough to break down in this section. By the time help arrived they’d surely both be sucked dry.

This test was real seat of the pants driving, the soft sand robbed a lot of the power and speed from the cars as they drifted though the long curves. Picking the right line and committing to it was as important as outright horsepower on a surface that offered little in the way of grip but much in the way of entertainment for the villagers who once again came out in force to cheer and wave at the spectacle.

Another Time Control once the dust had settled offered an opportunity for some lunch before the long run in to our night halt and rest day destination of Novosibirsk, the third largest city in Russia and which is twinned with Sapporo, the fourth largest city in Japan.

As the impressive parade of cars entered the parking area by the Opera house, a bevy of pompom wielding cheerleaders welcomed each and every crew while Fred Gallagher escorted the two Mayors of Novosibirsk and Sapporo on an impromptu carpark tour.

The unluckiest crew of the day must surely be Matt Watson and Doug Atherley, their Jaguar MkII hit a stray piece of ironwork on that very same bridge we described above and have sustained damage to their gearbox. They came into Novosibirsk on the back of a truck and will be spending their rest day looking at repairing the damage.

Saturday, 25 June
Day 14 – Rest Day in Novosibirsk

Rest and Recuperation

It’s been eight days since our last rest day and many miles have passed under our wheels. Today’s sojourn in the beautiful city of Novosibirsk has come just at the right time for the Rally. There are good facilities here to repair broken cars and the Marriot Hotel is just the place to revive a tired body, do some laundry and reconnect with the world.

Some our number are lucky enough, if that’s the right phrase, to have been here a while longer than the rest of us. Nick and Jessica Sleep for example whose head gasket failed in the last Mongolian river of the trip found a truck, got themselves to a Mercedes garage and are now all fixed up for tomorrow. Nick’s a happy man now but he’s still kicking himself for that one watery error.

Tom van den Berg and Femke Schepers had an oil pump failure shortly after the border with Mongolia, but thanks to the good offices of the Russian support crew they’re also up and running and raring to go.

We last saw Francesco and Alessandro Guasti’s 1973 – Alfa Romeo Giulia Super Berlina being pulled over the Mongolian Russian border on a rope. Having spent a few days in Novosibirsk they diagnosed the problem – melted carburettors and sticky valves – and solved it. This evening they were able to relax knowing that tomorrow they can start breaking it all over again.

Peter Lovett and Tim Smith, fancied by some as favourites, also arrived a day early to get the suspension on their Porsche repaired.

For those who arrived under their own steam though the rest day was pretty much like the last one in that ‘rest’ came a distant second to work be that maintenance, repair or ‘housekeeping’.

Max Stephenson took and early breakfast and was soon was busy looking for a horn and a steering damper for Penny the Vauxhall, whilst wife Julie made herself useful by doing the shopping for those crews too busy to do it for themselves. High on her list was insect repellant, sun screen and lip balm.

Rudi Hug has had a rough time of it lately, his navigator packed up and went home, the car had issues with poor fuel and he spent some time back in Ulaan Baatar sorting things out and then had a day driving solo. We’re glad to say though that he’s back with us at full strength alongside a new navigator, a Russian by the name of Vitaly Zubaniv.

The ERA sweeps had declared that today was their day off, they’ve been flat out since we left Beijing so this was deemed to be the ideal place for them to relax for a while. With the fantastic support offered by Nikolay, Sergei and Arkady and their team of willing helpers, any crews needing work done were taken to ‘specialist facilities’ rather than attempt to tackle the jobs themselves. As a result, the scene in the carpark of the Opera building was pretty quiet for most of the day, that is until the thunder started and the hail stones began to fall turning the streets into icy watercourses.

Jo Robillard is still paying for his exuberance on the first day in Mongolia when he bent two wheels and shifted his axle. Today he was refitting a damaged spring and making sure that it was dead centre – and tight. With the help of Matt Peckham and a couple of ratchet straps, the big steel leaf springs were squashed into place and secured. Lets hope they’re up to the job of taming the Russian tarmac.

Isobel and Nicola Matthew struck gold when they asked one of the Russian service teams for help. For less than the cost of two coffees they had their suspension welded up and a full valet of their dirty and dusty Mercedes. Both mother and daughter were mightily impressed but this, especially as it happened before dinner leaving one of them plenty of time to get out and enjoy the cultural delights of Novosibirsk.

David Roberts has had new big end bearings fitted today, both he and Jo looked much happier this afternoon after a long night and an early morning start. Hopefully their plucky little Sunbeam will run much more quietly now.

Obviously there are cars that are not in any great trouble and we caught up with two who had nothing more to do than the regular spanner checks. Ole Havn was simply looking over his 1933 – Alvis, swapping wheels and checking that everything was still screwed up good and tight. Bruce Power was doing the same sort of thing to his Chevrolet Master Coupe, his only worry being that the big heavy wings are prone to vibration and can fail at the mounting; which is exactly why, he tells us that, Fangio cut them down so dramatically.

Official Week 2 results for Car 56 – Silvia, Bristol 403:

Day 8 – Murun to Uliastai
Sunday – Jun 19, 2016
Daily driving time: 6:50:08
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #18

Day 9 – Uliastai to Chjargas Lake
Monday – Jun 20, 2016
Daily driving time: 7:10:48
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #16

Day 10 – Chjargas Lake to Olgiy
Tuesday – Jun 21, 2016
Daily driving time: 7:59:07
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #16

Day 12 – Altai Republic to Aya
Thursday – Jun 23, 2016
Daily driving time: 9:25:53
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #16

Day 13 – Aya to Novosibirsk
Friday – Jun 24, 2016
Daily driving time: 9:32:50
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #15

Day 14 – Rest day in Novosibirsk

12 - Novosibirsk

Monday, 27 June
Yesterday was another long day on another long road but there’s been plenty to look out for on the way. Swamp, birch, pine, trucks and roadworks for example kept the crews on their toes across the 677 km of the sub-arctic taiga on the West Siberian Plain.

The sheer scale and size of Russia has to be driven to be believed in all of its buttock numbing enormity. There was also a lot of rain to contend with during the morning which had the crews in open cars sitting as low as they could in their cockpits with some doubtless wishing that they’d brought a roof.

Videos from Russia:

Tuesday, 28 June
After what we’ve driven through over the last few days the Rally was due a bit of an easy day with some fun thrown in and today we got it. It was a short day and there was a test within 20 km of leaving the hotel. This was a fantastic blast around a rallycross circuit, no navigation was required, it was timed to the second and the crews were required to complete two laps.

The big hitters in the Classics category who didn’t suffer too much in Mongolia however came into this test with all guns blazing. They had positions to either defend or improve upon and the Datsun’s from the likes of Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy and David Gainer and Peter St George put on another great show along with the Ford Escort of Nigel Farmer and Stephen Lovell even if they couldn’t quite keep up with Joost.

From the circuit there was an easy drive to Yekaterinburg, the ‘gateway to Asia’, or if you’re going in our direction ’the gateway to Europe’. The City was built on metal working so any car in need of repair should be well taken care of here.

Wednesday, 29 June – Perm – 13th place overall!!!
Paul and Sebastian are now on their 18th day hitting the pedal to the metal. They have now secured 13th place overall – Congratulations boys!

Today we set course for the most northerly point of our journey. The city of Perm which, as of the 2010 census, the city was the thirteenth most populous in Russia, although from 1940 to 1957 it was actually named Molotov. The Nobel-prize-winning writer Boris Pasternak lived in Perm for a while, and the City features in his novel Doctor Zhivago under its fictional name “Yuriatin”.

A warm welcome in the city of Perm
A warm welcome in the city of Perm

As we left Yekaterinburg the weather was awful, 10°c with heavy rain. Trams, trolley buses and traffic were splashing into town as we were leaving it so we avoided any hold ups on our way to the dual carriageway.

In the geographical sense, we left Asia and entered Europe today as we crossed the Urals. And, whilst the scenery has been changing slowly, to give us a few hills on the horizon for example, it is perhaps the improving infrastructure that is the most striking development for the over land traveller; the dual carriageway we used this morning being a perfect illustration of this.

Bas reports: “Silvia had a few snags along the way but she’s back and better than ever. The old bird is still holding 1st place in her division. We had a big evening working on the car: broken shocks, radiator, two loose carbs – all fixed!”

Thursday, 30 June
Perm to Kazan – 590 kilometres

We say bravo and thank you to talented filmmaker Serge Latr from Kazan for sharing his film of the Peking to Paris cars parked at car park of the Hotel Korston in Kazan, Russia, a few days ago. See Silvia briefly at the start of the film and then at the 32.27 minute mark:

Taking the rough with the smooth is all part of long distance rally life and today we were given both sides of this on a long cross country romp to Kazan, the capital and largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan. The day started damp and cool and muddy, very muddy in fact but it was a packed program right from the gun with three tests running one after the other through the lanes which linked villages, tiny hamlets and farmsteads.

By the time the midday Time Control had been and gone, some crews were thinking that the rough stuff was finished for the day and that they were set for an easy ride to the night halt. Unfortunately this didn’t quite work out and, for most of the afternoon the Rally rocked and rolled its way over broken tarmac, sandy tracks and rutted clay. The rain was well clear by now and the dust flew around as impressively as anything we’d seen in Mongolia.

Watching for the huge potholes was a full-time job and one minute’s lapse in concentration could cause serious mechanical damage.

So what about the smooth? This was to come at the Kazan Ring, a world class motorsport facility upon which the Peking to Paris Rally was unleashed for the afternoon. Tarmac more used to slick tyres and screaming engines was given over to knobblies and mud encrusted body shells.

Tomorrow we have a rest day, or a non-driving day to be more accurate. We’ve just tipped over the halfway point of the Rally now and there are repairs to be made and new parts to be fitted to some cars. Hopefully by day’s end we’ll have a better idea of who is going to re-join us for the second half of this, the most extraordinary journey possible in a motorcar.

Friday, 1 July
Paul and Bas are looking forward to a well-deserved rest day today in Kazan, Russia, after crossing the Urals. Tired but all going well and maintaining 13th position overall and 1st in class.

The Russian time zone changes have been playing havoc with our body clocks lately as well as the rally timing, but this morning it nearly caused a full on criminal investigation.

Michal Schmidt was up earlier than most at around 4.30am and he decided to do what all good navigators should do on a rest day and clean the car. Yesterday had been a filthy one and the Bentley was much in need of a wash and brush up. Helmut Rothenberger, the other half of this class leading crew, awoke shortly afterwards, drew the curtains and noticed that his pride and joy was missing. He dashed downstairs – all 21 flights of them – roused security and insisted that they called the police. Helmut could only stand there, despairing and waiting for their arrival wondering how this drama was going to end. He was soon put out of his agony though as Michael pootled around the corner waving cheerfully and calling out that the car was now clean and ready to be worked on. Our basic grasp of German failed us at this point but suffice to say Helmut and Michael had an exchange – of sorts.

As we predicted this has been a day of sorting, fixing, collecting parts and fitting them. Tony Connor had a shipment of Porsche suspension parts ready and waiting for him when he arrived so he spent the day at a Porsche specialist with a book of instructions in one hand and a spanner in the other.

Stephen Lovell and Nigel Farmer managed to track down a Ford Escort half shaft in a garage in the West Country of the United Kingdom yesterday. In a twist of serene serendipity there happened to be a Russian passport holder who worked there and he was put on the first flight to Kazan with this precious but odd cargo and he arrived in the small hours of the morning.

There were a few other crews who had come straight to Kazan for repairs and who had promised to re-join the Rally on the restart day.

After two nights in Kazan, Bas reports that the car was washed, the laundry was done and the car was in the workshop with two Russian mechanics. There was lots of pointing, no English but all jobs were completed including alloy welding! They finished with vodka and the company of lovely people. It was a fine warm day on Saturday so shorts were the go. No time trials, just steady driving. Still placed 13 out of 58 cars overall and 1st in their class.

Rested and refreshed from our stay in Kazan on Friday, we rolled out along the mighty Volga River – the longest in Europe – yesterday morning and passed the old Kremlin where mosques, churches and a synagogue sit side by side surrounded by the imposing city walls and fine architecture.

