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Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 3 – Hohhot to Ordos – 344km

Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 3 – Hohhot to Ordos – 344km

Today was the last sub 400km day for a while, with the distances set to ramp up between now and the rallies first non-transit day, something to look forward to for anyone who might be feeling fatigued already. The beginning of the 344km run to Ordos started with the now familiar city escape, amidst a fanfare of horns in the Monday morning traffic.

Before that though, there was a repeat of the previous evenings test and an opportunity to improve on the times set on the first attempt. Fastest around the ring was Mario Illien, a second quicker than yesterday’s fastest time – however, being as Mario’s car has a few bits on it that it oughtn’t, the fastest eligible car was the Porsche 911 of Florian Lissmann. In the vintage category, it was time for the second skirmish in the Battle of Aberdeen, with the overall top three, all based in the Granite City, putting many of the more modern machines to shame the previous evening. Andy Buchan would finish fastest again, knocking 8 seconds off his previous days’ time.

Circulation finished and dust cleared from teeth, eyes and windshields, it was time to settle in for a drive through some of the backroads and villages. In fact, 231km would pass before the first and only regularity of the day, but these would not be without interest or incident.

The roads took us past miles upon miles of paddy fields, at various stages of crop production, and down long avenues lined by Betula Jacquemontii, the Himalayan Birch, tall columns of bright silver in the sunshine. More bemused farmers looked up from their work to inspect the cars as they passed through, and I daresay to some of these people, our little band passing through must be akin to a Martian invasion.

Two-time controls seemed to pass in quick succession, although there was in fact 80 km between them. This was for the most part on a quick road, save for the last ten clicks or so that were on cobbles, and included a crossing of the Yellow River on an old pontoon bridge. The Yellow River is the second longest river in China and sixth longest in the world, and the rickety old bridge, overloaded with coal trucks and other freight, may have felt like the longest river crossing in China for anyone slightly nervous. Thankfully, its mooring chains remained intact.

Just up the road, a few kilometres out of the next time control, there was a chain that hadn’t remained secure to its berth, the one transferring the drive of the engine to the wheels of the LaFrance, crewed by Tomas de Vargas Machuca and Ben Cussons. The gigantic beast had encountered some trouble with the secret police, well, secret sleeping policemen in any case, as the machine had encountered one of the extremely difficult to see Chinese speed bumps. The meeting had occurred at a fair old canter, and the impact had partially dislodged the drive chain from the rear sprocket, putting it under so much tension it was impossible to imagine a fix that didn’t involve cutting the chain in two. This put their progress for the day on ice, at least for a couple of hours whilst they enacted a repair. Incidentally, Tomas would like suggestions for a good Cobbler, after his shoe was set alight during the angle grinding phase of the repair process.

They weren’t the only ones in trouble, the number 66 Porsche 356 of Phil Cuerel and Rela Hoenner-Zullig was having the fuel tank dissected by the sweeps, after the foam inside the tank had disintegrated, blocking and breaking the fuel pump. Thankfully, there wasn’t much fuel in it, despite the Swiss pair having only fuelled up shortly before. ‘Stick 50 Euros in it’ said Phil, which Rela duly asked the pump attendant for. However, somewhere along the line this translated into 50 Chinese Yuen, which is approximately a gallon, not quite the same as 50 Euro’s worth, even at today's prices.

Whilst the repairs happened, the rest of the field began to file past, heading to the days reg, via a re-route down a sandy track, nicknamed Spillers Snicket, after John Spiller, in the 48-hr car, had pulled a fare few strings and made plenty of promises for the rally to be allowed to use the cut through, after a road closure on the original route. It was a sandy affair, and the temptation to bury the throttle and have some fun must have been on everyone’s minds – but we were warned to be on our absolute best behaviour.

The regularity was also on the unsealed backroads of the region, and great fun to boot. Travelling in the middle of more agricultural land, it followed the contours of the countryside with a rhythm and flow that would have lent itself nicely to a stage rally – save for the odd pothole that is inescapable in these parts. One or two may have let the excitement of the road get the better of them, such as Ali and Alican Eric, who my sources tell me were seen fully sideways in parts of the reg. Still, I daresay that sort of thing suits the Anadol STC they are competing in perfectly.

After another run up the highway to Ordos, there was a test to complete the day at the wonderful Ordos International Circuit. Built in 2010, in a layout that resembles a galloping horse, it is a facility that has hosted FIA world championship events in its time, but I daresay hasn’t seen anything much like the mix of cars that descended upon it today. It was a big circuit, and suited something with a bit of poke, something like the Leyland P76 with Matt Bryson and Mike Pink inside it, a car that is no stranger to anyone familiar with this event. Matt finished 5 seconds clear of Patrick Watts, in his Sunbeam Tiger, who used all of his circuit skills to guide the older car around the tarmac, besting the Prodrive developed Mustang of Katarina Kyvlova and Jon Minshaw in third.

At the close of play Andy Buchan and Mike Sinclair were still at the top, with Tommy Dreelan and George Barrack in third, with the Aberdonians now split by Richard Walker and Faith Douglas who were best on the day for those eligible for the overall win, no doubt down to Faith now working out her times at ever closer intervals along the route, and her studious scrutiny of the roadbook.

Tomorrow is an early start and late finish, with 528km to negotiate, that include the first desert section. We also end the day in the first camp of the event, so even after a day’s driving action, the fun might really start when people pitch their tents for the first time.


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