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Peking to Paris Motor Challenge


18th May-23rd June 2024

Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2024
Vintage Winners: Andy Buchan/Mike Sinclair (Bentley 4½ Le Mans)
Photograph: © HERO-ERA/Will Broadbent

Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2024
Classic Winners: Matt Bryson/Mike Pink (Leyland P76)
Photograph: © HERO-ERA/Will Broadbent

Organiser: HERO-ERA

Date: 18th May-23rd June 2024

Clerk of the Course: Guy Woodcock

Route Coordinator: Chris Elkins

Countries: China, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Italy, San Marino & France

Distance: 14,500 Kms

Starters: 75

Delayed due to Chinese CoVid restrictions from 2022, the 8th Peking to Paris Motor Challenge finally took place in May and June 2024. The 37 day event covered 14,500 Kilometres, frequently across challenging terrain.

Geopolitical issues restricted the route options available to the organisers, in particular, the event would not be entering Russia. This had two major implications, firstly, it would not be possible to include Mongolia in the route, and, secondly, the competing cars would need to be shipped across the Caspian Sea.

Seventy-five crews lined up for the start in Beijing. There had been a significant late withdrawal, one of the pre-event favourites, Jorge Perez Compac, had to return home as his father was gravely ill.

There were three types of competitive sections during the event; these were: tests, regularities and TC sections. The latter were formerly referred to as Sporting Sections; these were a series of time controls timed to the minute over, generally, challenging tracks.

Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2024
Car 2: Christian Mueller/Candy Goricke (Cadillac Serie 314 V8 Racer)
Photograph: © HERO-ERA/Will Broadbent

Beijing to Dunguang (Days 1 to 7)

Being unable to take the route into Mongolia, the first two weeks of the Challenge took competitors through Inner Mongolia, remaining within China for that period.

There were three tests on this part of the Challenge; one on Day Two and two on Day Three. Three different crews - Tony Peterson/Richard Crabb (Ford Escort Mk1), Mario Illien/Luca Illien (Ford Escort BDG) and Matt Bryson/Mike Pink (Leyland P76) - took fastest times on the three tests. However, at the end of Day 3 it was the Porsche 911S of Lars Rolner/Annette Rolner that headed table having consistently been in the top six on all the tests and dropped just eight seconds over the opening four regularities. At this point they headed Illien/Illien by eight seconds.

This was high point of the event for the father and son Illien crew; on Day 4 coil issues started to affect the Escort. This developed into greater electrical problems, which led them to cut route between Days 5 to 7.

Also in difficulty on Day 2 was the Sunbeam Tiger of former BTCC Champion, Patrick Watts, who was tackling the event with his wife, Pam. The rear springs broke and they had to cut route to find a garage to fix it.

Day 4 contained the first 'Sporting Section', a 6km test, with two TCs, north of Boerjianghaizi. Both Rolner/Rolner and Bryson/Pink were amongst just three cars who made their time at the two TCs. These two crews were now set to be engaged in a battle for the lead that was to last for the remainder of the event.

A demanding Sporting Section on Day 5 had to cancelled after the Chinese military withdrew permission two days earlier. This left a single regularity as the day's competition. It affected the lead in that Bryson/Pink inadvertently used the wrong column in their speed table - 80kph not 50 - and large penalties for early arrival at two timing points. This allowed Rolner/Rolner to extend their lead to almost a minute.

Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2024
Runners Up: Lars Rolner/Annette Rolner (Porsche 911S)
Photograph: © HERO-ERA/Will Broadbent

The Challenge was split into two categories, those cars produced prior to 1947 were battling for overall honours, while 1948 to 1975 were competing the Classic Category. On Day 5 the joint best performance of the day - three seconds dropped - was put in by Richard Walker/Faith Douglas, who held the lead in the Vintage category and were in fifth place on the leader board.