The beautiful sky which hasn’t been as evident lately, also made the start to the day one to savour. The good road helped as well, which whisked us over the Volga and into the countryside for the journey to Nizhny Novgood. There was no competition today so it was a relaxed drive for the most part with passage controls to keep the Rally together set at strategic fuel stations. With the roads and weather that we enjoyed yesterday, this was another chance for us to take a good long look at what a beautiful and interesting country Russia is away from the main highways and truck routes.
Click on this link to see photographs of the cars in Nizhny-Novgorod:

Car Show Photo Report – Peking-Paris Motor Challenge 2016 Participants in Nizhny Novgorod – Part I

Saturday, 2 July
Kazan to Nizhny Novgorod (formerly Gorki) – 436 kilometres

After a rest day in Kazan on Friday, Paul and Bas head to Nizhny Novgorod, formerly (1932–90) Gorky, city and administrative centre of the Nizhegorod oblast (region), western Russia. The city lies at the confluence of the Volga and Oka rivers, 260 miles (420 km) east of Moscow. Nizhny Novgorod is one of the Host Cities for 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia.

Official Week 3 Results just in for Silvia, Bristol 403

Day 15 – Novosibirsk to Omsk
Sunday – Jun 26, 2016
Daily driving time: 11:28:00
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #15

Day 16 – Omsk to Tyumen
Monday – Jun 27, 2016
Daily driving time: 11:20:00
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #15

Day 17 – Tyumen to Yekaterinburg
Tuesday – Jun 28, 2016
Daily driving time: 6:53:17
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #14

Day 18 – Yekaterinburg to Perm
Wednesday – Jun 29, 2016
Daily driving time: 8:38:00
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #13

Day 19 – Perm to Kazan
Thursday – Jun 30, 2016
Daily driving time: 10:36:17
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #13

Day 20 – Rest day in Kazan

Day 21 – Kazan to Nizhny Novgorod
Saturday – Jul 02, 2016
Daily driving time: 9:09:00
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #13

Sunday, 3 July
Nizhny Novogorod to Zavidovo – 613 kilometres

After an easy day on Saturday, the clock did start ticking and the pressure ramps were up again early yesterday morning for the 613-kilometre drive to the village of Zavidovo, located approximately 120 kilometres north-west of Moscow. In Zavidovo a hunting ground was established in the 1960s for use by VIPs, including heads of state. Since 1996, Zavidovo has the status of one of the official residences of the President of Russia.

It was a scorching hot day with three equally heated time trial tests – one at the NRing, a multifunctional and testing tarmac circuit and two at a dilapidated military base in a town called Nami – one on dirt and the other a hill. As usual, there were wildly differing levels of driving ability on display and some could best be described as an exercise in hope over experience. According to Bas, “there was enough adrenalin to know you’re alive”. The rally sped through acres of beautiful dense birch and pine forests, full of villages and settlements but soon enough hit modern Russia in the form of the M7 motorway, one of the main highways into Russia’s capital city, where the density of traffic led to delays for some, but the tests in the afternoon made the effort of getting to them all the more worthwhile.

After Sunday’s efforts, Paul and Bas are currently ranked an impressive 1st in Class and 12th overall.

Next Stage:
Monday, 4 July – Zavidovo to Smolensk, Russia, 461 kms
Tuesday, 5 July – Smolensk to Minsk, Belorussia, 554 kms
Wednesday, 6 July – Minsk to Brest, Belorussia, 494 kms
Thursday, 7 July – Brest t Rzeszow, Poland, 315 kms
Friday, 8 July – Rzeszow to Kosice, Slovakia, 320 kms
Saturday, 9 July – Kosice to Budapest, Hungary, 380 kms
Sunday, 10 July – Rest day in Budapest, Hungary.

Monday, 4 July – Zavidovo to Smolensk, Russia, 461 kms

When it rains it pours … another drenching day for the boys but that didn’t keep them from celebrating the 4th of July in style. Drifting around the track in Silvia, Paul and Sebastian competed in their last time trials in beautiful Russia.

Time Trial 23.2 – Smolensk Ring
Between the first and second time trials the heavens opened up and again the rains came, torrential rain. A gravel transport section required re-routing to this second test. Top of the time sheets was a surprise package. The Aussie team of Paul Hickman and Sebastian Gross in their recently restored Bristol 403 lived up to its reputation as a rapid car of the 1950s by beating all comers. The winning gap was huge, 51 seconds and the Gainer/St George 240Z had to settle for second place. The Pickering/Boddy 240Z was another 16 seconds further back then Matt and Gerry once again showed what the mighty P76 can do. Matt was 10 seconds down on Pickering and in the middle of a Datsun sandwich with the Bury’s 240Z 11 seconds behind.

It’s the 4th of July – the 185th day of the year and a day for our American crews to get the flags out because it’s Independence Day. This commemoration of breaking free from the British Empire is usually taken as a holiday but today the organisers in true colonial style kept the crews hard at it.

There were two Time Trials on the agenda which book-ended the day nicely and in between was a neat mix of highways and byways. The first test at the Moscow Raceway, some 90 kilometres from the hotel, was a world class circuit with two marshals at each corner, safety cars, medical cover and gravel run off areas smoother than many of the roads we’d been driving down only ten days previously.

Sadly, we set off today without Richard Nicholl and Neil Lawson-May. They’ve had to retire their Buick Special and have already flown home to the UK. The remaining crews were here to enjoy this morning and to make the most of the opportunity and in the paddock some were seen surreptitiously offloading camping kit, spares and tools to lighten the load, sharpen the steering, all to gain few a vital seconds which could carry them a little further up the leader board.

What could go wrong? The torrential rain that’s what. It struck around midday and forced a re-route away from a gravel forest section along the tarmac to the second test at the Smolensk Ring.

As well as giving the organisers a bit of a routing situation, the downpour also gave Helmut Rothenburger a different sort of problem when his windscreen wipers stopped working. As Michael Schmidt took the helm, Helmut assumed screen wiping duty with a cloth and some elbow grease.

The Smolensk test itself was declared a great success and some crews sneaked in to do more than their allowed three laps, in one case actually counted six.

Whilst there’s still a bit of powder being kept dry for the European Cup section we could see some crews honing their technique for the more twisty roads of Europe. Peter Lovett for example, a trackmeister extraordinaire, shot his little Porsche from turn to turn in a very economical fashion whilst Matt Bryson, the ace navigator, took a turn at the wheel of the Leyland he shares with Gerry Crown and with forearms tensed, sweat on his brow and his wheels on opposite lock he proved that he’d learned from the master.

There were some light hearted moments as well as Max Stephenson, ever the gentleman, actually stopped on the track at one point to let some of the faster cars pass and Tony Connor and Jill Kirkpatrick proudly flew the stars and Stripes from their Porsche 356 in celebration of the 4th July.

This was our last full day in Russia and what a time we’ve had in this vast country. Tomorrow we’ll be in Belarus with another packed schedule to get through.

Tuesday, 5 July – Smolensk to Minsk, Belorussia, 554 kms

Today, is the boys last day in Russia as they travel the 554-kilometre journey to Minsk in Belarus.

Wednesday, 6 July

Yesterday the rally had their third border crossing which was by far the easiest one so far. No showing of letters required, no pointing at numbers needed and no explaining that they are on a rally. There were four gravel tests and lunch in the town of Polansk.

Bas reports that Belarus is extremely cultured, there is no border but it has a completely different feel. They had a big day with the four time trials and finished at 8.45pm.

All in all a fantastic day’s rallying with exceptional local support, enthusiastic crowds and great roads. Silvia has performed so well and they are still holding 1st place in class and 13th overall!!!

Today they will compete in five time trials.

It would be difficult to top what we saw yesterday, the route, the cooperation and the spirit in which the drivers took to it but today we set about doing exactly that.

Five closed road tests were in the book for this, our 25th day of the 2016 Peking to Paris, although in the event one had to be cancelled due to the wet weather and the subsequent road repairs. This still left a lot of gravel to cover though and a lot of slipping and sliding to be done.

The first two tests were in the same vein as those yesterday save for the fact that it was raining. The surface was fast and loose there were countless marshals and policemen but the troops had been withdrawn. That didn’t mean that peace had broken out though. There were still the old battles to be fought both with the clock and with those snapping up behind on the leader board. Once again there were those who made it look easy and those who got bogged down in the deep sandy corners.

From the test there was a mixture of roads which took us through towns, orchards and farmland to an excellent lunch in Mir. The sky was blue and a couple of our al fresco diners, Willy van Loon and Mattia Nocera commented that with this warm sunshine and such good food on offer it was much like being on holiday. Colin and James Weekly studied the menu approvingly and the potato pancakes with mushrooms certainly seemed popular as was the excellent espresso to round things off.

From lunch we rode the fantastic M1 motorway down to the next two sections which skirted a large swathe of woodland with plenty of 90° corners to make sure that the handbrake had something to do as well as the throttle. This was a happy hunting ground for the bigger muscle cars that we’ve got with us but Sia and Eric in the Rolls Royce looked to be having quite some fun as well.

The day was rounded off with a poignant and informative visit to the Brest Memorial which commemorates the battles of the Second World War in which the Germans and the Russians fought to control the City and brought death, devastation and destruction down upon the citizens.

Tomorrow we leave for Poland and we say goodbye to both the excellent team of Kyrgz Concept Blue Shirts and Sergei, Nikolai and Arcady, our mechanical support maestros who have looked after us exceptionally well during out time in Russia and Belarus. Ladies and gentlemen we salute you.

Click on the attached link to watch videos filmed over the last few days by Russian car enthusiasts:

See Silvia and other Peking to Paris Rally participants receive a warm citizens’ welcome in the city of Perm, Russia, at 29.47 mins – 30 June


See Silvia at 7.19 mins


See Silvia at approx 4.50 mins


See Silvia at 4.32 mins – 29 June


See Silvia at 1.38 mins – 30 June


See Silvia at 1.40 mins


See Silvia at 4.48 mins – 25 June Novosibirsk

“Day 26, 7 July 2016
Brest to Rzeszow, Poland

Bas shares with us a great descriptive post from Sia and Eric in their Rolls Royce, “Brumby”. (Brumby had Australian origins).

“The pack today will cross over to Poland from Belarus. We were divided into two groups: EU passport holders and non EU. I wonder which group our UK friends belong to?

My group left the hotel at 9.00am. We were given a special lane to fast track our crossing. We lined up patiently for our turn in the cool morning.

A brief threatening shower was moved off with my rain trick, to the bemusement of Elena the Russian professional navigator helping Car 70, Jo Worth, the strong Volvo driver.

It was quite a long wait and the cars advanced a length at a time. We switched the engine off, and many waiting passengers of cars were more than willing to push a vintageant Rolls Royce.

At the border I kept the engine idling, explaining to the border officers that we had had a fire so we couldn’t start/shut easily. They were sympathetic and so officers of both border guards had to endure the click clack sound of Brumby’s noisy tappets.

I showed the Belarus passport control officer, a sweet smiling English speaking lady, the picture of me in attention saluting the Belarusian war heroes, she was impressed.

We crossed both borders in 3 hours and immediately drove on towards Rzeszow, our overnight city. The first thing I saw after crossing the Poland border was a tall sculpture of a big nest on a pole, with a stork on it about to take flight. As we drove on, I saw in real life many such nests, sitting on a platform built atop telegraph poles. The nests are huge, about 5 feet in diameter, and were all occupied with big storks.

The route we took to Rzeszow was a small 2-lane road in contrast to the 4-lane highway in Belarus. It passes green pine forests and farmland with wheat, barley and tobacco, punctuated by towns and villages. We passed a village called Aleksandrow, with colorful houses lining the road for at least 8 km long. Behind every glass windows were nice white laced curtains.

At the Rzeszow Hotel we parked at the second level car park, the height clearance of 2 m and the winding ramp was a challenge to Brumby and my tired arms. The sweep crew worked on adjusting the tappets, while I was swarmed by well-wishing Poland Classic Car Club members.

Our story of survival from the dreadful fire in Mongolia and the subsequent long chase to catch the rally, had gone viral in Poland. They came to meet their ‘hero’ and wanted to photograph me and Brumby.”

The boys had an amazing start to their time in Belarus yesterday. It was a tremendous day of rallying in stunning surroundings with fantastic support from local fixers and the authorities.

