Frederique Constant – Peking to Paris Motor Challenge kick off
The day began ridiculously early. Breakfast was set in the Shangri-La Ballroom especially for us and at 5.0am it was bustling with rally-drivers eager to get going.
Even though it was dark outside, the unlit car park was an indication of who is taking this seriously… you only had to look at who was asking the hotel porters for trolleys for piles of suitcases, and those who were swinging through the revolving doors with nothing more than a small airline bag, to get a feel of who was out to preserve their suspension and maximise their performance.
The plan was to make an early start, beat the traffic jams, and make the steady climb up to Badaling and the Great Wall of China for the start. Our sponsors, Swiss watch company Frederique Constant, had erected an arch with two giant clocks on either side, in the shadow of the Great Wall. Then the fun begins… Chinese dancers on stilts put on a display, including turning cartwheels and acrobatics on stilts, followed by Chinese dragons and lions prancing around the lined up cars.
Tim Scott took all this in his stride and kept his head down as he made final adjustments to his route book which had been transferred onto a gadget in a plastic case resting on the fuel tank of his 1922 FN 750cc motorcycle. He has never been short of company on this rally – until now. After the drop of the flag at 9:0am, he was entirely on his own… he pointed the motorcycle-and-sidecar to the other side of the car park and fired up the engine and headed out through the crowd of cheering admirers as he set about his lonesome single-handed ride across two Continents.
He was followed by David and Karen Ayre in their 1907 seven-litre Itala, sister car of the model Prince Borghese had used to win the original Peking to Paris of 1907, and the 1914 Lancia Theta of Daniel Ward – both these two in the Pioneer Category were with us for the 100th-anniversary Peking Paris we organised three years ago.
Cymbals clashed, giant drums banged, and to the great cacophony of sound from the dancing troupe, the Peking Paris was finally, at long last, on the road.
Mongolia strides a giant plateau, and to get up there involves a long steady climb. In 1907, it was a tough test for Prince Borghese and his rivals and for some today, it was quite a struggle. We all found ourselves dodging in and out of trucks, passing through small villages with excited children cheering from the roadside, small motorcycles with as many as six live sheep tied down behind the rider, and it was not long before we hit our first patches of rough unmade road, with long strips of dirt, dust and potholes.
The Lancia of Daniel Ward stopped with a blocked fuel filter, soon sorted by Simon Ayris in the mobile workshop, and this was not the only car to experience fuel supply issues during what has been quite a warm day. The Volvo of Nicholas Pryor required carburettor adjustments after a morning of rough-running. The little Citroen saloon of Thomas Weichenberger arrived at the first Passage Control of the day run by Peter and Betty Banham requiring a head-gasket change, which he set about doing himself, and Kurt Englehorn in Bentley limped into the end of the day requiring a new clutch. The Lagonda LG45 of Richard Cunningham may be the first retirement, they have chosen to move on to the next major town of Erenhot as they have reported in that the car is unable to continue.
Our route swept through green and lush open countryside and has brought us to our lakeside hotel at Daihai. Heidi Winterbourne and Nicky Bannister were eager to set up their Time Control in the hotel lobby ready to greet competitors, but in this instance, found Car 59, the Alvis Speed 20, of Rudi Friedrichs and Lennox McNeeley already in the bar with tins of beer. The Speed 20 had lived up to its name. Lennox, who originally had planned a drive of his own in a La France, but hit snags when the engine could not be built in time, flew out to the start regardless and found himself taking up a vacancy as co-driver and navigator in the Alvis as last-minute stand-in.
Live your Passion