Peking to Paris rally kicks off this week


115 teams will take the scenic route across Asia and Europe

The sixth Peking to Paris Motor Challenge begins in a matter of days, with 115 crews from all over the world ready to set off on an 8,500-mile trek over some of the world’s most desolate roads.

The participants’ cars are just as varied as the terrain in the 11 countries that the teams will cross in five weeks, with everything from a 1974 Leyland P74 to a 1955 Lancia B12 Aurelia setting off from the Great Wall of China on a not-particularly-congested route for France. There will be plenty of pre-war cars in the mix; 50 out of 115 crews will be running cars made before 1942, and we have a feeling they’ll enjoy a few advantages over later vehicles with their higher ground clearance and relative simplicity of repairs.

“The entry list features over 30 different automotive manufacturers and competitors representing 24 different countries. This is a truly global event that challenges both car and crew to the limit,” says Endurance Rally Association director Fred Gallagher. “Some of our competitors have faced the ‘P2P’ before and are self-confessed adrenaline junkies, whereas the newcomers are a mix of people undertaking this mammoth journey in aid of charities or to cross a dream off their bucket lists.”

Bentley on Peking to Paris rally

Plenty of pre-war cars will be taking part, like this vintage Bentley. Photo by Peking to Paris Motor Challenge

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I examined one of the cars in the upcoming rally being prepped in the final days before shipping off for Beijing and learned that high ground clearance is highly prized, given the fact that teams will be traversing the Gobi Desert, known for its sharp rocks and lack of service plazas. Many of the teams have reinforced the undersides of their cars with steel plates thick enough to stop small arms fire, though team members have said that fatigue and exhaustion are perhaps even more dangerous than incurring road damage. The most common source of breakdowns en route, according to the drivers, is collisions with boulders due to driver exhaustion.

The route itself remains the unchanged since 1907; teams will cross the Gobi, entering Mongolia and then Russia, continuing on to Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland and, finally, France. If the part of the journey after Russia sounds like a relaxing sightseeing tour of Old Europe after thousands of kilometers through Asia, rally participants will agree.

Peking to Paris rally

The teams will go through 11 countries on their way to the finish line. Photo by Peking to Paris Motor Challenge

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“We have husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, friends and colleagues taking part, who normally spend their days very differently,” Gallagher says. “Occupations range from student to retired CEO, from fish farmer to rocket scientist. But none of that will matter once we cross the starting line. It’s all about the next 35 days and getting to Paris.”

Sixty-eight teams from the U.K. will take part in the rally — the largest national contingent — while the U.S. will field 21 teams. When it comes to cars, the most popular marque will be Ford, with 17 teams using cars with the Blue Oval badge (mostly pre-war), followed closely by Chevrolet with 13 cars entered. Plenty of European cars will take part in the race, with eight Volvos, five Alfa-Romeos, two Lancias and three BMWs getting ready to add some miles to their clocks. The teams themselves won’t be made up of Dakar veterans and former SAS types; the youngest team member is Dutch student Emma Vos, who just celebrated her 19th birthday.

The cars will depart on Sunday, June 12, and in a few days we’ll give you an in-depth look at one of the cars from an American team taking part in the rally.

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