The Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2007

May 27 - June 30 2007

Getting over the hangover…

The party was terrific. A total of 742 sat down to lamb steaks followed by chocolate pudding. Paul Merryweather, the Chevy driver of car 87, forever the optimist, thought it best to try to get a drink five minutes before the film was due to start, ignoring the fact of life that the bar was taking at least half an hour to serve people, and that’s if you are lucky. 

The bar was heaving, and it meant the film couldn’t start on time to kick things off, so that had to be put off ‘til after the meal, and the cups were still being presented at gone midnight. But judging by the roar of the crowd, it seemed schedules and timing, for once, were now irrelevant – people were going to enjoy themselves.

The film went down well, so it seems all the hard work of getting up early to pull up wooden planks from tiny bridges, finding rocks to damn the streams and rivers, and other essential “props” of film making, were all worthwhile. The long views, the sunsets, the vast plains of Mongolia, had them ooing and ahhing in the aisles. Hopefully, we will try and get some of this film up on the website here in due course. It’s knock-out stuff in that it’s scenery that takes your breath away.

There were lots of prizes apart from ones for the sporting element of the event. Jan Vorbril got a roaring cheer and for collecting an “Against All Odds” cup after his single-handed drive, even if technically losing your navigator puts you out of the event.

The Rapier Girls, Pamela Reid & Nicola Wainwright, won the Ladies Prize. The Veteren Car Club award for pre-1919 cars went to Ralf Weiss and Kurt Schneiders - La France Roadster, the Vintage Sports Car Club’s award for best effort in a pre-1931 car went to Gerold Leumann and Hans-Rudolf Portmann in a 1926 Bentley Tourer.

There were “True Grit” tankards for the Dutch crew of the tiny Singer Le Mans, no longer can we dub that car a Singer Lemon. The Dutch crew of the Knox were on two cylinders for several days, cannibalised bits from another cylinder, got it back onto three, and banged and popped into Paris to win the Against All Odds Trophy. There was a True Grit tankards for the Spurlings, three days in the desert stranded and not a single moan or whinge, Digby Leighton Squires and David and Jo Roberts who drove their cars north out of Ulaan Bataar to catch up on their own route through southern Siberia (and maybe had worse conditions than the rest of us), a big cheer went up for the True Grit tankard that went to Tim Scott, who brought us the oldest car – the nine-litre Mercedes of 1903, who drove 900 kms on one day, put his tent up beside the road, and then drove another 700 kms to catch up and hit a cow after falling asleep, so lost time putting the radiator right, another True Grit award to Christopher and Anita Claridge Ware for giving up his gold medal to help Richard and Jill Dangerfield, and also a trophy for David and Karen Ayre, who were pulling up outside in the street in the Itala when the prizegiving was going on.

“Too dirty, too tired, too fed up,” said David later when we asked why he didn’t walk into the room… after 24 hours of hassle and hell being banged up in Metz prison for traffic offences, but, no charges, he can be excused.

Concours awards went to Daniel Ward, whose reliable performance in the veteran Talbot was inspirational, Leigh and Judy Pullen in the tiny Rover 12, and the Classics Category Concours was lifted by Nicholas and Annabella Marks in the dark red Lancia Aurelia.

The event broke new ground – no historic rally has ever crossed Mongolia, camped seven nights on the trot anywhere, and no rally for old cars has ever driven right across Russia. We had it as bad as the pioneers of 1907 at times, some argue even worse, given they didn’t have the vicious corrugations on desert tracks.

Fuel, water, food, back up, four medical teams, four mobile workshops, all clicked into place when it was needed with 300 people supported during an event that ran with the clocks ticking every day. Results sheets came out every night, start lists pinned to telegraph poles every morning, and every night something appeared on the internet for a following of hundreds of thousands. The 32 officials drove the same route as everyone else, and made it work…with the wonderful surprise that after Russia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland saw hundreds of extra marshals for a string of Time Trials on wonderfully smooth dirt roads through some great countryside, making “five countries in five days” something to remember as the sting in the tail.

Downsides? If the border crossing into Russia was slick, smooth, well-oiled and speedily handled with a good welcome, the leaving was anything but, one car spent 11 hours getting across. Russian police hauled in some cars and threatened to confiscate the whole car unless enormous fines were paid on the spot. “Your Aston Martin is the same as James Bond? Then the fine for you is one-million Roubles.” That actually happened… others had grim times, fines, and hefty delays, ruining their chances on the Time Trials before Tallinn, so, there was little choice but to neutralise those sections. A great pity as those who drove them, and crossing early in the day saw delays of less than two hours, all raved about how good this section was to drive.

Highlights? Nobody will forget coming over a crest in Mongolia, looking down at vast empty plains, and a tiny dot on the horizon, the dust trail of a rival, nobody will forget the hot bowls of soup in the evenings, the hassles of getting the tent packed up, the river crossings, which downed more than a few, and the endless, endless miles of truly empty roads through stunning terrain.

It did us some good to get away and live without a newspaper, television, news reports on anything at all.

Getting back into the rut of what they call normality is not easy, having lived in a bubble for over a month. Forgetting to collect that pair of socks of the railings of the balcony, nicking the bread rolls at breakfast for lunch on the move, trying to be on the road before the first car, all that became almost a routine.

There was not a single pot-hole to dodge on the way to the Rally Office…. Dull old life, eh? 


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