The other crew to drop just three seconds on Day 5 was the Lagonda LG45 of Mike Dreelan/Bob Pybus. Things went tragically wrong for this crew on Day 6. On the opening Sporting Section of that day the Lagonda crashed, throwing the occupant from the vehicle, seriously injuring the driver. Medic crews were soon on the scene and Dreelan was transported to hospital. Thanks to the excellent medical services available in China, he made a steady recovery, and, after seven weeks was able to fly home.

All competition for Day 6 was cancelled.

Day 7, the last before the first Rest Day of the event, contain a regularity and a TC section; most crews cleaned the latter. By the end of it Rolner/Rolner had further extended their advantage at the head of the leader board to over a minute. Behind them there was a tight battle for second place; here Bryson/Pink led Katarina Kyvalova/Jon Minshaw (Ford Mustang) by seven seconds, with Tobias Koenig/Silvia Koenig (Porsche 911E) and Marco Fila/Stephanie Gout-Fila (Porsche 911 Carrera) tied tow further seconds down.

In the Vintage category, Walker/Douglas 36 seconds ahead of Andy Buchan/Mike Sinclair (Bentley 4½ Le Mans), while Patrick Debussere/Lorenzo Bas (Dodge 6 Roadster) were in third just over a minute behind Walker/Douglas.

The Rest Day was taken at the Silk Road Hotel on the outskirts of Dunhuang.

Dunguang to Almaty (Days 9 to 14)

The second stage of the Challenge took the route through Western China and then into Kazakhstan. The only Sporting Sections in this phase were on Day 9, where two were tackled across the Gobi Desert. The leading Classic cars completed both on schedule and added nothing to their penalty totals. In the Vintage category, Walker/Douglas were the only crew to meet their targets and extended their lead to over a minute and a half. Debussere/Bas were now in second having dropped just a minute, while Buchan/Sinclair were two minutes late. These two crews were now separated by four seconds.

After a largely day free of competition, but which culminated with a drive down the Great Sea Road, the story of Days 11 and 12 was the change in the honour of being top Aussies. On Day 11 the best performance of the day was taken by John Henderson/Lui Maclenan, this moved them up from sixth to third place. The following day Bryson/Pink took the wrong route on a regularity and, in the tight battle for second place, they fell to fifth. This allowed Henderson/Maclennan to move into second, although a minute and a half behind Rolner/Rolner.

Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2024
Vintage Category Leaders: Richard Walker/Faith Douglas (Chevrolet Master Deluxe Coupe)
Photograph: © HERO-ERA/Will Broadbent

The Mercedes of eighth place Bill Gill/Kathy Gill suffered a broken ball joint, causing them to miss part of Day 12 as they affected repairs. They fell to 36th place.

Day 13 was a 'short' 350km competition free day as the route approached the China/Kazak border. The comparatively trouble free crossing was made the following morning. There was then one regularity before crews arrived in Almaty.

Penalties were small on the reg, but Walker/Douglas dropped one second and this allowed them to overtake Henderson/Maclennan; the Chevrolet pairing now had a 38 second lead over Buchan/Sinclair in the Vintage Category.

This meant that at the Almaty Rest Day, Rolner/Rolner held a lead 1m 26s lead over Walker/Douglas. The fight for second place was tight with five other crews with 20 seconds of the runner up spot.

Martin Belvisi/Andy Lane had made notable gains during this section of the rally, moving from 14th om the first Rest Day to eighth at Almaty.

Almaty to Baku (Days 16 to 22)

The third segment of the Challenge crossed Kazakhstan, with competitors experiencing some of the toughest sections of the event. This included a crossing of what had been the Aral Sea, a sea that had in the 1990s largely dried up due to the rivers that fed it being diverted.

Day 16 was the longest of the event, covering almost 700Kms between Almaty and Shymkent. There were two competitive section, one regularity and one sporting section. The former spelt disaster for Walker/Douglas; the reg had a self start and, as so often happens the wrong start time was written on the time card; this led to the crew picking up a minute lateness penalty at each of the three timing points on the section. This dropped the Chevy pairing from a comfortable lead in the Vintage category to fourth.

