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Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 5 - Dengkou to Tengger Desert – 439km

Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 5 - Dengkou to Tengger Desert – 439km

The problem with sleeping in tents, is that the sun comes up way too early, and once the suns up, you’re up! I daresay there were a few bleary eyes around the camp, whether that was the early start, or lack of sleep bought on by the thunderous rumble of coal trucks, or the late-night singing (you know who you are, you noisy lot!) Still, this was a day when sleep would be forgotten, as there was plenty of fun to be had out on the trail.

This was despite losing the first part of the day to the authorities, who at the last minute deemed the route that took us to and from the planned DTC section was off-limits, and sadly the only way around this was to stick to the main highway. No matter, the miles flew by quickly and it wasn’t long before the cars were turning off of the desert highway and into the tracks and sand of the Gobi itself, and a long section of offroad driving that would include a regularity and a potentially hazardous and lengthy climb through soft sand.

The route through the rock and sand was largely on one well defined track, riddled with the usual corrugations of trails of this type, that, if driven at the right speed become smooth and enjoyable experience, but if driven too slowly threaten to shake the fillings from your teeth. There were one or two places where the track split, offering a binary choice for the navigators, either get it right or get it wrong and some did get it wrong, disappearing off into the desert in the wrong direction, before realising their mistakes with some then going off piste to rectify the error as speedily as possible. Act in haste though and repent at leisure, just ask Jorgen Witting and Casper Andrup, who beached their Dodge Coupe somewhere off the correct route.

Others, like Patrick Debussere and Lorenzo Bas, fared better, luck was on their side and they avoided getting wedged in the sand and could continue without further problems to begin the days only competitive section. The regularity, that had been lengthened due to the loss of the DTC, followed the contours of the rocky wilderness, a wilderness that offered very few points of reference for either crew, but flowed beautifully for the drivers that were getting the right calls. Car 71, the Sunbeam Tiger of Patrick and Pam Watts was certainly making the most of the tracks, floating over the rougher parts with ease and turning on the style in the bends.

With three timing points to contend with, the difficulty for the drivers was resisting the temptation to turn the screw too much, especially with such a fun desert road to play on. Drivers though are fickle beasts, and some couldn’t help but have a play, such as Simon Bonham, who was getting some air under the front wheels of the Mercedes Benz 280 SLC, with Jason Kennedy sitting alongside him. This was repeated by a few others as well, including Martin Belvisi, navigated in the Porsche 911 by the experienced Andy Lane.

Once the regularity was concluded there was a real test for the skill of the drivers, with a long section of soft sand, on a track that wound its way up a long climb of several kilometres, onto the top of one of the many peaks in this part of the desert. This was not a timed section, but all of the sweep crews were on hand at various points to assist anyone who got stuck in the mire. It was great fun; a real technical treat and the reward was a stupendous view across the vastness of the desert for everyone who achieved the climb. Of course, everyone would, but not everyone managed it without assistance, and the tow trucks were kept busy throughout.

A 130km drive into the evenings camp remained, and as the weary crews pulled in, thankfully the location for the halt was a lot more remote and much more a traditional P2P Bivouac, with next to no communications signal to the outside world and no sign of life in any direction – except for the odd Camel Spider, capable of killing a Camel with just one bite. Something to be aware of, especially for those working late into the night on their cars, such as Federico Grom and Filippo Basolo, who had axle repairs to make that also warranted some other modifications, that they were ably assisted with by local fabricators. The welding torches and grinders flashed and sparked into the early hours, the sign of a proper camp and an indication that we were now properly into the rally.


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