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Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 10 & 11 – Gobi Camp to Urumqi – 342km + 542km

Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 10 & 11 – Gobi Camp to Urumqi – 342km + 542km

An old Chinese proverb says, “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and some Windmills”. And some, like a bunch of road weary westerners lost in the Gobi, build tents.

That was all that was between us and the 55mph winds that disturbed everyone’s sleep on our third night of camping. Just a flimsy piece of canvas, not even the Three Little Pigs gave that option a go, but, for the assembled field of this year’s P2P, it had to do. As we emerged, into the early morning, the sand was still blowing, coating everything in its path in grit – including our bleary eyes. “We’ve seen some winds in Mongolia, but I can’t remember anything like this” said Tony Jones, one of the most experienced mechanics on the event.

Those winds would increase in intensity during the day, and the campsite that we were due to be inhabiting at the end of Day 10 was deemed unsafe, and somehow, a hotel able to accommodate the rally was found, the fridges were stocked, and food was laid on, as the winds raged outside.

By the morning of day 11 the storm had subsided, and a new calm descended upon the rally, it’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do. We had stayed in the middle of the Great Sea Road National Park, and still had some way to go to finish what was left of the previous day and exit the park. Some things just happen for a reason, and we were able to enjoy the incredible geological features of the former seabed in glorious morning light. It was a breathtaking and enjoyable drive offroad, it was rough in places, but with such an astonishing and ever-changing backdrop it was worth the odd jarred back on a misread gulley.

Once the previous days route had been caught up, there was a long run out along gravel tracks to the days two regularities, that ran through one of the largest wind farms I have ever seen. It seemed like there were thousands of turbines, on a farm that extended for multiple kilometers. This wasn’t the most picturesque route in the world, in amongst the iron rich rock, on tracks that had been excavated for reasons of industry. It was brutal functionality but suited the purpose of the two regularities perfectly.

There were also some water splashes upon the route, although these had become more mud than water, a thick paste that when tossed into the air coated cars and crew. Save a thought for those in the open top cars, such as Max Bauer and Gilles Bindels in car number 20. There was a Bentley under the mud somewhere, and a driver and navigator, though these were easy to spot as they sported big grins underneath the grime. Of course, those in classics had the benefit of windows, although everyone had better remind Charlie Gray of this fact, as he seemed to forget to wind up the window of his Volvo 122S earlier, resulting in a face pack a beauty parlor would be proud of.

Patrick Debussere and Lorenzo Bas were also having fun in the mud, in the Dodge Roadster. Well, I say fun, they had actually become stuck in a particularly viscous patch of the sticky stuff, after taking avoiding action around another car, and in the process, finding out that their machines marque could also be a verb. No damage was done though, and they were extracted with enough time in the bank to make the next control without penalty.

As well as the extraction, there were the usual mechanicals for the sweeps to deal with, such as car 101, who lost their exhaust. Still, this wasn’t as dramatic as car 201, the Dodge Sweep Truck, who during the previous day had jettisoned the entire fuel tank and had not realised until a number of clicks down the road when they finally ran out of fuel. They’ve spent the day in Urumqi with a welding torch in hand, leaving the mechanical assistance teams one truck light for the day.

One or two others suffered mechanical woes, Otakar Chladek and Hynek Tauscher had an alternator fail in the Merc 350 SL, and Alex Vassbotten endured three electrical issues on the road, all fixed by navigator Bas Gross. Things weren’t so easily fixed for the New Zealand crew of the Bristol 403, the Silver Machine had broken down and was beyond roadside repair, leaving John and Rob Buchanan waiting for extraction, whilst their fellow members of Team Kiwi, Marty and Frances Dippie lost a gear selector and couldn’t finish the first regularity.

As the day marched on, we were treated to some smooth asphalt, after so many days on dirt. We were also approaching more populous areas again, with a time-control in the city of Shanshan, where the locals were out to greet us. It’s been a few days since we’ve seen many people, but the interest and enthusiasm for the event hasn’t dwindled, and even the photographers were being asked to pose for photos with the fans.

This was followed by a long run into the evenings halt, which would see a return to city life in Urumqi, a large metropolis of 4 million people. By the time the final crews had made it in, the positions were updated, showing that Richard Walker and Faith Douglas were still out in front, dropping 17 seconds on the day, although this was bettered by Andy Buchan and Mike Sinclair, who lost 13 seconds and moved up to second overall, after Patrick Debussere and Lorenzo Bas dropped 23 seconds – although after their offroad excursion this could have been much worse.

In the Classic category Lars and Annette Rolner still lead from Matt Bryson and Mike Pink, with John Henderson and Lui Maclennan now up to third after a super day. Elsewhere in that category, Marco Fila dropped 1:12, after having previously been in contention for the podium. He must have had rocket fuel in his morning coffee, as the penalties were due to arriving early at the time controls on the day’s regularities. Elsewhere, the best performance of the day goes to Ben Morgan and Ivor Dunbar, who dropped just 12 seconds in the Studebaker Champion Starlight – a cosmic effort.

Tomorrow is the final full day in China with competition, with just one regularity as we accelerate towards the border. The day will end tomorrow in another Camp, our final one in China, that will this time be in the shelter of a forest. We shall see what winds of change have blown by then.


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