After the slick black of the circuit tarmac, it was time to get back on the sand and gravel with four brilliant tests that challenged even the most experienced amongst the rally drivers. After crossing the border, the Belarus team were ready and waiting with closed road sections designed to thrill. The first test was just a warm up for the intensity of the second and third tests. Paul and Bas are still holding 1st in class and 13th position overall.

A visit was made to the memorial at the fortress city of Brest to the 12,000 soldiers that held out in horrific circumstances in the walled city under siege from Hitler’s massed armies at the start of the German-Soviet war in June 1941. Rally participants were encouraged to make a worthwhile and enlightening diversion to visit this point of historical interest. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a place of national grief and pride which resonates all around.

Today, the rally leaves Belarus and travels the 319 kilometres to the town of Rzeszów, the chief administrative and industrial centre of south-eastern Poland. Rzeszów is a surprisingly elegant medium-sized city boasting a handsome square lined with some great clubs, restaurants and hotels, all enlivened by a large student population.

Summary of Friday, 8 July

The rally departs the beautiful Polish city of Rzeszow after the morning parade in the historic market square with the mayor of the town flagging participants on their way.
The rally departs the beautiful Polish city of Rzeszow after the morning parade in the historic market square with the mayor of the town flagging participants on their way.

Yesterday was a late start as the rally left the beautiful Polish city of Rzeszow (pop 200,000) in glorious sunshine after the morning parade in the historic market square with the mayor of the town flagging participants on their way.

There were four time trials, all stages of which were cleared by police from beginning to end so that there is no oncoming traffic. There were two morning time trials: the first, only 20 kilometres outside of the town, was a 9.5-km speed trial with a target time of 7.5 minutes on very tight and twisty road sections. It was narrow but smooth country lane climbing up and dropping down hills. The target meant an 80-km an hour average speed – an impossible task if you do not know how the road runs beyond the crest of hills and if an upcoming bend is a light bend or a hairpin. The second was a late lunchtime test of about the same distance with a similar narrow road and a 7-minute 30-second target time.

After travelling through beautiful countryside past glorious sunflowers from Poland into Slovakia, two more road sections in woods followed with target times just as steep as the morning times although the roads were a bit wider.

Two cars were heavily rolled in the final time trial: the number two placed yellow Ford Mustang (Car 101) that literally overshot a bend and rolled 15 metres down a bank into a forest. The crew are okay but the car looks unlikely to continue. Also one of two Ford Escorts that hit a tree then caught fire.

Several cars in the top ten had mechanical issues. Today, the European Cup started which runs parallel to the overall competition.

On arrival in Kosice, Slovakia, in pleasant summer sunshine, there was yet another rapturous welcome from hundreds of people in the old market square, which was packed with crowds keen to see the cars, and those who spoke English keen to engage.

Official report for 8 July:

We knew that today would be a busy one, but luckily we had a great breakfast to fortify us with maybe a few sore heads around the tables this morning following the party last night.

We also had a great send off today from the town of Rzeszow, in front of a pretty respectable crowd – with an arch, a ramp, music and flag waving – every crew was introduced and applauded. There was wall to wall blue sky and for once in a long time not a hint of rain.

The Rally Poland Clerk of the Course, Jarek Noworol, who’d been such a help with the event planning this there and, both he and Fred Gallagher gave interviews to the assembled TV crews and local press. There was definitely an air of expectation hanging around as the crews assembled and waited for their allotted departure time.

Keith and Norah Ashworth were so keen not to miss theirs that they were even seen driving up the steps to a pedestrian precinct having wrong slotted outside of the hotel. They, amongst the others knew that things were going to get a little more serious from now on.

In the video below filmed in Rzeszow, Poland, see Silvia at approximately 5.50 mins

A news presentation by TVP3 Rzeszow, Poland – see the Peking to Paris cars after a brief introduction:

Another video filmed in Rzeszow, Poland, in the Old Town Market Square:

Our European marshals who arrived yesterday were the first up today and were raring to go, they’ve been sharpening their pencils and winding up their clocks for a few weeks now and today was the day they got to use them in anger. Ed Rutherford and Matt Heal, Lee and Sue Vincent, Andrew Duerden and James Ewing, Dick Hall and Alan Smith, Matt and Suze Endean, Steve Turner and Martin Thomas fanned themselves out across Central Europe to help administer the European Cup leg of the Rally which kicks off today.

As we’ve already indicated there are a few big hitters looking to score in this competition and given the intensity of the Rally we expect to see more penalties than an England / Germany soccer match.

Peter Lovett however, one of those big hitters, isn’t with us anymore. He and Tim Smith have retired their Porsche which has suffered with more suspension problems which have dogged them since Mongolia.

There were four tests down in the book today. Two in Poland in the morning and two in Slovakia after lunch. The first two were fast with smooth flowing tarmac, largely open but with some excursions into the trees and they almost had a WRC feel to them which wasn’t surprising given their genesis. Every junction was marshalled, miles of barrier tape had been deployed and the verges were dotted with rally fans tucking into their picnics and sheltering from the sun under their umbrellas.

Following the coffee halt there was a simple run to the border, Poland to Slovakia where we crossed the Dukla Pass which was the scene of a savage battle in September 1944 between the German and the Russian armies. Tens of thousands were killed here but luckily our passage was a much more peaceful one and, soon we arrived in the area for the second two tests.

These were hilly with climbs and descents through thick woodland on loose and broken tarmac, the roads were narrow but they were once again heavily marshalled and sealed to any other traffic.

Joost Van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein made another appearance at the Rally today, they’ve had their troubled Mercedes in and out of various workshops and they hope that one of them will have been able to sort the lack of power issues they suffered since starting in Beijing. Certainly from what we saw, they have plenty on tap now and left everyone else trailing in their wake.

Despite this stellar performance though they’re still a long way from the overall leaders who saw a bit of a shake up today. Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy lead from Ludovic Bois and Julia Colman whilst Murray and Adam Jackson are in third place.

In the Vintageant category Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman pushed everyone else hard in their Bentley 3-4½. Overall though there are no changes to the Chrysler leader board with Mike Thompson and Andrew Davies still chasing Bruce and Harry Washington. Nigel Lee and Richard Turner are still in third place in a Ford 62.

The ancient woodland through which we passed was home to many rare and exotic creatures but none more so than the lesser spotted Petersen Bentley and the migratory Jeff Urbina who lately has spent most of his time in the air. It was good to see them both today back in their natural habitat.

Tomorrow we head to Budapest via another packed program.

Yesterday was a transit day of 315 kilometres as the rally crossed out of the old Eastern Bloc and into Europe, departing Brest in Belarus and crossing the border into Poland ready for the start of the battle for the European Cup today. Many in the rally were held up for at least two hours at the border crossing.

Paul and Bas report that they have no time to look at anything, just fuel up and drive, with lunch on the go. Silvia just keeps going. Compared to some other cars in the race, they appear to have had few problems with Silvia – that’s a Bristol for you!

The group stayed overnight in Rzeszow, in south-eastern Poland, and enjoyed the sweeps party last night in the hotel’s multi-storey car park. By all accounts, it was a night to remember, with rallyist, Andy Actman playing his guitar, Harry Washington and Dr Tom playing the bagpipes and Eric performing with his batons. The vodka flowed, corks were popped and car troubles were forgotten.

Bas reports: “We are in Rzeszow. Poland great country, very few motorways, villages all the way, very neat and tidy, sleep in tomorrow.”

This morning the rally restarts from the old town square, in the heart of Rzeszow, which is surrounded by 19th Century houses, a fountain in the centre and a neogothic town hall at the western frontage. Although the square was burned down thirteen times, and was invaded and plundered, it has always been resurrected in the same spot.

Afterwards, there is a test in Lubina and Blizianka in the morning and a time control in Dwor Kombornia, located at the gateway to Bieszczady Mountains near Krosno, Poland. After crossing from Poland into Slovakia, in the afternoon there are two more tests at Zamutov and Mala Lodina, in eastern Slovakia, before the day’s events end with an overnight stay in Kosice, Slovakia.

There will be a lot more competition over the coming days with more time controls to visit.

Saturday, 9 July
Day 28: Kosice to Budapest (380 kms)

After several time trial tests today (two in Slovakia and two in Hungary), and passing Mt Kékes, Hungary’s highest mountain, at 1,014 metres, the rally stopped 12 kilometres away in the town of Gyöngyös which provided an excellent lunch, complete with a bottle of wine courtesy of Helmut Rothenberger’s vineyard. Local citizens also let rally crews parade their cars through the old cobbled streets of their town.

Driving through the town of Gyongyos, Hungary 9 July
Driving through the town of Gyongyos, Hungary 9 July

Video of cars in Gyöngyös. See Silvia at 38 mins:

The rally then made their way to Hungary’s stunning capital city of Budapest for a two-night stay (rest day Sunday – Good Morning Budapest) at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus. Known for its thermal springs and stunning architecture, there will be plenty for the crews to enjoy. The hotel is located in the beating heart of modern and monarchial Budapest and is described as offering a luxurious pad into a universe of care and comfort which will no doubt be a welcome respite from the several time trials held over the last two days.

After the rest day on Sunday, on Monday, the rally travels to Maribor in Slovenia – 410 kilometres

Official report:
Our day into Kosice yesterday was such a success that the Organisers decide to repeat the same winning formula again, so as we pulled out of the car park this morning we saw that we had two tests in one country followed by another two in the neighbouring one. Slovakia to Hungary in 380 exhilarating kilometres.

All of the tests today, whether Slovak or Hungarian were held on heavily wooded, narrow and broken tracks. They were also locked down tighter than a cylinder head gasket. Nothing could get in or out go them without the say so of either the start or the finish marshals. This rigorous security protocol allowed drivers such as Joost van Cauwenberge and Bill Cleyndert – both serious contenders for the European Cup – to light the blue touch paper and give it all they had. And as usual they did exactly that, and they weren’t alone either.

Ludovic Bois for example, chasing seconds to either improve on or cement his second place in the Classics category charged hard through all of the sections today emerging from his well travelled Volvo Amazon at the coffee and lunch halts covered in sweat and buzzing with adrenalin. Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy though still hold the lead and from what we’ve seen recently they’re not going to give it up lightly.

The Chryslers of Bruce and Harry Washington and Mike Thompson and Andrew Davies are proving hard to shift from the first two places in the Vintageant category but below them there is a fierce battle for promotion. Day after day and test after test we’ve seen Nigel Lee and Richard Turner, Colin and James Weekley and Jim and Tanya Clarke going full gas to beat each other and to get up into a podium placing. We’re about to start the last week of the Rally and it’s shaping up to be something of a tense finale. Bruce is in his third Peking to Paris with a DNF and a second place to his name whilst Harry is in his first ever rally. A win in Place Vendome would be quite a way to start a career.

It wasn’t all high octane action though and between the sections we rolled through some magnificent countryside where the harvest was in full swing and the sunflowers were in full bloom and none of us minded sharing the road with tractors and trailers for a few kilometres.

We also passed Mt Kékes, Hungary’s highest mountain, at 1,014 m. It lies 12 kilometres from the town of Gyöngyös which provided our excellent lunch today – complete with a free bottle of wine. The good citizens also let us parade the cars through the old cobbled streets of their town where a wedding party took time off from their own important business to throw a bit of confetti our way and we wish the happy couple all the best for their future together.

Tomorrow we have a rest day and when we arrived at the excellent Kempinski Hotel in Budapest most of the crews took a quick look around and nodded approvingly. The bottle of free wine presented to us courtesy of Helmut Rothenberger’s vineyard was a very generous touch and a great way to start our ‘weekend’.

A further Report on Friday’s time trials – Rzeszow to Kosice (320kms)

From Poland to Slovakia and the 2013 European Capital of Culture, Kosice! A fascinating crossroads of modern and historical Europe, the Peking to Paris crews enjoyed a night in Kosice before heading to another new country yesterday. They also welcomed their European marshals and members of the Automobile Club of Rzeszow to the rally.

Time Trial Reports:
Day 27 – Rzeszow to Kosice, Slovakia – 320 kms
Today the rally had a fantastic civic send off from Rzeszow. The Polish rally organisation and the People of Rzeszow really made the competitors feel like celebrities with a big send off this morning. Sadly the rally’s time in Poland is short. Two tarmac stages were set down for this morning before the rally crossed into its sixth country, Slovakia. Another two tarmac stages followed in the afternoon.

