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Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 27 – Erzurum to Sivas – 504km

Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 27 – Erzurum to Sivas – 504km

The 27th day of the Peking to Paris Rally dawned, as almost all of them have, under clear blue skies. Anyone awakening in a bit of a malaise, for example the Kiwi contingent of the rally (who may or may not have been spotted literally dragging people to the bar), may have thought they were already in France when they opened their curtains, as the view was straight out of an Alps ski resort brochure. We were still in Türkiye though, with our first full day in the country ahead of us and, no need for our passports whatsoever.

The number 27 feels like an important one, it’s spiritual significance (apparently) is that it shows one is on the right path in life, and that good things are around the corner. Lamblasting that theory is the fact that all the best rock stars pop their clogs at 27; Hendrix, Cobain, Joplin, Winehouse and Morrison have all left this mortal coil at that age. Nothing quite so dramatic was happening on the rally, for starters there have been a fair few decades since most of the competitors could have passed for 27, but, for one of the rallies unquestionable rockstars there was certainly trouble brewing, that could be terminal.

Florian Lissman, who’s co-driver Tim Stahlschmidt is incidentally a rockstar drummer, has driven like an absolute rockstar all the way through the event, in as much as he’s had his right foot buried since the off. But live fast, die young, and his constant exercising of the Porsches loud pedal has caused the engine to go the way of a Spinal Tap drummer, and blow up. The sick car is on its way to Greece on a truck, with the crew working on a fix and hoping to re-join the rally for the final leg, even if it is in a different machine. We wish them all the best, as we do to Tsuguo Shintani and Sumiko Kokonno, who are shipping the stricken Buick to Istanbul for repairs. The rally is always better with a full contingent of cars, especially at this stage when we have been travelling together for nearly a month. At this stage of the game absentees are mourned as friends, as we become a tight nit group on the road.

One car that was back in the running today was the Anadol STC, that had a headache, with cylinder head troubles. The engine has been refreshed and the father and son team of Ali and Alican Eric were with the group again, as we travel through their native Türkiye, a source of much pride, I am sure.

Day 27 was one of two halves, a morning of competition with two regs and an afternoon of transit, as we continue to eat up the miles in the hunt for Paris. The regularities both took place in the stunning countryside in these parts, gorgeous pastures of farmland and wildflower meadows in the foothills of the Armenian Highlands. The Police had come to play as well, of course, initially creating some confusion by directing the competitors the wrong way into the first regularity, that was a loop just off the main highway. Confusion resolved and the 7.5km reg could proceed, on a deceptively treacherous gravel track that hugged the topography. Care was needed in the bends on the narrow tracks, as the scree surface was sometimes interrupted by smooth stones, that cancelled any traction, usually at the worst possible moment.

There weren’t too many dramas on the reg, with everyone eyeing up trophies performing similarly. The second regularity was a short 60 click hop down the highway, and took place in more fabulous scenery, this time laying bare the geology of the region and the tectonic activity that has shaped the hills and mountains to the north and south of Türkiye, with colourful layers of sediment on show at oblique angles to the horizon. The environment may have been spectacular, but again the timings were steady, with nobody wishing to put too much of a foot wrong.

The biggest news of the day occurred on the 300 km transit section into the overnight, when the Sweeps were called to the aid of Patrick Debussere and Lorenzo Bas, who’s Dodge wasn’t firing. The problem was Machiavellian grub screw, that had fallen out of the distributor shaft, and a replacement dizzy that should have been plug and play but wasn’t. In the end it led to a late arrival at the Main Time Control for the team that had been fighting for a podium for most of the rally, and a 21-minute penalty that has had a devastating impact on their competition. But they are still running, and Paris is still a pretty decent prize.

It might not smell too good now, but Patrick and Lorenzo will regroup. Two competitors that really were dealing with an awful smell earlier were Pascal Perrier and Jerome Perrier, who called the sweeps with a report of ‘hideous gasses swirling around the cabin’ of the Datsun. It was perhaps a call they needed to make to the trips Doctors, but as it turned out, a worn gasket on the fuel gauge was the issue, rather than a worn gasket anywhere else, and the fumes were eliminated.

In terms of positions it was a case of stand to, with no great losses or inroads in amongst the top cars, except for the number 19 dodge of course, which saw Alex Vassbotten and Bas Gross move into third place, deserved on a day when they only dropped five seconds, which was the second best performance of the day, which they shared with the Porsche of Lars and Annette Rolner. Best on day honours went to Franc Hoefermann-Kiefer and Tom Schorling, the German duo in the gorgeous yellow Datsun 240Z, who dropped only 3 seconds, moving them to within 13 seconds of being top of their class.

Tomorrow is a 521km day, with another pair of regularities, this time at either end of the day, before finishing in Ankara, on our penultimate day of travelling in this beautiful country, or at least penultimate full day.


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