The Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2007

May 27 - June 30 2007



What a difference a day makes…

“That was the best day’s rallying I have ever seen… simply fantastic.” That’s the verdict on today from Dutchman Berend van den Dool, who is navigating Bert Kersten in a 1927 Bentley Speed Six.

It’s a sentiment that has been expressed by others in the bar this evening… a wonderful day, real rallying, best since Peking… for the Dutch who have been around just a bit, they think it goes even further than that. “Can’t recall a day that was organised any better, roads that were so stunning, scenery that’s an added bonus… with really exciting competition.” Yet only yesterday, every one was saying “what a shit day – surely the Russians gave us a send-off with something to remember…Police harassment and a border control non of us will forget.” That may well be true for some 40 cars bogged down in queues that refused to move at more than a snail’s pace, but today was very different.

We ran out of Tallin to a remarkable circuit used for rallycross. Forget Lydden Hill and the likes, it was as long if not longer than Brands Hatch, with dips and crests, even a lake in the middle and cars run alongside the water… the surface is a powdery, dusty gravel, and those who can drive on lose surfaces revelled in all this, sliding round the hairpins… with a Time Trial timed to the second. It was remarkably smooth, and slickly run by the motor-club who have put on a superb welcome for all of us who have never been to Estonia before. This was just the opener to the day…after this, we had more of their forest-sections, we ran past remote log-cabins, even small villages, where everything was shut down and where all the locals turned up to sit on tractors and doorsteps and cheer us on our way. Tightly marshalled – every gate, every footpath, was well manned. Just as well, as when Nigel Challis in his Land Rover pulled over to give room to the flying Xavier de Marmol and Catherine Janssens in their Chevy (with the top rolled down as it was such a bright warm day) he beached it. The only four-wheel-drive car in the whole event had two wheels down a soft dirt bank, the drivers door resting against a birch tree, and no way up – but help is just a mobile phone call away from on the spot help.

Estonia certainly knows how to put on a good rally. The help and reception we have received here has been simply wonderful.

It’s changed the results. Firstly, to bring you up to date. The tests yesterdays had to be cancelled as so many were stuck at the border. Move on. Nobody is grumbling now, the atmosphere and the camaraderie is terrific… a warm after glow after today’s organisation which has seen literally hundreds of marshals all in the right place at the right time. The gap has closed to seven minutes separating the two leading Chevy Coupes at the head of the Vintageant Category. Xavier was on a charge and the David Williams car was banging and popping and sounds less healthy. In the Classics Division, the Merc Fintail and Jaguar Mark Two are having a lot of fun… the two Astons were revelling in the rallycross circuit, with long lurid slides on opposite lock… and the engines sounding glorious punching out of the corners… the Germans in the Alvis have slipped down the leaderboard in the Vintageant Category, with Paul Merryweather also slipping out of third to fourth, overhauled by a flying Paul Carter, despite messing up on the circuit (stopping after the first lap to ask the marshals if this is the start of the second lap… while seconds tick away...Time Trials on circuits with “splits” and route changes clearly caught out a few… suggesting that a circuit test is more than just a driver’s benefit, navigators who can call the shots contribute to the results.

Roy Williams in the Riley Special was going well today but still holds tenth spot in the Vintageants, like Paul Carter, he stopped half way to ask a Marshal for instructions… tests that sort the really experienced? Estonia was a day full of surprises. In 17th position overall is one of the more unlikely cars… the Rolls Royce “doctors coupe” of Mark and Sandra de Ferranti.

Coming into Riga tonight, Gordon Phillips was slicing up the traffic anxious to avoid an overheating radiator, and we spotted the Morgan of the Spurlings sidelined in a car park with the bonnet up. Car 63, Hugh Brogan, is thought to be joining us here after a mega-long marathon from Mongolia. And news from the Pioneer Category: the big La France of Oliver Holmes and Malcolm Corrie have a broken half-shaft. A dud axle in a strange town is normally enough to sideline just about anyone, certainly a 1919 14-litre chain-drive monster. But, an engineer who happened to be walking down the road saw the car, asked “what’s up” – like you do – and offered to open up his workshop. The promise is that this car will be rolling on time when we leave here tomorrow morning, with a new axle – the workshop has opened up, and the staff of three are on a race against time to make a totally new axle shaft from a bare lump of iron. Hard to believe, all this, if you are not on the Peking to Paris, but this sort of gung-ho fever has got all sorts of crews rolling again.

What a difference a day makes… the frustrations of leaving Russia is now all behind us. Another intensive day, with lots of time-controls and more time trials, backed up with the extra marshalling crews who have come out from England, for an exciting route that packs in the best roads that can be rallied between here and Poland. With the clocks ticking every inch of the way.

Tomorrow, we will take a look at the Medal situation. The buzz is that only a handful of crews now retain grip of a Gold Medal – and keeping hold of that honour becomes all the more difficult as we nurse our cars towards Paris. 


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