Despite sitting down in 23rd place in the Vintageant category, the 1925 Bentley 3-4 1/2 of Brits, Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman, was fastest in the category today with the Lee/Turner 38 Ford the best of the rest. The Washingtons in their Chrysler was still pushing near the top to be third. The Rothenberger/Schmidt Bentley Super Sport was fourth for the day, closely followed by the Clarkes 36 Ford. Positions in the top 5 however remained unchanged now having a lead over the field by nearly 50 minutes.

Time Trial 27.1 – Lubenia
Joost Van Cauwenberge has returned with his Mercedes 450 SLC hot to trot. Resplendently shod in brand new tarmac tyres and well and truly firing on all eight cylinders. Joost quite obviously wants to win the European Cup and take home something from this, so far, [for him] disastrous Peking to Paris campaign. Joost and navigator, Jacques Castelein certainly made an impression on everyone. The big V8 Mercedes set a cracking pace and was quickest in the test. Not to be outdone, Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy gave chase in the 240Z and finished just 1 second behind them. A strong result too from fellow 240Z mounted Aussies, David Gainer and Peter St George, but 11 seconds further back. Closing out the top 4 was the Jacksons 450 SLC another 11 seconds down with the Bois/Colman Volvo Amazon which is punching well above its weight with these heavy hitters around, in fifth. Sadly a couple of the front runners struck problems. The Spinks/Grayson Escort Mexico was seen on its side after slipping off the road and is reported to have caught fire after trying to start the car when it was back on four wheels. The other big upset was the Aussie Garnsworthy/Teasdale Mustang which struck mechanical problems and didn’t finish this test or the rest for the day. He has now dropped out of the top 5. Gerry and Matt finished ninth about 50 seconds behind Van Cauwenberge.

Time Trial 27.2 – Blizianka
Pickering and Van Cauwenberge both finished equal first coming in under the minimum time allocated, so quick that they were. Third was the Farmer/Lovell Escort Mexico 3 seconds down then the Gainer/St George 240Z 13 seconds further back. The Jacksons Mercedes filled the fastest five another 7 seconds behind the 240Z. Gerry and Matt were again ninth, 50 odd seconds back from the leading pair.

Time Trial 27.3 – Zamutov
The Van Cauwenberge – Pickering show was joined by the Schon/Tonetti Alfa. The Van Cauwenberge Mercedes was quickest though, 21 seconds in front of the other two who finished on equal time. 8 and 9 seconds further down was the Gainer/St George 240Z and the Jackson’s Mercedes. Gerry and Matt made it a triple for ninth, 35 seconds behind the leading Mercedes.

Time Trial 27.4 – Mala Lodina
Van Cauwenberge and Pickering again dominated the final test for today. Van Cauwenberge topping the results for the fourth time and Pickering shadowing him in 9 seconds later. Gerry and Matt rose to the occasion finishing third 3 seconds back from Pickering, The Gainer 240Z and Schon Alfa Romeo were equal fourth only 6 seconds behind the P76.

Not surprisingly the Van Cauwenberge was number one for the day followed in by the Pickering and Gainer 240Zs. The Jacksons made it a Mercedes sandwich and the Farmer Escort was fifth.

Overall with the Garnsworthy Mustang dropping to 7th, everyone above moves up a spot. Pickering now leads by a little over 35 minutes and will be almost unchallengeable for the lead with the days remaining unless of course they themselves strike an unforeseen problem. The Bois Volvo Amazon moves to second and continues to impress everyone with its performance amongst the more powerful cars around it. The Jacksons’ Mercedes is a little over 13 minutes down on the Volvo and is waiting to pounce. The Gainer 240Z is a mere 14 seconds behind so third place is definitely up for grabs. It’s just under 4 minutes back to the Declercq 240Z and Gerry and Matt have the P76 4 minutes behind them.
Below is a Summary of the last Time Trials on the way to Budapest:

Time Trial 28.1 – Svinica
Joost Van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein (Mercedes 450SLE) again showed their prowess at the top being the only car to beat the target time. Pickering and Boddy were still fast in their 240Z just 16 seconds back equal with the Schon and Tonetti Alfa. The Gainer/St George (240Z) was just 1 second off them and the Finn/Webster Volvo 142 just 4 seconds off them. Gerry and Matt (Leyland P76) were 11th, 40 seconds behind Joost. Bear in mind Joost is on tarmac tyres and Gerry and Matt along with many others are still on rally tyres.

Time Trial 28.2 – Slanska Huta
No prizes for guessing the top 2, Joost and Pickering. Joost winning by 14 seconds. The similar Mercedes of the Jacksons was only 1 second behind the 240Z equal with the Finn/Webster Volvo. The Bois/Colman was a further 8 seconds back. Gerry and Matt were again back in 11th, some 45 seconds behind Joost.

Time Trial 28.3 – Paradsasvar
Joost Van Cauwenberge is now really in a class of his own and seems bent on winning every time trial in Europe. This time he was 26 seconds in front of Mark Pickering who is giving great chase considering he is still on rally tyres. Behind Mark he was being monstered by two more Mercedes 450 SLCs. The Faymonville (450 SLC) entry down 4 seconds and the Jackson another 2. The plucky little Ford Capri 1600 that looks like it has had more hits than Elvis is obviously not hurting mechanically as the Flemings were only 5 seconds down on the fourth placed Mercedes. Gerry and Matt were seventh 42 seconds behind Joost.

Time Trial 28.4 – Matraalmas
And this rounded out today’s Joost show as Van Cauwenberge was again quickest, winning by 12 seconds. Second quickest was the Schon and Tonetti Alfa. The Gainer/St George 240Z was just 2 seconds behind. Gerry and Matt had the P76 cranked up to be fourth quickest just 3 seconds off the 240Z and the Fleming Capri another 2 seconds back. For the first time in a long time we didn’t see Mark Pickering (240Z) in the top 5 or top 2 for that matter. He was still lurking close to the top in seventh.

At the end of the day Joost Van Cauwenberge was over a minute faster than second quickest Pickering. The Schon and Tonetti Alfa was third with the Jacksons’ Mercedes fourth and the Finn/Webster Volvo fifth.

The top 6 positions haven’t changed. Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy are way out in front. The Bois/Colman is still second but coming under increasing pressure from the Jacksons in their Mercedes. They are only 2 minutes behind. David Gainer and Peter St George have their eyes on a podium though and sit a mere 17 seconds adrift of the Merc. The Declercq/Claeys 240Z is a further 5 minutes back with Gerry and Matt desperate to get back into the top 5. They have closed further on the 240Z ahead of them and are now some 3½ minutes behind.

The rally isn’t over yet and many things can change as it did today. The rally, tomorrow, heads to another country, Hungary and its capital Budapest where the competitors will have their last rest day and prepare for the push to Paris.

Sunday, 10 July
Day 29: Rest Day Budapest, Hungary

Sunday, 10 July was a rest day in Budapest and while a few rally participants were able to take time out to enjoy this glorious city of boulevards, gothic buildings, old bridges and parks, many were up very early to get to workshops, including Paul and Bas (see photo above), ahead of other crews, while others took the shuttle bus to the rally car park to prepare their cars before the push towards Paris today via Slovenia, Italy and Switzerland.

One of the Escorts that had hit a tree and caught fire is back on the road after an overnight rebuild. The Australian driven Mustang that had fallen 50 feet down a bank has been less fortunate. Driver, Rob Garnsworthy, who has back injuries from his crash, was kept in hospital for observation and will most likely be flown home in a few days. The Volvo Amazon crew flew to Amsterdam to collect a new engine for their car which will be fitted in Lubljiana.

Today, the rally will enter Slovenia from Hungary at Prekmurje (Kobilje), then travel through Murska Sobota to Maribor, arriving in Maribor from Murska Sobota at about 4.00pm to be greeted by the Mayor of Maribor. Cars will be in the parking area of Leon Štukelj Square for about 30 minutes.

Tuesday’s path will lead them through Pohorje, a mountain range that rises above the town of Maribor, to Velenje, Vransko, Ivančna Gorica, over the Krim to Bistra and then on to Ljubljana.

On Wednesday, the rally will commence in Ljubljana and then travel through Škofja Loka to Dražgoše and Kropa and continue towards Italy. The vintage cars will leave Slovenia in Rateče.

The rally will be entering Switzerland from Italy via the Bernina Pass on the way to St Moritz.

Paul and Bas start today’s leg in 10th position overall and 1st in class and we wish them the best of luck.

Read yesterday’s Official report from Sid Stelvio of the Endurance Rally Association:

A hot and sunny day today in downtown Budapest and, with a city so well endowed with pavement cafes, bars and restaurants the temptation was to sit back and relax. It’s been a tough few weeks and some bodies are crying out for some TLC and a bit of me time. So are the cars though, and that’s the problem; balancing the needs of the crew and the attention demanded by the rally car. It’s a fine line and, today we saw many crews trying to stay on the right side of it with beer and sandwiches next to the tool box down in the service park.

Ingo Strolz and Werner Gassner have been missing for a few days but today they’ve reappeared and have finished the repairs to The Beast, at least for now. Since the Slovakian border they’ve fitted a new water pump, new spark plugs, two new drive chains and a new magneto – and they’ve also been on another truck, arriving at the hotel ahead of us at 4.00am in the morning. The crew are indefatigable but this constant battle with their LaFrance must be taking its toll.

On the other hand, the energy of some of our crews seems boundless and Justin Fleming, he of the refashioned Capri has booked to go karting with some of the other ‘younger’ participants. They’ve given up on scoring well in the Rally so now they’re going man to man in the single seaters.

Nigel Lee and Richard Turner haven’t given up on a good result and were seen adjusting the brakes on their Ford 62. They say that they are looking to climb onto the podium but they’re not sure how big the steps are … and they’ve only got little legs anyway. Jamie Turner, sweep extraordinaire, took time out from his busy schedule to show them that the tool kit they got for Nigel’s birthday last week from Jim and Tanya Clarke wasn’t actually a real one.

Paul Hartfield tells us that he’s naturally optimistic when asked about his chances of getting the little green Mini to Paris and how he felt when he left Beijing. He admits to starting out cautious and apprehensive but with careful driving and regular checks he’s growing more confident about getting the “Mr Bean Car” to the finish line. He’s not looking forward to all the fuss and attention which this might entail, however. He left his mobile phone at home and has thought about nothing else for the last month other than the Rally and the car.

Jan Vyskocil and Rene Kuhni’s 1941 Buick Super 8 is now a six cylinder. They lost one on way to Ekaterinburg and another one two days ago. Today Andy Inskip and Alan Page were looking at a broken throttle linkage. Let’s hope they keep the rest of it together for the next week at least. Mattia Nocera and Giacomo Foglia’s 1930 Chevrolet 6 Tourer has developed a wobbly wheel and the crew were hard at it this morning looking at bearings and axles.

When not in the driving seat, Bruce Washington is rarely out of his overalls checking and rechecking the Chrysler which he hopes will carry him triumphantly into Paris. He’s feeling quietly confident but knows that anything can happen between here and there.

Richard Bowser and Paul Rivlin were checking their 1935 – Alvis Silver Eagle Sport, it’s just basic maintenance that’s required now as they’ve taken their foot off the gas having lost so much time through Russia. They were out for four days from Omsk to Kazan when their big end failed but the Russian mechanics were excellent and machined up the parts that were required.

Patrick and Christine Sommer have had a good Rally in their Volkswagen Karmann Ghia although today Patrick changed the exhaust gasket. The crew and the car, veterans of the London Cape Town World Cup Rally and the Road to Mandalay hasn’t missed a beat throughout and he puts this down to good preparation.

Max Stephenson, another long haul specialist was having some issues with his starter motor today but Owen Turner was quickly on the case with Dan Harrison assisting.

It’ll be hard to leave this city tomorrow; it’s been a great place for a rest day. We’re getting into the last week however and, whilst no-one wants the adventure to end there’s an impatience to get to the finish line and realise what has been achieved.