Henderson/Maclennan also fell down the leaderboard, falling to fifth as their tripmeter started to play up.

The following day contain a single sporting section, although it was 28km long and contained three TCs. There were mixed fortunes, with most leading crews cleaning the section, but Kyvalova/Minshaw wrong slotted and dropped a vital minute; this was enough for them to fall from third to sixth on the leader table.

Walker/Douglas were the only Vintage crew to clean the STC section and this moved them back up to second in their category, fifty seconds behind Buchan/Sinclair. Debussere/Bas dropped time as their Dodge 6 Roadster suffered steering problems, but remained in third Vintage car.

Day 18 was a transit day, taking the rally across to the edge of the Aral Sea, past the Baikonur Cosmodrome. There were just three PCs and a TC to visit along the way. It was expected to be a day of no significance for the leaders. However, inexplicably Kyvalova/Minshaw failed to visit one of the PCs. The five minute penalty saw them fall from sixth to sixteenth.

The next two days largely used the tracks around the Aral Sea; they were at times rough and demanding. The fifth placed Porsche 911E of Tobias Koenig/Silvia Koenig fell victim to the conditions; a broken rear cross strut stranding the car on the run in to the Day 19 camp. The crew were forced to miss the following day as the car was transported to Baku, where full repairs were made.

There were two Sporting TC Sections on Day 20; the day which the event reached the shores of the Caspian Sea. Most of the leading crews cleaned all the TCs, but Kevin Bardburn/Cole Bradburn suffered a slipping clutch on their Porsche 912; they fell from third place to seventh.

Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2024
Photograph: © HERO-ERA/Will Broadbent

Cars and crew were parted for the first time since the start, when the vehicles were loaded on to a cargo vessel for the transit across the Caspian, while, after a night in Aktau, competitors flew to Baku.

The cars were collected from the ferry on Day 22 and parked in the Formula One pit lane at Baku for the Day 23 Rest Day.

At this point Rolner/Rolner still headed the leader board by almost a minute and a half, with Bryson/Pink in second, 19 seconds ahead of Henderson/Maclennan. Belvisi/Lane had continued their climb up the table and were now in fourth.

In the Vintage Category, Buchan/Sinclair and Walker/Douglas had both dropped a minute on the Day 20 STCs and were now separated by 14 seconds.

Baku to Istanbul (Days 24 to 30)

Competition recommenced on Day 24, with the route covering almost the entire length of Azerbaijan, finishing in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains.

Car 1, the American La France of Tomas de Vargas Machuca/Ben Cussons, had survived the demanding terrain of China and Kazakhstan, with no major issues. Unfortunately, at a service station on the run out from Baku, a leaking fuel tank dropped petrol onto the hot exhaust and the car was engulfed in flames. It was a sad end to a mammoth effort by the crew.

Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2024
Car 1: Tomas de Vargas Machuca/Ben Cussons (American La France Type 10)
Photograph: © HERO-ERA/Will Broadbent

For the remaining competitors there were two STC demanding sections to tackle. The first of these caused a shake up in the leader board. Rolner/Rolner took the wrong route and were 14 minutes late at the TC; this added seven minutes to their total. This dropped them to third behind Bryson/Pink and Belvisi/Lane. The other big losers on the section were Henderson/Maclennan, who fell from third to eleventh.

Walker/Douglas moved back to the front of the Vintage race, as they passed Buchan/Sinclair and pulled out a lead of 90 seconds over the Bentley crew.

Competition for Day 25 had to be rejigged after there were major delays at the Azerbaijan/Georgia border. The two STC sections were cancelled and a second test was added at the Tbilisi kart circuit.

The major casualty of the day was the Porsche 911 of Marco Fila/Stephanie Gout-Fila; gearbox, which were to plague the car for the rest of the event, stranded them in the Georgia countryside.

The following day contained another border crossing; this one in the high Caucasus Mountain took the route into Turkey. There were no major delays here and crews were able to tackle the single planned regularity.

