Skip to content

Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 2 – Datong to Hohhot – 342km

Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 2 – Datong to Hohhot – 342km

Goodness me I had forgotten how much I love the thrill of driving in foreign cities. It’s always a magical experience, and not for the faint of heart. The cities in China have been no exception, and you need to find the right amount of gung-ho bravado combined with eyes everywhere and the trust that those around you will give you a bit of room to manoeuvre, whilst simultaneously trying their best to drive at you and through you. It’s all a bit lawless, but once you get used to the idea that there are few rules, the anarchy all seems to work.

That’s certainly how the day began, as we escaped the tower blocks and skyscrapers of Datong, that overnight had been enveloped in a large electrical storm. Although, we could have been forgiven for thinking the flashes in the night sky were just the speed cameras that are bolted to every spare bit of gantry space, going ten to the dozen, as is their want.

They really are everywhere, and fire at will, and are even present in the more rural reaches of the regions we are driving through. This remained the case as we passed into Inner Mongolia today, driving between the ancient monuments that lined the border at our crossing point. I’ve no idea what they were, there were plenty of information boards explaining the fact, but as they were written in Hanzi I’m still none the wiser.

Not everyone would see these earthworks, as several cars had elected to travel straight to the overnight halt or spend the day fixing mechanical woes. The AMG division, captained by Andreas Pohl were having suspension problems, after switching suspension systems before the rally. Their cars were having remedial works and so would miss the day completely.

Car 6, the Ford Taxi, still had gearbox problems, and also looked as though it might miss the day. They had in fact had their gearbox rebuilt on the side of the road on the first day, with the Sweeps on the phone to the Chilean mechanic to guide them all through the process, but it turned out that there was a problem with the aftermarket synchromesh, which, once diagnosed this morning, was cured and they were now back in the hunt.

For everyone else who checked out this morning it was largely business as usual, and as the field made its way through towns and villages along the 205 km route to the days first regularity, the citizens going about their business gathered and stared at the strange cavalcade disturbing their Sunday morning. For the occupants of Maihutu, it was market day, and the centre was a buzz of pedestrians and Tuk-Tuks, but everything stopped as the rally came through, as people waved and pointed camera phones at the strangers that were rumbling through their sleepy town.

The regularity that followed shortly after this was very much a rural adventure, through the farmland that occupies the countryside here. Nothing too taxing, but a gentle meander up the hills. It wasn’t too challenging, indeed the biggest problem seemed to be with drivers keeping their right foot in check, with many arriving early at controls. Car 76 was definitely the biggest advocate of this approach to the reg, with Jorg-Richard Lemberg and Alfonso De Orelans-Borbon arriving at the two-time controls almost a minute early a-piece, with the marshals reporting that the Mercedes Benz 280 SEL was showing signs of atmospheric re-entry on its nose.

Another regularity should have followed shortly afterwards, but sadly it had to be cancelled as the 48-hour car had reported that the road in question was full of trucks transporting coal. It was a shame, as it was a lovely run up and over the hills, on a beautiful ribbon of asphalt that was racetrack smooth. The report on the coal trucks was no exaggeration though, and they resembled something more like a road train at times, something some of our Australian competitors may be more familiar with. One pair of those, Andrew Raper and Stuart Macdonald, found themselves behind a particularly jam-packed wagon, and ended up with coal spilling down into their Ford Fairlane. To be honest, the Ford is such a large machine they could have hauled a reasonable amount of the black stuff along the road themselves, so perhaps if the rallying doesn’t work out, they might have a backup plan for the big old beast.

Elsewhere, others were getting lost, including Henry Rohrer and Markus Schelbert in the green MK2 Escort, who reportedly managed to add another 150 km onto their day, although I reckon with a wrong turn in Hohhot, our target destination for the day, anyone could rack up that kind of extra distance just trying to navigate back on track. Hohhot, like Datong, looks to be built of Lego, or resembles a graphic designers render of what skyscrapers and tower blocks should look like. Part of the highway that we used to enter the city was so new, it had signs attached to it that had not yet had place information put onto them. It is also a place that has roads built above roads, and a typically Chinese attitude towards lane discipline and rights of way at junctions.

The reward for following the directions properly though, as a fabulous test around Horse Racing come Speedway track, within touching distance of the evening’s hotel. The sandy surface and high-speed rotation provided great entertainment, for the drivers and spectators alike and, as we have come to experience in China, the local public couldn’t get enough of the spectacle. Lars Rolner perhaps takes the award for most sand displaced on a rotation of the circuit, with the Circuit reportedly having ordered a quarry worth to be delivered overnight to resurface the track after he tore the place up in his 911 Safari, but fastest around the oval was Tony Peterson and Richard Crabb, in the MK1 Escort, 6 seconds clear of Florient Lissman and Tim Stahlschmidt in second. Everyone will have the opportunity for another stab at it tomorrow though, as the day will begin with another play in the sand.

A test does of course shake up the leader board, and first is now occupied by Andy Buchan and Mike Sinclair in the Bentley Le Mans, followed by Tommy Dreelan and George Barrack and then Tommy’s Brother, Mike Dreelan with navigator Bob Pybus in Mike’s immaculate Lagonda in third, but this will no doubt all change again tomorrow, as we head to Ordos.


We use cookies to give you the best experience of using this website. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies. Please read our Cookie Policy for more information.