Motormouth: 2016 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge
Grandes Aventures: 2016 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge
This year’s Dakar Rally traversed two countries, covered 9 227 kilometres and took 14 days. Competitors used purpose-built and race-prepared cars, pickups, trucks and bikes – with mobile support teams, tons of spares and tyres and factory mechanics at their beck and call. They complained it was tough. Bunch of girls!
Real men and women chose, instead, the 2016 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge as their adventure of choice. Consider this: 13 965 kilometres, 11 countries and 36 days of demanding time schedules in elderly, standard production cars, across some of the most challenging topography in the world.
Each vehicle had to carry its own spare wheels and tyres, parts, camping equipment (for Mongolia) and creature comforts. No spacious trucks, vans, station wagons, ambulances, busses or pickups were allowed to enter. Entrants were permitted support from a second, competing, vehicle but that one could not carry heavy spares for the main entry – definitely no gearboxes or axles, for example. The accent in these events is on gentlemanly adventure and a spirit of fairness.
The organisers, the Endurance Rally Association (ERA), provided food, accommodation and qualified mechanics but competitors were otherwise on their own.
There were two main categories; Vintageant for those built before 1941 and Classic for cars of a type in production prior to 1975 – so one could get away with a later model provided it otherwise complied with the definition. So qualifying, was the newest car in the event, a 1977 Mercedes 280E piloted by Australians Paul Smith and Martin Kass.
At the other end of the entry list was a 1915 American LaFrance. This mammoth, displacing a gigantic 14.5 litres, was entered by Steve and Katherine Trafton from the USA. A second, 1925, model was driven by Tim Taylor and Ike Trafton.
Permitted modifications included increased ground clearance, sump shields, underbody plates and armoured or re-routed brake lines and wiring, but cars had to be presented in “period costume.” That meant no modern roof-top boxes for example. Cars needed to be capable of running on low grade petrol, so compression ratios higher than 8:1 were not recommended.
One-hundred-and-seven teams braved the start at the Great Wall of China on Sunday, 12th June, all hoping to drive triumphantly into Place Vendȏme, Paris, at around 1 pm on Sunday 17th July.
By the end of Day 7, at Murun in Mongolia, the leading pre-1941 car was the 1929 Chrysler 75 Roadster of New Zealanders Bruce and Harry Washington. Showing what the youngsters could do, and first overall, was the 1290 cc, 1970 Alfa Romeo Giulia Super of Italians Giorgio Schön and Pierre Tonetti. Mongolia had proved too much for the big American LaFrance cars, unfortunately, with both retiring on Day 2.
A week later, at the rest stop in Novosibirsk in Russia, the Kiwis still led the field of older cars but first place on road had passed to the Australian pairing of Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy in their 1973 Datsun 240Z. The Schön/Tonetti Alfa had dropped to 49th after a mechanical failure on Day 9.
Day 21 at Nizhny Novgorod, still in Russia, saw the Kiwis and the Aussies in the same positions they had occupied at the fourteenth night stop.
Day 28: Budapest in Hungary. It was still Washington/Washington and Pickering/Boddy, but the little Alfa was out of contention; now 36th in the “modern” group.
End of Day 34: The rallyists have arrived in Lausanne. There’s just one day of navigation – 485 km to Reims – with fines, for those failing to clock in at waypoints, going to the Lotus Children’s Charity in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia. Then it’s the final 180 kilometres into Paris on Sunday.
La Grande Arrivée:
The cars rolled in, delayed by traffic, a few minutes behind schedule. Vintageant winners Bruce and Harry Washington (1929 Chrysler 75 Roadster) arrived first. It was third time lucky for Bruce but a novice’s win for Harry. Next were Mike Thompson and Andrew Davies, in another Chrysler 75 Roadster, followed by Nigel Lee and Richard Turner (1938 Ford 62).
Somewhat different engine notes signalled arrival of the first Classics. Mark Pickering and Dave Boddy’s screaming Datsun disappeared in a mist of champagne that left the cobbles a little sticky for Ludovic Bois and wife Julia Colman (Volvo Amazon), then Murray and Adam Jackson (Mercedes 450 SLC).
Washington Senior put it succinctly as they crossed the finish line: “You see what happens when you never give up!” Son Harry, neophyte rallyist extraordinaire at only nineteen, 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, overall winner of the Classics category said that it had been another fantastic adventure, meeting up with old friends, making new ones and seeing places one would never see otherwise. “The car is tired, 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.”
Well after midnight, the ballroom at the Intercontinental Le Grand began to empty – as bars around Rue Scribe started to fill. The crews may have been tired but were still thirsty, apparently.
Pics by Gerard Brown, ERA