The trek across Turkey was a near direct east to west run, with several regularities dotted along the way. The biggest casualty of this section was the Dodge of Debussere/Bas; ignition problems halted the car on the run in to the Sivas overnight stop and they were 29 minutes late by the time they arrived. This dropped them from third to tenth in the Vintage category.

By the time that the Istanbul rest day was reached Bryson/Pink had established a lead of almost three and a half minutes. Belvisi/Lane were in second, 16 seconds ahead of Rolner/Rolner. Bradburn/Bradburn had regained some places after their earlier clutch problems and were in fourth, but only six seconds ahead of Franc Hoefermann-Kiefer/Tom Schorling (Datsun 240Z).

Walker/Douglas were 1m 19s ahead of Buchan/Sinclair in the Vintage race, with Alex Vassbotten/Bas Gross (Alvis Fire Fly 12/70) in third.

Disaster struck for the Volvo 122S of eighth placed Steve Gray/Charlie Gray on the Ankara to Istanbul day; a speeding local hit them as they joined a roundabout, causing extensive damage to the front quarter of the Volvo. A flatbed got the car to Istanbul, where the sweeps reconstructed the corner and the team completed the remainder of the event, although being troubled by manifold troubles initially.

Istanbul to Paris (Days 31 to 37)

Bank holiday traffic made the cross from Turkey to Greece a protracted affair; this led to all competition being abandoned for Day 32.

Battle was rejoined the following day that took the route from Thessaloniki to Igoumenitsa and the ferry that would transport the rally to Italy. There were three regularities to tackle. Rolner/Rolner put in the best performance of the day and this moved them above Belvisi/Lane on the leader board; but they were still three minutes behind Bryson/Pink.

Kyvalova/Minshaw hit more problems with their Mustang, which suffered a fuel pump failure. They were unable to tackle the final reg, nor get to the end-of-day MTC within the time limit. They did, however, reach the ferry, although on a flatbed.

Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2024
Car 19: Patrick Debussere/Lorenzo Bas (Dodge 6 Roadster)
Photograph: © HERO-ERA/Will Broadbent

A 19 hour cruise up the Adriatic brought crews to Ancona, followed by a drive up to San Marino, where a civic reception was welcoming the travellers. Also there was the car that won the first Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, the Itala of Prince Borghese.

Day 34 was one of the toughest of the event; it was a trek through the Apennines from San Marino to Genoa. There were only two regularities, but it was a relentless drive through twisty mountain roads.

Once again, Rolner/Rolner put in the best performance of the day and closed the gap to the leaders to less than a minute and a half. Otherwise, there were no changes in the top ten places.

The penultimate day of competition saw crew tackle the Alps, with three regularities and a test before reaching Aix les Bains. The route actually entered France before looping back into Italy and then, once more into France via the Mont Blanc Tunnel.

In a reversal of the previous day, Bryson/Pink pulled out a minute from Rolner/Rolner. There was a major development in the Vintage category - the Chevy of Walker/Douglas suffered a failed alternator and, without a spare, they had to cut route. Their demise left Buchan/Sinclair with a seven minute lead.

The route on Day 36 headed north to Dijon. The Australian Leyland P76 came home at the head of the leader board, with the driver remarkably taking his fourth P2P win. Rolner/Rolner, having led for so long, finished just under two minutes off the lead. The day did see a change in the top three, with Bradburn/Bradburn ending the event five seconds ahead of Belvisi/Lane.

The final day was a 300km run into Paris. Due to the Olympics, the formal finish would not be in the Place Vendome, but at a police barracks in central Paris. Seventy-one cars made it to the Finish, nineteen securing a Gold Medal, which was awarded to a crew who had visited every control on the route.

The Overall Award, for which only Vintage and Vintageant cars were eligible, went to the William Metcalf prepared Bentley 4½ Le Mans of Andy Buchan/Mike Sinclair.

Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2024