Official Week 4 Results just in for Silvia, Bristol 403

Day 22 – Nizhny Novgorod to Zavidovo
Sunday – Jul 03, 2016
Daily driving time: 10:01:46
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #13

Day 23 – Zavidovo to Smolensk
Monday – Jul 04, 2016
Daily driving time: 9:58:56
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #13

Day 24 – Smolensk to Minsk
Tuesday – Jul 05, 2016
Daily driving time: 12:23:47
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #13

Day 25 – Minsk to Brest
Wednesday – Jul 06, 2016
Daily driving time: 9:02:04
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #13

Day 27 – Rzeszow to Kosice
Friday – Jul 08, 2016
Daily driving time: 7:38:38
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #11

Day 28 – Kosice to Budapest
Saturday – Jul 09, 2016
Daily driving time: 9:43:49
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #10

Day 29 – Rest Day in Budapest

Final stage:
Monday, 11 July – Budapest to Maribor, Slovenia, 410 kms
Tuesday, 12 July – Maribor to Ljubljana, Slovenia, 300 kms
Wednesday, 13 July – Ljubljana to San Martino di Castrozza, Italy, 353 kms
Thursday, 14 July – San Martino di Castrozza to St Moritz, Switzerland, 390 kms
Friday, 15 July – St Moritz to Lausanne, Switzerland, 420 kms
Saturday, 16 July – Lausanne to Reims, France, 485 kms
Sunday, 17 July – Reims to PARIS, 180 kms.

Day 30, Monday, 11 July: Budapest to Maribor (410kms)

On the hottest day on the rally so far, with temperatures hovering around the 37-degree mark, the run to Paris began as the Peking to Paris left Hungary and entered Slovenia and the pretty city of Maribor, set on the Drava River.

The traffic out of Budapest was very heavy. It took 45 minutes to do about 8 kilometres but once out on the road, there was a clear run.

There were four tests, all before lunch, two of which were very rough, held at a tank testing facility, with some serious off-road action. The second tests were much smoother but a lot faster.

Lunch was held at Csoka Feszen in Lake Balaton before crossing the border for the journey towards the main square where crews awaited the arrival of the Mayor for another greeting ceremony. Slovenia is a country of only two million people and is famous for its caves, ski jumps, festivals and, we are told, wine.

Official Report:

Monday morning in Budapest is a busy time but luckily we were heading away from the tide of incoming traffic. This is a beautiful city whatever time or direction you approach it from and, on our way out we were lucky enough to drive around the Hősök tere – Heroes’ Square – and past the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars.

The bridge over the Danube and the road through the Buda tunnel whisked us neatly onto a freeway towards the day’s program which comprised another four gravel tests and a crossing into a neighbouring country, Slovenia. Where today differed from the previous two however is that all of the action took place this morning, in Hungary, leaving the afternoon free for us to enjoy the bucolic delights of the road to Maribor.

See Paul and Bas in Silvia departing Budapest, Hungary for Madibor, Slovenia

Test one was dry, dusty and long. The scrubby ground reminded some crews of the Classic Safari drives we’ve enjoyed over the years and test two was pretty much the same, with a twist however. The 24 hour car – or reconnaissance patrol if you will – had spotted troop movements in the area we were to pass through and, sure enough we had to reroute. The US army was exercising in and around Marko and if there’s one thing guaranteed to stop a rally in its tracks, it’s an Abrams tank and a brigade of cavalry – and a sign saying “keep out, live firing”.

There was then, a lot of powerful machinery on display this morning and prior to starting this shortened time trial we saw comparisons being made. Humvee vs Bentley vs Aston Martin vs Ford Coupe. It was a real life game of Top Trumps with the military vehicles scoring highly in some areas and the rally cars winning hands down in others.

Daniel Schoch and John Young were seen posing with the troops and telling them about their adventures. The young Americans were agog and obviously held Schoch in Awe. They and their Bentley have been ploughing on quite nicely throughout the Rally and have proved to be a resilient crew who never complain about what’s thrown at them, sunshine or showers. Life in an open car apparently suits them very well.

Similarly, the James Bond Aston Martin of James Alexandroff and David Jones had the troops reaching for their camera phones. Joost Van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein lost the exhaust from their Mercedes through this section, so they sounded even more impressive than usual and had the entire division ducking for cover and digging in.

Perhaps the unluckiest crew of the day though was Jim and Tanya Clarke. They had dutifully fitted new brakes to their Ford yesterday but today they didn’t quite bite hard enough. This caused them to overshoot a corner on test three, slip into a ditch and land hard on the remains of a concrete fence post which caused extensive bodywork damage and a detached tyre. The crew, totally unhurt, escaped through the sunroof and looked a bit down in the mouth as an ERA Hilux pulled them free and left them in the capable hands of sweeps Alan Page and Jack Amies.

You can’t keep a good car down though and, by the last test of the day, a phenomenal limestone piste which led to a picture perfect village, the dynamic duo of Page and Amies had worked enough of their magic to see the car running again under its own power and make it into the night halt in Maribor for further inspection.

After such a busy morning most of us had worked up quite an appetite and lunch today was taken on the shores of Lake Balaton, the biggest in Hungary and, on a day when the mercury hit 36°C the temptation for the crews to take a dip was a strong one.

Mark Pickering the driver of the Datsun 240Z leading the Classics division was in a buoyant mood in the carpark this evening. He’s thoroughly enjoyed the last few days of proper forest rallying and only wishes that they were longer and is quietly confident of holding his lead but is wary of either being complacent or pushing the car too hard which could lead to a costly mistake.

Jim Valentine on the other hand has been wondering what if his AMC had not a wheel bearing issue in Mongolia and they’ve never recovered the time lost. He admits that he came here to compete for the overall honours but because of this one simple component he’s now only touring. Other than this though he is fulsome in his praise for the car which he claims is strong, light, well balanced and powerful.

Despite their best efforts on the rest day, some crews unfortunately weren’t able to start this morning. Heather – hobbling on her recently repaired leg – and Jo Worth have flown to Amsterdam to collect an engine. Then they will have it fitted and will re-join us as soon as they can. Nigel Farmer and Stephen Lovell have also flown out of the Rally but they’ve gone back to the UK to collect an engine for their Escort. Similarly they plan on re-joining when they can.

Jan Vyskocil and Rene Kuhni though have more trouble with their Buick Super and from Budapest they’re going to transport the car to Reims on a truck, because they estimate, that the engine has 500 to 1000 km left in it. Getting it over the line is all that they want to do.

Lloyd and Treacy Redddington’s American Nash though is out for good. It seized the camshaft and now they’re in a rental car but hope to be able push the original car over the line in Paris. Philip Lindsten and Charles Cook are back with car 44, in spirit at least. Their Chevy is now a modern Volvo.

Tonight we’re in the old city of Maribor, the second largest in Slovenia and tomorrow we leave for Ljubljana, the largest city of this beautiful little country.

Maribor - Drava River - Bristol

Time Trials

Day 30 – Budapest to Maribor, Slovenia – 410 kms
Out of Hungary and into Slovenia makes this the rally’s 8th country and with it came some more great WRC style rally roads. Four time trials were set down for today, all in the morning in Hungary before crossing the border and cruising into Maribor. Unfortunately we learned today that Nigel Farmer and Steve Lovell have flown out of Budapest back to the UK the pick up another engine for their Escort Mexico so they can bring it back and fit it to the car. Hopefully they will be in Paris for the finish. Another crew on the engine hunt is Jo and Heather Worth. Heather, who was sent home after injuring her leg, has been on the hunt for another engine for their Volvo Amazon. One was located in Amsterdam and Heather brought it back to Budapest to be fitted back in their car. As soon as that’s done they will re-join the rally.

There has been a change in the top 5 of the Vintageants. The Clarkes in their 36 Ford have dropped to 6th. They overshot a corner on test three, ending up in a ditch. Unfortunately they had to wait for one of the ERA support Hilux’s to pull them back on the road where they changed a tyre that got ripped off in the crash. This moved Bruce Power and Jill Robilliard in their 39 Chev back to 5th. The top 4 positions remain unchanged although the Lee/Turner Ford is getting very close to second place.

Time Trial 30.1 – Petfurdo
Joost Van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein in their Mercedes 450 SLC once again was quickest showing an example of what might have been if their car was properly sorted before the rally and not during. Gerry and Matt in the P76 also showed everyone what might have been had they not had the mysterious oil fluctuation problems in Mongolia. The P76 finished equal second with the Pickering/Boddy 240Z 14 seconds behind the big Merc. The Schon/Tonetti Alfa was another 1 second back and rounding out the five was the Finn/Webster Volvo 142.

Time Trial 30.2 – Marko
Again, it was Joost and the Merc who blew everyone away, this time 11 seconds in front of a pair of 240Zs. Pickering and Boddy were next with the Gainer/St George Z car 13 seconds behind. The Finn/Webster Volvo was only 3 seconds slower than the 240Z and the Spinks/Grayson Escort Mexico 4 seconds further back. Gerry and Matt weren’t far off in 7th only 5 seconds off the Escort.

Time Trial 30.3 – Kislod
As if to show everyone that he has plenty in reserve, Mark Pickering won this stage by being the only car to make the target time. Joost was close though only 3 seconds off. These two are really pushing ahead of the field. Joost has nothing to lose and the European Cup to gain but Pickering could lose the lot if he’s not careful. The Gainer/St George 240Z was third some 22 seconds behind the sprinting two up front with the Jacksons Mercedes only 2 seconds behind. The Spinks/Grayson Escort was next a further 7 seconds back. Gerry and Matt were equal 7th with the Finn/Webster Volvo 5 seconds behind the Escort.

Time Trial 30.4 – Vigantpetend
Van Cauwenberge and Pickering are really jousting at the front, or is that “Joosting”. The big Merc answered Pickering’s pace and this time he was the only car to meet the target time. Pickering’s 240Z was 1 solitary second slower. The Finn/Webster Volvo showed good pace to be third 8 seconds down on the top 2. Then there were four cars in equal fourth, 8 seconds behind the Volvo, the Jacksons Mercedes, the Schon/Tonetti Alfa, the Spinks/Grayson Escort and the Faymonville Mercedes. Gerry and Matt were tenth a further 11 seconds behind this bunch.

So for the day it was again the Van Cauwenberge/Castelein Mercedes quickest by 23 seconds from Pickering and Boddy. The Finn/Webster Volvo was next over a minute behind then the Gainer/St George 240Z just 16 seconds in arrears. The Schon/Tonetti Alfa was next but only 2 seconds slower and Gerry and Matt brought the P76 in 6th a lonely 1 second behind the Alfa.

Overall Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy lead in their Datsun 240Z with a margin of around 40 minutes. The Bois Colman Volvo Amazon 122 still holds on to second just under 2 minutes in front of the Gainer/St George 240Z. The Jacksons in their Mercedes is now just 3 seconds off a podium finish in fourth with the Declercq/Claeys 240Z further back in fifth. Gerry and Matt have been putting this 240Z under increasing pressure, slashing 2 minutes off their deficit to be only a minute and a half behind.

Tomorrow the rally is held entirely in Slovenia, ending up in the country’s capital, Ljubljana. A distance of 300 rally kilometres.

In the video below, filmed in Slovenia, see Silvia at approximately 5.11mins:

In the video below, filmed in Slovenia, see Silvia at approximately 32 mins:

In the video below, filmed in Slovenia, see Silvia at approximately 8 mins:

Day 31, Tuesday, 13 July – Maribor to Ljubljana (300 kms)

Crews were presented with a rose on their arrival in Lubjljana, Slovenia
Crews were presented with a rose on their arrival in Lubjljana, Slovenia

The rally spent another warm, sunny day in Slovenia, a hidden jewel of chocolate box beauty. The direct route to Ljubljana is only 130 kilometres, but the rally tuliped tracks of close on 400 kilometres through picturesque valleys of perfect meadows and up wooded tracks between mountain hamlets.

There was a sequence of test sections on gravel and tarmac in the Slovenian mountains. This was an intense and tiring day for pilots, co-pilots and cars. Navigation was intense with a succession of quick turns throughout the whole day. Slovenia is a beautiful country with the best roads the rally has driven on since the beginning of the rally. The very steep climbs and descends were a foretaste of things to come in the Italian Dolomites this week.

