The Mission

The Peking to Paris Rally is a recreation of the 1907 challenge issued by Le Matin, "Is there anyone who will undertake to travel this summer from Peking to Paris by automobile?"
The 2016 version will follow a route of 13,695 Km (8,510 miles) and take 35 days. We are travelling in Rhubarb and Custard, a 1936 Buick. We know nothing about cars or rallying.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Lessons from The Rally

For the benefit of future readers who are thinking about undertaking the PtoP rally I thought it would be useful to set out some lessons learnt and tips for the future.  

Reading other blogs I came across this from Car 95 - the DB6: 

I’m cross at how poorly set up for this event she has been. The spare wheel should have been in the boot not on the roof as the roof rack like a rotating bucket of water on a string just accentuates the strain on her suspension. All the spares should also have been in the boot and not in that ridiculous low hanging box that we had to guard so carefully crossing the desert and which filled with sand and dirt. And she should have sat higher off the ground at the back on longer coils with stronger shock absorbers. And the limited slip differential was superfluous and just made her harder to manoeuvre.

When we attended Owen Turner's course before the rally he said more or less all of the above things and it just shows you that experience counts.

1. Personal Possessions

As far as personal possessions are concerned the complex camera equipment was a waste of time - everyone says the same thing.  you are far too busy to bother with anything more than an iPhone or equivalent. you might get some good Go Pro footage but you can do just as well sticking the iPhone out of the car window.

I would definitely bring a four seasons sleeping bag as it can be very cold at night.  My camping mattress was rather short and so my feet got cold resting on the ground and I needed to put a blanket under them.

Overfilling your clothes bag is a bad idea. Leave some space so that you can rummage around without getting everything out.  That said the clothes packing list was about right - although be prepared to look scruffy and rather unappetizing. The silk underwear and Jim Jams and the Rohan outerwear worked fine as they were quick drying. The thick socks were never needed (except at night) and nor was my waterproof jacket - I used the free plastic cape given to us at Gaydon - but we may have been lucky with the weather.

We definitely brought too much stuff.  Richard packed an extra bag with various 'might need' items in it.  Most of this was never needed so stick with the packing lists earlier in the blog.  The one exception was that he brought a large box of energy bars and we munched our way through them in Mongolia where there were no shops. Had we got lost in the desert we might have needed some of the extra things but unless you willfully chose another route (as one car did) there is no reason for this to happen.

A supply of sandwich bags is essential. make a sandwich for lunch at breakfast even if a packed lunch is provided or a lunch is promised, the arrangements often go wrong, so don't go hungry.

2. Tools & Spares

Our tools and spares list (see earlier blogs) was almost spot on as was our system of having everything in bags that were labeled and a list to guide you to the right bag.  Laminate the list and keep it in a door pocket as you will need it all the time.  Be absolutely disciplined in putting things back in the right bag.  I think the sweeps appreciated when they asked if we had something we could say right away Yes or No and find it without any delay.  We had 95% of the things they asked for and they had the other 5%.

Our most useful tools were a 13mm spanner (you really need two of these), the magnetic dish for holding bits you have taken off the car, and the piece of wood for the jack. I also found the big LED inspection torch very useful but Richard preferred the head torch. Keeping a tool roll inside the car or somewhere handy is essential and 90% of the time we only needed the contents of the tool roll (see earlier blogs) which was so much quicker than getting stuff out of the boot.The Sweeps carry really nice 'O' spanners with a ratchet mechanism - they save a lot of time, maybe get some.

Know where your tow rope is.  You will need it in a hurry.

One thing I would carry next time are lots of proper mechanics gloves. The disposal rubber ones were useful but too thin and very sweaty.

3. Daily Checks

The daily check list we had was very good (see earlier blogs).  However I'm not convinced that it is necessary to check the spark plugs every day unless you know you have a problem (on the other hand not a big job).  We actually gave ourselves a problem by doing this daily as we severed a spark plug lead when we replaced the spark plug cover.

On the other hand I probably would grease the nipples every day and not just on rest days as the new grease forces the dust out of the joints.

A daily spanner check is a must in Mongolia and Russia.  It's unbelievable what comes loose. 

Have a proper window cleaning cloth (in fact several) as the window gets filthy and needs a daily clean so that it is safe.

Clean and tidy the car interior every day - it takes no time to do and stops you living in a pig sty - and wash the car whenever you get the chance, a clean car is much easier to work on.

4. Car Set Up

Suspension - Poor suspension set up/reckless driving was the biggest single problem especially in Mongolia. You need good long struts front and rear, the car should ride high even when loaded but any suspension will bust if you drive too hard.

Tyres - I thought our Michelin van tyres worked very well on almost any surface and both wet and dry.  They were hardly worn.They would have been easy to replace too.

Electrics - It was a good call to fit the Odyssey battery and a powerful new starter motor.  I think we should have fitted electronic ignition as well, although that's not the advice given by the sweeps.  The difference is that they can fix a distributor but can do nothing for EI. On the other hand the sweeps have a real touch for a distributor that we didn't have so we kept buggering it up (albeit not fatally) and then they would later put it right.   My solution would be to make sure I didn't buy a cheap Chinese EI system and to carry carry two or three spares. 

Fuel system - There are strong opinions about this one and clearly something was very wrong with our fuel system.  Lots of people had problems with the seams coming apart on aluminium tanks so I would avoid those and opt for steel.  Two tanks won't protect you from dirty fuel unless you fill up twice as often - different filling stations for each tank. That's a right bore.  Fit the filters and pumps somewhere easily accessible and fit the cheap disposable filters not the expensive glass ones. Shield the fuel lines from engine heat - that was a big problem for many.

Sump guard - this is going to take a lot of punishment so make sure it is properly set up.

Know your Car - There's a lot to be said for building your own car, or close supervision of the build.  There were things I  would have done differently on Rhubarb and Custard.  For example two different size spanners were needed to access the fuel pumps and they couldn't really be removed except if the car was on a lift.  The reservoirs for the brake fluid had to be removed to change the oil filter and so on.  My idea would be to minimize the number of different tools needed, to minimize the time needed to replace anything and to make access to components as easy as possible. As far as possible fit simple components that can be found in remote places.

Safety and Comfort - fit rally seats and a harness, a roll bar is essential. Fit a Monit not a Brantz, much easier to use. Have an easily accesible drinks holder and tray fitted for sunglasses, energy bars, sunlotion etc. Don't fit a loud exhaust, the noise will exhaust you.

5. Choice of Car

On reflection I think Rhubarb and Custard is too heavy to be a really effective rally car. It was fine for us because we drove moderately but more vigorous drivers might break it.  It was very comfortable though and (when on song) you could drive all day in third gear.

I'd think really hard about taking an open car on this rally. The people who do so are total heroes. The weather can be utterly foul and the dust is worse. They must have had many many hours feeling totally miserable.

Low slung cars are completely useless for this event. Avoid.

There are long boring stretches where you just need to cover the ground and a bit of poke and the ability to overtake a lorry are good to have.

Convertibles look great in the pictures but it's often very hot and easy to dehydrate.  A closed car with the windows down is more comfortable.

Look for simplicity and ease of maintenance

If I ever did this event again I would choose a Lada Vaz 2013 which is the 1500 cc version of the Fiat 124 built by Lada (I think there was a later 1600 cc version but after 1975 so not eligible for PtoP).  With a bit of modification this car would be unbreakable, fixable anywhere and quite competitive.  Maybe I can pick one up in Kazan as PX for Rhubarb and Custard....

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