Hold on, old sport!

 The Peking to Paris Motor Challenge on the roads of Siberia: Novosibirsk — Omsk  06/17/2013, 23:07
Hold on, old sport!
Photography by Sergei Kovalyov

After some rest and repairs in Novosibirsk, the vintage cars of the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge set off for Omsk on 11 June, in order to reach the finish line 18 days later. Three age classes take part in the endurance race — the oldest vehicle is 100 years old. A Russian crew is involved for the first time in the rally’s history. Sib.fm’s correspondent learned about the competition’s rules, why there is no cash prize for the winner and what foreigners think about Russian roads.

On 9 June, the 96 teams taking part in the Peking to Paris rally arrived in Novosibirsk and for the next two days city residents were able to admire some classics of the world automotive industry. The oldest car to reach the Siberian capital was a 1913 Ford Model T with Irishman Nick Bailey and Australian Nadja Saralam at the helm.

3 classes take part in the Peking to Paris rally: Vintage (1920-31), Vintageant (1932-41) and Classic (1942-75)

All comers had the chance not only to touch models such as a 1924 Rolls-Royce, 1928 Bentley, 1965 Porsche and even a Russian-made 1979 Moskvich-412, but also to see them in action. Several Siberians were literally shocked that these cars can move under their own steam, never mind take part in an «endurance» race.

«The cars that take part in the rally really are vintage and it might seem like they’ll just fall apart on the road, but that’s not the case,» says Sergei Pospelov, member of the technical support crew for Peking to Paris participants in Russia.

Most of them were designed as sports cars, but even the very unsporting 1969 Volkswagen has a streamlined shape, which gives it speed. The oldest vehicle, the Model T, is very durable and hardy. It doesn’t go quickly, but it does go, which proves its reliability. After all, it was able to get the better of the section of the route through Mongolia, along 1,804 kilometres of roads that aren’t exactly the best in world.

2 crews left the race in China and another two in Mongolia. The cars were sent home in containers

The task of the technical support service is to get a car back in the race as soon as possible. If the damage isn’t severe, the car will be repaired in the nearest town, where a «friendly» body shop will be on hand at any time of the day or night, ready to take in a rare car and help out its driver, even if he doesn’t speak any Russian at all.

For some, the stop in Novosibirsk is a chance to relax, but for the majority it’s two days to repair any damage and search for spare parts to get them on the move again. The previous stage — from Ulan Bator to the Altai Mountains — was a major test for many: the participants mentioned more than once that they’d never seen worse roads.

As well as the participants, maintenance personnel have to work hard too. Sergei only managed to sleep three hours when the crew was driving through Mongolia. He doesn’t know when he’ll next get the chance to take a rest:

60 km/h is the average speed of a vintage car at night; by day it is slightly higher

«The rally is a contest of consistency and stamina. Target times are set depending on the age category a car is in. The crew has to start and finish precisely on time. For example, if the Russian Moskvich is supposed to set off at 7:57am on 11 June, that’s what the crew has to do. If they don’t keep to the schedule, they get penalty points.»

Speed isn’t the only competitive element. A car shows its endurance not only on the main roads, but also the so-called branches — forest roads and bypass routes with a gravel surface. A target time is set here too: you get a penalty point for each extra second. That said, the rally organisers do take it into account if the spark plugs of a car have to be changed every 500 kilometres.

The crews managed to repair everything else — replace shock absorbers, gearboxes, oil and brake pads — in Novosibirsk, while enthusiasts and admirers of retro hardware took photos of themselves in front of the cars.

4 — the number of rest days (Ulan Bator, Novosibirsk, Samara, Kiev) during the 33 day race

All the crews set out for Omsk early in the morning on 11 June. They have to get the better of 668 kilometres during the day.

The car with Sib.fm’s correspondent waited until 3pm for a package of spare parts for one of the rally participants. It was only possible to have a chat to Sergei and find out how the antique cars survive this part of the route in Omsk, when everybody had already arrived for the night.

According to Sergei, all branches were removed from the route — there was a lot of rain and the roads were badly washed away. Two cars were sent to Samara on tow trucks (sometimes a car gets smashed up so badly on the road that it can’t be repaired), but they haven’t dropped out of the race and will continue, although they won’t be able to qualify for a medal. Even if winning is impossible, it’s a point of honour to go the distance. The winner gets a bottle of champagne, a medal and a certificate that says he withstood the test.

The certificate is the most important thing. The whole world will know that you stuck it out.

The drivers fight for prestige, struggle with their fears, and put themselves and their cars to the test. You won’t find anyone who wants to turn back halfway.

The Peking to Paris rally was first held in 1907 and this is the fifth competition. Sergei first worked on maintaining the vehicles during the 2007 rally. Then, he remembers, he was shocked:

3 years — the amount of time required to organise the route for a Peking to Paris

«Can you imagine seeing all those bulb horns, chain drives and cars that you have to start with a crank handle! I was amazed then, of course. Now, when we drive through cities, I see that people are happy to see these vintage cars in real life and not just in pictures. It’s a rare stroke of luck. The participants themselves, their willpower and desire make this event unique. It’s very important that a Russian crew is involved in this year’s rally. By doing that we can instil a love for retro cars. Look at Europe — people there know how to preserve the history of the motor industry. It’s not difficult to find a 100-year-old model in its original condition. Try to find at least a 30-year-old car in Russia... They’re all on the scrapheap.»

«We criticize our domestic auto industry,» continues Sergei, «We call old Ladas ’buckets of nails’, but look at the Moskvitch. It’s grappling on an equal footing with original sports cars that are technologically vastly superior. So we must do something right.»

Read this story
in Russian

Thus ended the Novosibirsk — Omsk stage. The retro cars are currently heading towards Ekaterinburg. One of them was involved in an accident on the way from Omsk to Tyumen.

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