Today, the rally crosses into Italy and tonight crews will stay in the stunning mountain resort of San Martino di Castrozza, set in the Primiero Valley and surrounded by the peaks of the Dolomites. The cars will arrive in the town square this evening. Tomorrow they head for St Moritz, with a weather forecast of cooler weather, with temperatures down to 1 degree with rain or sleet expected the following day.

See Paul and Bas in Silvia competing in one of the tests in Slovenia (at 9.47 mins)

Official report:

An Amazing Day

We might be into the last week now, but this Rally certainly hasn’t been allowed to take its foot off the gas. Today there were six tests to contend with and barely an inch of straight road to be seen for some 370km. There were two gravel sections, three tarmac sections and an auto test, held just before lunch to sharpen the appetite.

Throughout the day we travelled through forests, journeyed across mountains and darted in and out of beautiful sleepy villages all under the watchful eye of the Slovenian authorities and their Motorsport Federation who, once again closed the roads for us and provided all we needed to make the day a success.

From the word go however the pressure was on and, from sleepy low lying Maribor at around 300m we climbed to just under 1,400m up a well graded gravel track for twelve glorious kilometres before hitting the blacktop again for the run down the hill and towards the second test.

This set the pattern for the day, climb one mountain and come down the next one. Gearboxes, brakes and steering were tested to the limit as was the mettle of the crews who had to stay sharp throughout, whether they were driving or navigating. And then there was the heat to contend with, as welcome as a sunny day is however, getting enough water in was crucial to staying alert with the thermometer again touching 34°C.

The lunch halt was at the AMZS Safe driving centre near Vransko where crews had to negotiate a tight and twisting route through sets of awkwardly placed cones and obviously some managed this more efficiently than others before taking their seats at the table.

The afternoon’s drive was every bit as impressive as the morning’s, through more wide open countryside and densely packed forests and the tests were every bit as challenging with a searing tarmac hill climb as one of the highlights. At the day’s end, the crews pulled into Ljubljana, to a heroes’ welcome from the assembled crowd.

Time Trials
Today, the rally traversed Slovenia using some reasonable quality twisting back roads and was to include 6 tests, 5 time trials and a driving test similar to a motorkhana. Hills seemed also to be the order of the day as the roads climbed from 300m to 1400m altitude. This was certainly a test in itself for both man/woman and machine with gearboxes, brakes and human bodies getting a workout in the 34+deg.

The Cleyndert/Norman Bentley was again fastest Vintageant today and it is obvious they are pushing for the European Cup in their category. Their speed has very little bearing on their category for overall honours as they are back in 22nd but like Joost Van Cauwenberge in the classics, their plan is to take home some hardware. Four of the top five overall were in amongst the seven fastest today with only the Clarkes, who are fifth, way down the order. The top 5 though remain unchanged and unless something dramatic happens, will probably finish this way.

Time Trial 31.1 – Lovrenc Na Pohorju
The first test was a long gravel hill climb up and down both sides. There is no prize for guessing which two were fastest here. Joost Van Cauwenberge in his Mercedes beat Mark Pickering in his 240Z by 8 seconds then daylight. Pickering is not letting Joost have it all his way and is making him work for his European Cup. Third fastest, some 28 seconds back, are the Jacksons in their Merc then another 13 seconds to the Schon/Tonetti Alfa and a further 3 seconds back to the Finn/Webster Volvo. Gerry and Matt were 9th, another 34 seconds behind the Volvo but of most interest for the legion of Leyland P76 fans is seeing if the boys can get into a top 5 position which means passing the Declercq/Claey’s 240Z. In this time trial they took 9 seconds off them.

Time Trial 13.2 – Skorno
This second time trial was soon after the first and over similar territory. Again, Cauwenberge beat Pickering by 17 seconds and they finished 1-2. The Gainer/St George 240Z was third, 10 seconds adrift of the leading pair. The 7 seconds to the Schon/Tonetti Alfa and another 12 seconds to the Jacksons’ Mercedes. Gerry and Matt were 11th, 26 seconds behind the Jacksons but they took another 12 seconds off the Declercq 240Z.

Time Trial 13.3 – Vinska Gora
Joost threw the big Mercedes around with great gusto and beat Mark Pickering by a whopping 33 seconds, not that it really mattered to Mark. He has his eyes on the prize. The Schon/Tonetti Alfa was next, down by 7 seconds, then two more big V8 Mercedes behind them. The Jacksons were 6 seconds behind the Alfa and then the Faymonvilles, back another 15 seconds. Gerry and Matt were down in 11th, some 40+ seconds behind the Mercedes, and the Declercq 240Z took 1 second back.

Time Trial 13.4 – Vransko
This driving test, followed by lunch, was held at the AMZS Safe Driving Centre near Vransko. The track is pool table smooth and competitors had to drive in and out of witches hats. It was like a gigantic motorkhana. Seems a little out of place on such a prestigious event. Looking at the time sheets it seems that only 9 cars got through the test in the correct direction. For those of you who have done motorkhanas you will know how difficult it is. Well, this one caught out almost everyone. 6 of those correct ones were Classics. At present the Finn/Webster Volvo was best, followed by the Hodgson/Bramill Peugeot 504, the Valentine/Lodge AMC, the Enes/Pombo Volvo 164, the David and Jo Roberts Sunbeam Alpine and the Habib/Samaha Porsche 356. Everyone else was given maximum time including Gerry and Matt. It seems by this stage they may have been having some water pump problems and overheating. Matt has a spare on board though.
Time Trial 13.5 – Metnaj

Joost and Pickering were back at the top, Joost bettering Pickering by 13 seconds. The Faymonville Mercedes was next but some 41 seconds slower than the Gainer/St George 240Z, the Spinks/Grayson Escort Mexico and the Chris and Tjerk Bury 240Z, all 10 seconds behind the Merc. Gerry and Matt finished in 8th, just behind the Jackson Mercedes, a full minute slower than Pickering. The good news is though, they took another 5 seconds off the Declercq 240Z.

Time Trial 31.6 – Krim
Cancelled.

So of course Joost Van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein won the day and charge on towards their coveted European Cup. They were over a minute quicker today than what seems to be the only team chasing them for the Cup and that naturally is Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy. Finn and Webster did well to be third, helped by the fact they were one of the few to get the Time Trial 13.4 correct. The Jacksons were next in the Mercedes followed by the Schon/Tonetti Alfa. Gerry and Matt finished 10th, three places in front of the Declercq 240Z, taking 25 seconds off the gap between them.

Overall it is still Pickering/Boddy 240Z, Bois/Colman Volvo, Jacksons’ Mercedes, Gainer/St George 240Z, Declercq/Claey’s 240Z and Gerry and Matt in the P76. The gap to 5th place is now 62 seconds.

In the video below, filmed in Ljubljana, Slovenia, see Silvia at approximately 1.22 mins:

Tomorrow the rally travels into its ninth country, Italy and the beautiful city of San Martino di Castrozza. It even sounds exotic. A distance of 454 kms and more time trials.

Slovenia was a massive surprise, lovely rally-loving country. We had great well organised stages, taking competitors up through the mountainous roads and rocky peaks of the Italian Dolomites. The weather played a major part in the event as torrential rain and hail played havoc with the crews and officials alike. Six time trials were set down but the last two were cancelled.

The Vos Lancia Lambda was quickest, closely followed by the Cleyndert Bentley. Nigel Lee and Richard Turner in their 38 Ford were third fastest and continued to take time off the two 29 Chryslers in front. Lee and Turner needed to find 3 minutes over the last days to get to second. Top 5 in the Vintageants remain unchanged.

Time Trial 32.1 – Drasgoze
The target time was set too high for most of the field and over half the classics made it in with no loss of time including Gerry and Matt and of course all the leading cars.

Time Trial 32.2 – Sella Cereschiatis
Again, the target time was set too high although a bit more difficult for some. A lot of cars beat the target but not as many as in 32.1. All the top teams were in there though.

Time Trial 32.3 – Passo Pura
Although the target time was generous, this time as well, the weather had closed right in, with the torrential rain and hail, yes torrential hail. You’ve really got to feel for the crews in open top cars. Only three cars got through with no loss of time, the Declercq 240Z and the Jackson and Faymonville Mercedes. The Schon/Tonetti Alfa lost only 4 seconds and Gerry and Matt were fifth, another 11 seconds back. From Matt “As usual Italy is amazing, good stages but low averages to achieve so hard to make up time! It was a very foggy rainy day and we lost a bit of time in one stage because a hail storm came through and we couldn’t even see the bonnet! Shame we were in the test and not on a transport!” The biggest problem though was for Joost Van Cauwenberge, who was seen on the side of the road with electrical dramas caused by the weather. It could mean the end to his challenge for the European Cup.

Time Trial 32.4 – Sella di Razzo
Again, the target time was too easy and more than half the field lost no time, including all the leading cars but some trouble did befall the third placed Murray and Adam Jackson Mercedes 450SLC as they lost 20 minutes on the side of the road somewhere. No details at this point

Time Trials 32.5 and 32.6 were cancelled

So for the day, the Declercq 240Z and the Faymonville Mercedes both topped the time sheets on equal time lost. The Schon/Tonetti Alfa was next just 4 seconds back and Gerry and Matt 11 seconds behind the Alfa, with Mark Pickering fifth, another 11 seconds behind the P76.

Overall with only 4 days to the finish and only 3 of those likely to have time trials, things are looking good for some and rather nerve racking for others. Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy’s lead still hovers around the 42 minutes mark over the Bois/Colman Volvo. Then it’s another pair of 240Zs, making it 3 of Datsun’s finest in the top 4. The Gainer/St George Z car is just over 3 minutes down on the Volvo, with the Declerq/Claey Z car 6 minutes behind them. Gerry and Matt have slipped into the top 5 at the expense of the Jacksons’ Mercedes which is now 6th. Gerry and Matt are 77 seconds behind the Declercq Z.

Tomorrow we leave Slovenia and head into Italy to San Martino di Castrozzo deep in the Dolomites.

Day 32, Wednesday, 13 July – Ljubljana, Slovenia to San Martino di Castrozza, Italy (454 kms)

Yesterday was and incredible day, racing through the majestic Dolomites on four asphalt stages, spread out by lunch at the prosciutto factory in the mountains, and incredible single-lane mountain roads with endless first-gear hairpins strung together. The weather went from clear to incredible downpour, and back to clear throughout the day, leaving some of the roads very wet and slippery.

Eulogising about the weather and the roads was bound to cause a problem and after a sunny departure from Ljubljana, the heavens opened late morning. It was a rainstorm of biblical proportions and the worst rain many participants have driven in. At one point there was a horizontal wall of water and hailstones and the wipers and demister were powerless to do anything about it. Crawling along at around 10mph there were red taillights and hazard flashers. Thinking it was an accident, drivers slowed to see that vehicles had pulled over and were trying to hide under a bridge. Several cars pulled over and waited for the storm to pass.

Finally, after about two hours of driving through heavy rain, the clouds lifted and we saw how glorious the Dolomites are. Entering the Dolomites was a beating of a different kind. We traversed a total of six or seven ranges, climbing 3000 feet at a time and then down again and around endless hairpin bends that many cars struggled to negotiate. The 440 kilometres was virtually all on one mountain road or other, going up through countless hairpins and very short straights and then down the other side, doing a stage and then repeating the process on another mountain. They are interesting roads, and steering, brakes and clutches took a hammering, as did arms, as the day turned into an upper body workout.

As we dive deep into the Dolomites and its impressive backdrop, we climbed one mountain road and then descended back down into the valley.

In the afternoon the weather brightened, and excited spectators once again lined the numerous villages that we passed through.

We arrived in Italy and headed for the mountain resort of San Martino di Castrozza. The last two time stages of the six scheduled were cancelled on the orders of the Italian police. Participants still had to drive the stages but they were not competitive.

Thinking that the European final days would be easy, as the route book listed 350-450 kilometres for each day, was a mistake. There are 5-6 stages every day and while they were all on tarmac yesterday, the wet conditions made them slippery.

Official Report:

We were heading into the Italian Dolomites today, a Unesco World Heritage site famed for its rocky peaks, breathtaking views and stunning scenery although by day’s end most crews were reduced to looking online to see exactly what they’d missed.

