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Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 32 – Thessaloniki to Plateria – 444km

Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 32 – Thessaloniki to Plateria – 444km

Istanbul may have been the gateway to Europe, but the process of leaving Türkiye was perhaps the most protracted border crossing of the trip. It wasn’t so much the process, the actual formalities took a matter of minutes, but the border itself was struggling under the sheer volume of traffic queuing for its services. It was a bank holiday, and many were heading into Greece, there had been intel pointing to this fact from the advance car and all of us began to leave Istanbul from 4am onwards. Despite this though, the queue grew quickly, and moved forward at about the pace of a tectonic plate, as the sun only got hotter.

Day 30 had certainly been one to forget, although for one car microscopic levels of movement was better than no movement at all. Whilst many had visited Istanbul’s rich tourist attractions on the day 29 rest day, Steve and Charlie Gray had been up with the lark, ready to set about fixing the stricken Volvo that had been all but written off on day 28. In their hands they carried the tools of their trade, and in their hearts, they carried bucketsful of determination. The twisted metal and mangled body couldn’t resist the desire that this father and son team had to carry on, to reach Paris, and the impossible was achieved. I daresay they would have accomplished it with nothing but their fingers had they needed to, however they managed it, the Volvo was back on the road, back in the rally.

They weren’t quite out of the woods yet though, and after the border on the road to Thessaloniki the car lost power, the headers, weakened by the accident, had split leaving the Volvo with an acute case of automotive asthma. Thessaloniki was still 150k up the road though, and the thought of another ride on a flatbed must have been heart-breaking after all of the work. That wasn’t to be though, as fellow competitors Martin and Fran Dippie stepped in with their own version of a recovery service and towed the ailing machine the rest of the way, on what must be some sort of record length for a tow.

It had been quite the few days, and the goal for the boys is now Paris, nothing else is important. This will be as familiar story for many of the field now, sure there is still a competition going on, but I daresay even for those in the hunt for a pot the most foremost in their minds is the destination. When all is said and done, a second here or there is insignificant in-terms of the greater quest, Paris itself is of much greater magnitude. Sadly, Paris is a road too far for car 66, the gorgeous little Porsche 356 of Phil Cuerel and Rela Hoenner-Zullig. The Swiss pair suffered a small engine fire, and the damage has proven terminal to their rally and they have retired – but will join us in Paris for the celebrations.

Relative to the rest of the journey, Greece disappeared in the blink of an eye. The route and the roads were some of the best we have enjoyed, a rousing run up and over the Olympus Mountain range, with Mt. Olympus and its divine inhabitants presiding over a climbing regularity. There were views over the Thracian Sea, not that anyone cared particularly, as this was behind us and all that matters now is driving forward. Another reg took us into Acropolis Rally territory, on the dazzling road to Meteora, with its famous rock formations, that rose high above the road in great geological spires. Drone was by far the best way to view these, but the Park Rangers sadly put an end to the activities of the media team drone operators. Still, Dave Swart and Izzy Morely had other ideas, as they attempted to turn their Hi-Lux into a hot air balloon. There had been a mix-up in the conversion from Bar to PSI and the tyres on the truck now had almost enough gas inside them to achieve lift off. Thankfully, Dave is a big lad and decent tether, but perhaps double check their maths if they’re dishing out any meds to you on the rest of the trip.

Greece had been beautiful, there was no doubt and I daresay there was some sorrow that we could not have spent more time enjoying its fabulous ribbons of tarmac. But the P2P is continuing at a pace now, and there was a ferry to catch, and for car 75 this suddenly became a close-run thing. The Mustang, crewed by Katarina Kyvalova and Jon Minshaw, had suffered a fuel pump failure that couldn’t be fixed on the side of the road, and so assistance was needed to get them to the port. Luckily for them, the crew that were loading the vessel seemed to prefer a loading system based upon anarchy, rather than any actual sense, and so embarkation was almost taking as long as the previous days border.

The ship, the Kydon Palace, will deposit us in Italy, after a 20-hour sailing up the Adriatic. Once we have docked, there is a short hop to San Marino and then, just four days will remain, and only three of those will contain any competition. It’s so close, I can smell the Croissants.


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