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Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 9 – Dunhuang to Gobi Camp – 395km

Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 9 – Dunhuang to Gobi Camp – 395km

Day 8 of the Peking to Paris was a rest day, well, I say rest day, but the more accurate way of describing it is a non-transit day. A chance to work on the cars, do your washing in the hotel sink and catch up on whatever it is you need to catch up on.

If there was any time for some rest, then it would have been good advice to take it, as today was one of the most intense of the rally. It may have only been 395km, but 85% of that distance was offroad, cutting a line straight through the Gobi on tracks that needed your full attention.

If anyone was hoping for a picture postcard desert, this corner of the Gobi wasn’t it. For the most part it was featureless, with the wide expanse of nothing punctuated by the occasional rock formation or dune. What wasn’t in evidence for almost the entire day was other people, except for perhaps a handful of trucks across the entire distance. After all, why would you choose to drive out into this vacuum of existence?

Why indeed? Well, I can think of a few reasons, and the first was the opening competition section of the day, a Sporting Time Control on the slippery desert tracks. This was the first of two DTC’s today, and the highlight was supposed to have been a tricky river crossing, that ought to have been deep enough to worry most of the drivers. Sadly, it had evaporated to barely a puddle, with not even a Peking Duck in sight. No matter, the section was still a thoroughly enjoyable 9km of speedy desert driving, and plenty of the cars opted to hit what remained of the river as hard as they could anyway, perhaps in an attempt to wash the sand off their machines.

Anyone who had hoped for more from the TC would have to drive another 147km through the desert before they had another opportunity, at the second section of the day, and of course ensure their cars got there as well. There were plenty of opportunities to miss slots on the long desert tracks, just ask Tom and Daniel Kinahan, the father and son team from Canada in the Austin Cambridge, who went 100 or so clicks out of their way today. They opted to go the direct route to fix their minor detour, heading off-piste straight across the desert in the diminutive Cambridge, a risky tactic but one that served them well.

It was risky though, with plenty of opportunity to succumb to mechanical failure. A lapse in concentration could be costly out here, and by the close of play there would be a few waiting on the side of the road, waiting for the mechanical assistance crews. One of the first of these was Hans-Ulrich Wartenweiler and Verena Simmen, who fell victim to one of the deeper ruts and found themselves marooned on the side of the road, in the maroon Mercury Eight Cabriolet, needing a fix to a broken sump guard. This was the start of a troublesome day for the pair, as during the final few miles of travel their gearbox would fail, leaving them awaiting recovery. Their fellow Vintageant competitors, Steven Snauwaert and Robert Hinkriks were also in trouble, with a broken axle on the Bentley, that would require their recovery from the sand. They were joined by Federico Grom and Filippo Basolo, who had broken their dampers, continuing the saga of the Fiats mechanical issues.

The desert seemed to go on forever, and I daresay the drivers found themselves in a trance like state as they negotiated the continuous evolution of the tracks in front, although hopefully still with one ear on what their navigators were telling them, as the road book informed the crews of the more devilish risks upon the road. Ignore your navigator at your peril, isn’t that right Mr. Watts? It’s a fact that drivers always know best, but navigators know more, and the outcome of not listening is often a woeful one, such as the rear shocks punching a hole in the body of the number 71 Sunbeam Tiger.

Still, for those that did make it to the final competitive section of the day, a delightful slalom through the sand awaited, on a track that didn’t offer much in the way of deviations, as it was hemmed in by large sand banks. These were best avoided, as at best they would sap valuable seconds away and at worse ruin your day, but at least there were only two to worry about; the one on the left and the one on the right.

The desert wasn’t done yet though, with still more kilometers until the camp at the days end, and it was at this point that things started to go wrong more frequently for people. One of the idiosyncrasies of the day was the total lack of fuel stations once we had entered the desert, so people needed to ensure they had full tanks and some to spare if necessary. Sadly, for Don and Stuart Henshall the tank in their Mini wasn’t quite large enough, and they did run out, though they were rescued by the charitable pair of Simon Bonham and Jason Kennedy, taking the mantle of fuel bowser from Matt Bryson and Mike Pink.

Rainer Wolf and Hans Geist would also run into trouble, though fuel wasn’t the issue for them. They had plenty of that, but what they didn’t have was a spare wheel with and inflated tire for the Merc 280sl, as they suffered another puncture and now had only three wheels on their wagon, for the second time in the adventure. Joost Bert and Tim Motte needed the attendance of a flatbed, after suffering suspension failure on the MK1 Jaguar, a fate shared by Bill and Cathy Gill, although the resourceful Aussies had a bit more luck on their side and managed to fix the issue as soon as they had an angle grinder in their hands.

As everyone else approached the camp, the wind started to get up, and a fearsome sandstorm could be seen in the distance, billowing into the sky and consuming all before it. Luckily, that was heading away from our camp, but there was still a squall in the air, with the larger gusts throwing sand across the camp and sending the tents into a frenzy, ensuring that those who were pitching tents or fixing cars were in a constant fight with the elements.

Tomorrow is a non-competitive transit day, with less mileage and an earlier finish, into a camp that sits within a national park. This break in the competition will hopefully allow those who have suffered mechanical issues today to get things fixed and re-join on day 11, as we head into our final few days in China.


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