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Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 25 – Qakh to Tbilisi – 313km

Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 25 – Qakh to Tbilisi – 313km

Who doesn’t love a border day? The excitement of finding out what sort of crossing you are going to experience is akin to the wait for Christmas Day. Will it be a long one? A short one? Will the facilities be modern, or will the ablutions resemble something out of a horror film? At least today we were crossing between two nations that like each other, there’s nothing that can hold a crossing up more than if the countries are having a row. There must have been some optimism about the border as well, as not only had a regularity been arranged for the morning, but there was also lunch in the mountain town of Sighnaghi planned.

Borders are never quite as you plan them though, and with the advance car reporting a long wait, the regularity was canned before people had even had a chance to close their eyes and spend the night dreaming that they had lost their passport. This was set to be a crossing that was on the middling to long side, but longer for some than for others, although the images of the torched American LaFrance were still firmly ensconced in our minds, offering some perspective on any lengthy wait.

You would expect that it would be a quicker process to get out of a country, than get into one, after all, surely, they’re happy to see you go. But today, it was the leaving part that seemed to take the most time, with many more hoops to jump through on the Azerbaijan end of the deal. It was friendly enough, as the border troops milled about in their DPM’s, that looked more like pyjamas made of Lego than a serious uniform. ‘Where are the Guns?’, one of them asked me, with a wink and a smile. Oh, border guard humour, what would we do without it.

Some cars were going across on flat beds, such as Car 11, the Buick Doctors Coupe, with a diff problem that its Japanese crew are hoping to fix further down the line. But mostly, to begin with, it seemed that no cars were going across at all. Consequentially, the two DTC sections were cancelled, and then, the closed road regularity was also abandoned, as the Police simply couldn’t keep the road closed indefinitely.

It was a shame to lose almost all of the day’s competition, but needs must, this is simply how it can go on border day. You can recce these things as much as you like, you never really know how it is going to go until the border force are faced with 100 odd vehicles, of all shapes and sizes. The process must be followed, however long it takes.

Thankfully, the end of day test at the Lilo Arena Rally Cross circuit, just to the east of Tbilisi, remained – as did the delightful lunch stop in the vibrant hillside settlement of Sighnaghi, even for those crews who spent the longest at the border, when lunch had very much run into teatime.

The circuit was the perfect release for those whose day had been stifled by bureaucracy, and the test had now been extended to two, in an attempt to claw back some of the competitive element of the day and take full advantage of the venue. The drivers were clearly enjoying themselves on the hillside track, that run up and down the contours, with plenty of off camber corners providing a challenge. With the MTC in the same location, crews were even waiting after they had finished to offer some shouts of ‘encouragement’ to their fellow competitors. Richard Walker seemed to be very popular, with a real crowd gathered to cheer him on, although the chants they were levelling at him, and Faith probably shouldn’t be repeated in this forum…

Richard was fast regardless, of course, no less than you would expect from a former Truck Racing Champion, and the quickest vintage car by some way, and taking to task some of the faster Classics as well. Fastest though, was split between another former racing driver, Patrick Watts, and Matt Bryson, who both set times of 52 seconds. You couldn’t get two cars that were more contrasting, indeed the big Leyland of Matt and Mike Pink looks as though it could eat the diminutive Sunbeam Tiger of the Watts, but both drivers were dancing the cars around the circuit, drifting on the sticky, hot tarmac and mastering the climbs up the hills with ease.

Not everyone got to enjoy the circuits though, and there was trouble in the Porsche ranks. Florian Lissmann, the ever-extravagant showman in his 911, was experiencing serious engine trouble and left the border in clouds of smoke, whilst consuming oil at a rate faster than a sweep crew can empty a crate of beer.  His Porsche stablemate Marco Fila was also in trouble, as his clutch had let go and there was no choice but to flatbed the 911 to Tbilisi, with the hope of sourcing a new clutch and a workshop to fit it in.

With all of the lost competition, not much had changed on the leader board, a few seconds gained here, a few lost there. Tomorrow, we get to do it all again, as our visit to Georgia is but a fleeting one and we cross into Türkiye midway through tomorrow. At least, that is the plan. Until then!


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