The day started off well enough, warm and dry and with some blue sky. Breakfast was good and there was no serious traffic to deal with on our way out of this small but perfectly formed capital city. It was a simple drive from the Main Time Control, passing under Pete Stone and Jim Smith’s pneumatic arch, and up to the first test at Drazgose. Ahead lay a packed itinerary with six tests in the book and another country to cross off the list.

A picturesque jaunt along a tree lined ridge, and into the Julian Alps with full sun in attendance and everything looking like it was going to be another lovely day but things changed pretty quickly and the clouds which only a minute or two earlier had been fluffy, white and benign quickly turned heavy, dark and pendulous. In a word it looked as if was going to rain.

And rain it did. Initially, as the Rally bypassed Bled and drove along the gravel through the forest of the Triglavski National park, there was a dampness in the air and a few light spots of moisture as the first cars parked up at the time control in Psnak. This would have been an amazing setting but the low lying cloud spoiled the views of the mountains almost entirely. This was our last control in Slovenia and by the time we reached the Italian border, just before the town of Tarvisio, this low lying cloud had turned to heavy rain, causing those crews in open cars such as Remon and Emma Vos to sit as low as they could in their trusty Lambda and as close to the windshield as possible.

As we inched our way up through the clouds to the third test at Sella Cereschiatis we occasionally saw rocky peaks poking through to hint at the immensity of our surroundings whilst lightning streaked across the sky, briefly lifting the strange mid-morning darkness as thunder rolled through the hills. ERA marshals, Alan Smith and Dick Hall, cowered beneath their tail gate, desperately trying to keep their check sheets and clocks out of the raging tempest.

A passage control marked the high point of this section and then it was a helter-skelter descent down to the test finish in the valley and the next challenge, although getting to it proved more difficult than many would have imagined to be possible.

What can only be described as driving rain, hit the Rally with visibility down to something like 20m at times and with traffic at a standstill in some places. Keith and Norah Ashworth and Alex Vassbotten and Ole Havn, two open car crews, took to the hard shoulder to sit out the worst of it under an umbrella as gradually the rain turned to hail.

Something in excess of two inches of standing water sat on the road in the town of Villa Santina whilst in Ampezzo we saw Joost Van Cauwenberge and Jacques Castelein’s Mercedes pulled over with an electrical issue. They reckoned that the water had caused a short circuit in the engine and they’d lost all power.

Hard on the heels of this deluge came the third test which took us up to the Passo Pura through a forest which today seemed deep dark and dank. The nebbia rolled in and out at will and without any warning, giving the crews only the briefest of glimpses of the next corner or even the car in front before shutting out once again. As luck would have it, Mike Thompson and Andrew Davies were also struggling with a faulty windscreen wiper at the beginning of the section.

Once we’d got through this test though, it was time for lunch in Sauris, above the Lake of the same name and maybe a chance to do a bit of drying out. Wet or dry, from Sauris there were many more tornanti to wrestle with throughout the afternoon but at least the rain had stopped by the time we arrived in Laggio di Cadore to parade down their high street and take the applause of the early afternoon cafe society.

The Passo Cibiana and the Passo Duran which both sit at around 1550m should have literally been the scenic high points of the day but sadly these two Dolomitic legends were also obscured by the clouds which had dogged us all the way, although occasionally we saw glimpses of the immense limestone outcrops.
As they pulled into the MTC this evening, the crews were once again feted as heroes by the crowd and, after what they’ve all been through today, we can only agree that they surely are.

Tonight the Rally is split over nine hotels, something of a record for the ERA but no one is complaining. We’ve pretty much taken over San Martino di Castrozza to the extent that we’re all on the same street in small, family run and very hospitable establishments.

See Silvia at 4:40 in Italy:

See the Peking to Paris in Italy:

Next, the Rally heads to St Moritz in Switzerland.


Official Report:

River Deep, Mountain High

Our second day in the high mountains, our last in Italy and another country to add to the tally that we’ve already been through, for this evening we bed down in Switzerland.

Between breakfast and dinner though lay some of the toughest motoring in Europe. Four tests and long mountain sections were set to take each and every crew to new heights and wider horizons which led James Weekly to remark on the stunning landscapes we were lucky enough to be driving through.

Test one was a simple but tight and twisty tarmac climb up to the Passo Brocon and then down the other side to test two which alternated between broken tarmac and gravel and also included a water splash. Some crews were a little nervous after their aquatic adventures way back in Mongolia but we’re happy to report that Nick and Jessica Sleep and Barry and Marti Shelton both made it through without needing new head gaskets or rescuing by an ERA Hilux truck.

Following the splashing and dashing of the morning we enjoyed an excellent lunch at the Grand Hotel Molveno on the shores of Lake Molveno, owned and run by the Bettega family. This discreet hotel with a very sunny car park was just the place, according to Claus Coester and Tjorven Schroeder, to lay out and dry your still wet clothing from yesterday over the bonnet of your Bentley.

Because of the bad weather yesterday, the two tests planned for the afternoon had to be cancelled due of the state of the roads, but Clerk of the Course Kim Bannister quickly put in place a re-route to avoid the worst of it so crews were able to enjoy an extra helping of lunch without fearing the consequences.

The Italy – Swiss border was our next milestone and was marked by a small collection of Rally fans waving flags and cheering us onwards to the Passo Bernina and then to St Moritz itself where there was another civic reception for us to enjoy.

An enthusiastic compere introduced the crews to the seething crowd over the PA system. The procedure worked well in German, then French and then English although the translation might have broken down a little when we learned of the father and daughter crew in the 1927 Bentley. No matter, one of the crew at least was delighted by this sideways compliment.

In this crowd of well-wishers we saw some old friends and competitors as well including Phil Cuerel, Rela Hoenner-Zullig, Mario, Catherine and Noelle Illien, Ulrich Koerne and Hans Fuglistaler.

This evening in the Kempinski Hotel, the realisation that we’re almost finished is beginning to dawn on many competitors and some were quite reflective today, Hudson Lee and Samson Chow for example are two guys from Hong Kong who have thoroughly enjoyed driving their Mercedes 350SL across half of the world.

Living and working in one of the most crowded places on the planet they loved driving through the vastness of Mongolia, one of the emptiest places you could ever find. They’ve had a good Rally so far as well, slow and steady for the most part but like many others they reckon that their car was a bit too low for some of the rougher stuff. They’ve kept an eye on basic maintenance also and quipped that things coming loose seem to be a feature of this rally. They’ve got a roof on their car so weren’t too bothered by the conditions yesterday but like the rest of the Rally, they say that they take their hats off to the crews in the open cars.

It’s been another great day and the sun shone. The compere from the town square assures us that there will also be full sun tomorrow when we leave town at 8.00am. We’ll hold him to that.

Day 33, Thursday, 14 July – San Martino di Castrozza, Italy to St Moritz, Switzerland (390 kms)

On the morning of Friday, 15 July participants will cross Switzerland from east to west. They will leave St Moritz for Valais via the Furka Pass and head towards Lausanne, the penultimate stage of this great adventure. The three passage controls provided in the region are an excellent opportunity to admire the cars and their crews:

• Furka Pass: 12.00pm – 2.00 pm
• Leuk: 2.30pm – 4.00pm
• The Croix de Coeur: 3.30pm – 5.30pm

La sixième édition du Peking to Paris les participants traverseront la Suisse d’est en ouest. Le 15 Juillet au matin, ils partiront de Saint Moritz pour entrer en Valais via le Col de la Furka et se diriger vers Lausanne, antépénultième étape de cette grande aventure. Les trois contrôles de passage prévus dans la région constituent une excellente opportunité d’admirer de près les voitures et leurs équipages:

• Col de la Furka: 12h00 / 14h00
• Leuk: 14h30 / 16h30
• La Croix-de-Coeur: 15h30 / 17h30

Day 34, Friday, 15 July – St Moritz to Lausanne, Switzerland (420 kms)

In Switzerland, especially, our arrival was greeted not only by the crowds but by a local selection of classic cars. In the morning in St Moritz, amongst others, a lovely red E-Type FHC was parked outside the Kempinski Hotel, and an immaculate black Lancia Integrale.

This was the last competition day of the rally. The planned route from St Moritz to Lausanne was impassable so a late change had the rally heading over the Julier and Oberalp Passes towards Andermatt.

The medal chasers turned off the highway to do the ascent to and around Verbier but many others hung on for Lausanne. Cars drove over several alpine passes with snow, ice and fog on the road, rather unexpected in mid July.

There was a small track test in the morning and more cones to slalom around.
The last test was on rough gravel.

The rallyists meet at a checkpoint for lunch and there’s a sense of ennui. Some cars are struggling to totter to the finishing line and faces are lined with anxiety.

We climb higher and soon hit the snow line. The weather is unseasonal and it starts to snow. Albula pass is closed due to snow. So we take the Julier with just as much snow and more coming down. We have now seen it all on this trip!

St Moritz to Lausanne

We reach the peak at 2400 meters in thick mist to find a shivering marshal.

We climb the first pass to 2200 meters and then down again before tackling the famed Furka Pass. It is over 2400 metres and one of the higher passes. On our way up, one of the best passes near Andermatt and the scene of the famous DB5/Mustang chase in Goldfinger, the Furka Pass, was the best part of the day. It is tight, very twisty and the view from the top was low cloud and snow. The road is fun and the views on the way up and down are fantastic, as are the drops. We find a plaque commemorating the famous mountain car chase from Goldfinger which was filmed just here. Serendipity plays tricks.

The Furka Pass was followed by an arrow straight 4-5 kilometre stretch of road that we take in bright sun. It is amazing how different the weather can be from one side if a mountain to the other.

Arriving at the last timed stage, at the Croix de Coeur overlooking Verbier, brought an air of excitement and trepidation. It turned out to be on rough gravel and every second corner was a hairpin.

Lake Geneva glistens as we glide by and then we descend and start to traverse the glacial valley that bisects this country. We pass the signs to Crans and to Zermat. The sun shines bright in a blue sky and Furka is quickly a distant memory. Thirty four days on the road and the music on the iPhone still entertains some.

There is a definite sense of relief as we pull onto the Avenue de Rhodanie, past the interestingly named Chateau d’Ouchy and the Olympic Museum, in Lausanne, the second largest city on Lake Geneva in the French-speaking region of Vaud. Our crews will be staying at the Moevenpick Hotel – also known for their delicious ice-cream!

We still have over 500km tomorrow and 180km on Sunday so the rally is not over.

Official Report:
Crossing from one side of Switzerland to the other has the makings of another long day. The mist swirls but the sun breaks through from time to time to reveal the majesty of the surrounding mountains.

Sharp eyed readers will recall that yesterday evening we were given a prediction by the compère in the square of full sun by 8.00 am today. Well, according to the Rally cuckoo clock this didn’t happen. What we woke to was another grey sky and the beginnings of another heavy rain shower.

There was worse to come though as the day progressed and snow on the Albula Pass, the first obstacle of the day, forced a very late change of route via the Julier Pass. Some of the earlier starters didn’t get the verbal notification and Rudi Hug for example was held up briefly by a snow plough at the summit and was cheered on by the admittedly small but enthusiastic crowd of fans who stood shivering in the cafe doorway.

Nothing got in the way of the first test though. A little bit of light auto test relief at the Graubunden Driving Centre where steering wheels were whirled and tyres tore up the Tarmac. All around us meanwhile the mountains were hidden by dark thick clouds which is exactly where we were heading next and as we inched up towards the Oberalp Pass the Glacier Express dining car rolled past us. We could almost smell the strudel as the diners sat open mouthed and raised a glass in our direction.

Once down from this lofty peak we rolled into the town of Andermatt where hundreds came out to greet us. We witnessed the crew of car 20, Alex Vassbotten and Ole Havn getting some well-deserved rock star treatment, they’ve got a great car and they’re always well dressed in flying jackets and leather helmets. Real crowd pleasing stuff.

Climbing up through the clouds once again, we saw Julie Stephenson dancing around at the summit of the Furka Pass absolutely delighted that it was snowing properly. Australians don’t see much of the white stuff whereas Koen van den Broeck grunted that he hated the stuff. In Belgian it’s viewed as a cold wet nuisance much as it is by the Rally Organisers. Thankfully this marked the last of the snow today and, as we dropped into the Valais valley the mercury began to rise.

Stalls selling locally grown apricots reminded us that we were heading for lunch in Leuk at the Restaurant Spycher and after taking on suitable refreshment, the crews began to dry and thaw out and look forward to the test on the sunlit uplands of the Croix de Couer.

To get there we had an easy ride for 30km along the motorway lined with vineyards and fruit trees and the test itself was a real blast. A closed road section with local marshals, mostly gravel with some broken tarmac through the trees to the slopes above Verbier with stunning views across to the Combin Massif. As well as pleasing the crowds who’d gathered we also managed to startle some cows busy in a mobile milking unit. Let’s hope it doesn’t affect their yield.

Verbier is a high town at 1500m so from here to Lausanne it was literally all downhill and thankfully for some crews mostly on motorways and main roads. The end of term feeling is really cranking into gear now.

Official Report:

The End is Nigh

“We’ve just about made it”, was the collective opinion today, as a few slightly sore heads were raised from one hundred or more Mövenpick pillows. We crossed the border into France and subconsciously took our foot off the gas for the drive into Reims and the party hosted by our friends at Henriot Champagne.

There was no competition today – and there’ll be no competition tomorrow – just a series of passage controls which the crews had to visit on pain of a fine which would go to the Lotus Child Charity which we visited way back in Ulaan Baatar. Strangely, all crews complied with this ruling, even those who have become a little lax with their timecard discipline over the last few weeks.
High jinks were a feature of last night, which partly explains the sore heads of this morning but there was also quite a lot of noise in and around the hotel. The moustachioed Swiss pairing of Chris and Joe Dillier played their Alpenhorns whilst the Scotsman in our number gave the bagpipes another airing.

Julia Colman celebrated her birthday today and praised the organisers for another great event. “What makes the Rally are the people” she declared and, we the people couldn’t agree more. She, the Volvo Amazon and Ludovic her husband are also about to secure a well-earned and richly deserved second place in the Classics category.

This is the last night that the Rally will be together as “the Rally” for tomorrow we meet and greet family and friends and step out of our bubble and back into the real world. This will be a shock and will take some adjustment. Six weeks of rigid schedules, precise timing and mind boggling distances will take a lot of undoing, so a message to those aforementioned family and friends; bear with us.

Barring some mechanical catastrophe, we’ll see the current leaders take their silverware tomorrow when Frederique Constant stops the clock that they started way back in Beijing.

When Place Vendome fills the windscreen there’ll likely be a few eyes filled with tears. Relief, pride and jubilation are powerful drugs, and they’re addictive, so no doubt we’ll see some of these intrepid crews back for another dose another time.
“People don’t take trips – trips take people.” – John Steinbeck.

Bas Reports:
Fresh snow! We climbed to 2500 m. Sylvia shivered at the top, and developed a miss. I replaced the spark plugs; she liked that Time trials are finished!

One 500-kilometre-day drive today then we have a little celebration in Reims.

The Rally arrives at Furkapass, Switzerland
The Rally arrives at Furkapass, Switzerland
Furkapass - photo courtesy of Fredi Vollenweider and Ela Lehmann
Furkapass – photo courtesy of Fredi Vollenweider and Ela Lehmann
Passing the Hotel Bélvèdere, about 3 kilometres below the ridge of the Furkapass on the Valasian side, Switzerland
Passing the Hotel Bélvèdere, about 3 kilometers below the ridge of the Furkapass on the Valasian side, Switzerland
Furkapass - photo courtesy of Fredi Vollenweider and Ela Lehmann
Furkapass – photo courtesy of Fredi Vollenweider and Ela Lehmann

Bas’ videos – after crossing the Furka-Pass in Switzerland:

These roads are amazing, and everywhere we drive there are people riding push bikes up them!

We are in Lausanne now. Beautiful on the lake.

Lake Geneva, Switzerland
Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Switzerland - Lake Geneva

Day 35, Saturday, 16 – Lausanne, Switzerland to Reims, France (485 kms)

The Rally arrives in Reims, France on Saturday, 16 July
The Rally arrives in Reims, France on Saturday, 16 July
Arrival in France - Paris, here we come!
Arrival in France – Paris, here we come!

Official Report:

The End is Nigh

“We’ve just about made it”, was the collective opinion today, as a few slightly sore heads were raised from one hundred or more Mövenpick pillows. We crossed the border into France and subconsciously took our foot off the gas for the drive into Reims and the party hosted by our friends at Henriot Champagne.

There was no competition today – and there’ll be no competition tomorrow – just a series of passage controls which the crews had to visit on pain of a fine which would go to the Lotus Child Charity which we visited way back in Ulaan Baatar. Strangely, all crews complied with this ruling, even those who have become a little lax with their timecard discipline over the last few weeks.
High jinks were a feature of last night, which partly explains the sore heads of this morning but there was also quite a lot of noise in and around the hotel. The moustachioed Swiss pairing of Chris and Joe Dillier played their Alpenhorns whilst the Scotsman in our number gave the bagpipes another airing.

Julia Colman celebrated her birthday today and praised the organisers for another great event. “What makes the Rally are the people” she declared and, we the people couldn’t agree more. She, the Volvo Amazon and Ludovic her husband are also about to secure a well-earned and richly deserved second place in the Classics category.

This is the last night that the Rally will be together as “the Rally” for tomorrow we meet and greet family and friends and step out of our bubble and back into the real world. This will be a shock and will take some adjustment. Six weeks of rigid schedules, precise timing and mind boggling distances will take a lot of undoing, so a message to those aforementioned family and friends; bear with us.

Barring some mechanical catastrophe, we’ll see the current leaders take their silverware tomorrow when Frederique Constant stops the clock that they started way back in Beijing.

When Place Vendome fills the windscreen there’ll likely be a few eyes filled with tears. Relief, pride and jubilation are powerful drugs, and they’re addictive, so no doubt we’ll see some of these intrepid crews back for another dose another time.
“People don’t take trips – trips take people.” – John Steinbeck.

Bas Reports:
Fresh snow! We climbed to 2500 m. Sylvia shivered at the top, and developed a miss. I replaced the spark plugs; she liked that Time trials are finished!

One 500-kilometre-day drive today then we have a little celebration in Reims.

Today we will drive from Lausanne to Reims and on Sunday on from Reims to Place Vendôme in Paris.

The first cars should arrive in Paris at approximately 1.00pm and will travel towards Place Vendome in batches of ten.

Day 36, Sunday, 17 July Reims to Paris (180 kms)

Paris, Here we come!

Paris, here we come!

Reims to Paris, the Champagne capital of France to the cultural capital of the world perhaps in 180 short but sweet kilometres. Whatever Peking to Paris had dealt you this is a special occasion for every crew and their families waiting in the sun in the fashionable and well-groomed centre of Paris.

On the drive to the finish though we had time to reflect on the fact that there can obviously only be one winner from each category but whatever place the crews occupy on the results table they must remember this; success is a journey not a destination and in getting an old car half way around the world there surely are no losers.

The Rally may have cost the crews in terms of money, effort and emotion but there’s no doubt that despite the expenditure they’re all going to go home richer for it and we hope that those who crossed the line have lived up to the aphorism offered up by the late Hunter S Thompson. “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Holy Shit! What a Ride!’” Looking at some of the cars parked up under the column Vendôme there’s been quite a lot of sideways skidding and they’re all pretty much worn out.

It was lovely to see so many friends and past ERA competitors in the crowd today such as Jeremy Boadle, Josie Thompson, Nicholas Pryor and Lesley Stockwell, Jose and Maria de Sousa and Jill and Dennis Wilson. They had all made the trip to welcome this year’s class of 2016. They’d been there themselves and they surely knew what an achievement they’d pulled off. William Medcalf as well, a two times Peking to Paris finisher himself and a one man emergency service for the Bentley community stood and watched his charges arrive. No doubt making notes as to what work they’ll be needing when they arrived back in his garage.

As the hour of le grand arrive drew near, the crowd of supporters in Place Vendome swelled. Slowly at first but gathering pace exponentially. The Andrew Duerden finish arch was erected, the police cordoned off the route up to the Place and the ERA marshals set aside special Rally parking, for this is where their cars were to spend their night. Henriot Champagne and Frederique Constant, who’ve been with us all the way had also joined forces to offer refreshment to the crews as they arrived and had a shady tent in which something cold and fizzy could be enjoyed.

A few minutes behind schedule – delayed by traffic – the cars started rolling in. Vintageant winners Bruce and Harry Washington arrived first. It was third time lucky for Bruce but a novice win for Harry. Next in line Mike Thompson and Andrew Davies rolled up to take the applause followed by Nigel Lee and Richard Turner. When the Classics had their turn a slightly different engine note signalled their arrival, the screaming Datsun of Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy disappeared in a mist of champagne which left the cobbles a little sticky for a delighted Ludovic Bois and Julia Colman and Murray and Adam Jackson. For almost two hours the crowd of thousands clapped and waved and shouted words of welcome but as the afternoon wore on it was the bar of the hotel which took over as the hub of activity.

Our hotel tonight is our traditional Parisian resting place, the Intercontinental Le Grand and, as usual it has performed an amazing feat of hospitality aided and abetted by Christine Arnal our traditional French ‘fixer’. The Gala dinner itself was illuminated by a slideshow and a film of the Rally chronicling the adventures of these heroic crews right from the beginning in Beijing. If you weren’t there yourself then this was the next best thing, as someone once said travelling may make you speechless but then it turns you into a storyteller.

The appropriate silverware was handed out by Fred Gallagher and Kim Bannister, the speeches were made and we dined on seafood and beef washed down with a choice of wines and, just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, Rally Director Fred pulled a rabbit out of the hat by unveiling the outline route for the 2019 edition.

As well as the sporting trophies however there were some discretionary awards made including the Philip Young Cup for novices, which was taken by an astonished Harry Washington. The Spirit of the Rally Award went to Max and Julie Stephenson for helping the other crews above and beyond the call of duty. Against All Odds was scooped by David and Jo Roberts who have nursed and fettled their Sunbeam every evening for the last month or more finally rolling into Paris with a Gold Medal. True Grit was awarded to Sia and Eric for their well-documented chase back to the Rally following the engine fire in their Rolls Royce. Accepting the award Sia told the assembled crowd that whatever is thrown at you this has shown that you have to endure. The Coupe des Dames was taken by Isobel and Nicola Mathew and the Concours d’Elegance for the Vintageants was given to Lloyd and Treacy Reddington and in the Classics to Jeff Urbina and Chris Pike. The Best Help to the Sweeps award went to Matt Bryson and Sebastian Gross for mucking in and helping those in need.

Finally a few words from our winners. Bruce Washington has won this event at the third attempt and put it succinctly as he crossed the finish line. “You see what happens when you never give up”. Harry Washington meanwhile, rally novice extraordinaire at only nineteen years old was struck by the fact that “every country was like its own rally, every time you crossed the border you didn’t know what you were you going to get. An amazing experience and I’m so proud of my dad and yes, I’d do it all again tomorrow”.

Mark Pickering, the overall winner of the Classics category said that it had been another fantastic adventure, meeting up with old friends and making new friends and, seeing places that you would never see otherwise. “The car is tired and so are Dave and I and we’re all looking forward to a well-earned rest. It is an amazing feeling to have won such an iconic event thank you to the ERA”.

Well after midnight the biggest ballroom in Paris began to empty and the bars around the Rue Scribe began to fill. The crews may be tired but they’re still thirsty, apparently.

Official Results:
Day 30 – Budapest to Maribor
Monday – Jul 11, 2016
Daily driving time: 9:36:13
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #9

Day 31 – Maribor to Ljubljana
Tuesday – Jul 12, 2016
Daily driving time: 10:13:55
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #11

Day 32 – Ljubljana to San Martino di C.
Wednesday – Jul 13, 2016
Daily driving time: 9:29:58
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #11

Day 33 – San Martino di C. to St Moritz
Thursday – Jul 14, 2016
Daily driving time: 10:41:03
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #10

Day 34 – St Moritz to Lausanne
Friday – Jul 15, 2016
Daily driving time: 9:44:30
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #11

Day 35 – Lausanne to Reims
Saturday – Jul 16, 2016
Daily driving time: 0
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #11

Day 36 – Reims to Paris – Final Day
Sunday – Jul 17, 2016
Daily driving time: 0
Class Position: #1
Overall Position: #11

Other links: