Monday, 8 July 2019

Monday, 8th July 2019

We made it to Paris! Arrived here yesterday afternoon about 2.30pm. It took us ages to get to the Place Vendome as the traffic was awful and it was hot so a few of the rally cars had overheating problems. A large crowd gathered in the square and it was great to see family and friends at the finishing line as we drove through the arch.

Since our last post we drove from Russia into Finland. Such a contrast. Neat and tidy houses, productive farmland (houses and barns all seemed to be painted in mission brown). Tractors on the roads.  Lots of trees. Speed limits enforced. A member of the Finnish Alfa Club met us at the hotel in Helsinki and we purchased a few spare parts in case we needed them. Large crowd of classic car fans surrounded the rally cars and asked lots of questions. Most spoke English.
From Helsinki we took the ferry (about 2 hours) across to Tallinn, Estonia. The ferry had the largest shopping area we have ever seen on a ferry.

Then it was on to Riga, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. There was a rush to purchase some Polish currency (zloty) as the previous three countries are EU.
After 3 days in Poland we reached Wolfsburg, Germany. Another interesting contrast as the people in Germany do not wave or cheer as we go by.

Reached Ypres, Belgium on Saturday after having time to see the Tyne Cot cemetery, Polygon Wood etc. The beautifully kept cemetery was a moving experience. So many young men fell here in the Great War and lovingly remembered though many were not identified.
Ypres is a lovely city which was flattened in the war and rebuilt to its original plan. At 8pm every night the Last Post is played by the buglers at the Menin Gate. Not a sound from the large crowd, another moving experience.

From Ypres we set off, without any time controls, heading for Paris (about 280kms). Handed in the Time Card for the last time.

Since St Petersburg there has been a side competition for the European Cup where the winner had the least penalties on the tracks and circuits. Some days there were two or three tests. There was a lot of rivalry between cars with a similar capacity (ie Alfa, Peugot) . Phil drove like a possessed demon which put us into 7th place overall so good result.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Thursday 27th June
St Petersburg, Russia

Arrived here late yesterday after a quick lap around a circuit about 35km from here. Most of the drivers are enjoying the track tests which makes a change from some long transit stages. It has been intense driving as there are so many Russian trucks on the roads which makes passing difficult. At one place a few days ago the line of trucks was so long it was taking over an hour to make the right hand turn. Timing has been very tight and we've had to be on the go the whole time. Many were late in last night as the traffic was so bad.
We passed kilometre after kilometre of birch, fir and pine forests. Houses in the countryside are still built of timber and have decorative window architraves.

We are staying in the State Complex, Palace of Congresses. Apart from the hotel it has secure "cottages" where visiting dignitaries are accommodated. It has airline type security. We are in an eight bedroom house, where the bedrooms are suites. Soviet decor and comfortable. There is a kitchen downstairs and the bathroom floor is heated.
Unfortunately the complex is a considerable distance from the city centre so had to take taxis downtown which took 40-60 minutes. It's a very large city and its heritage has been preserved. No Astana like skyscrapers here. The old buildings are beautiful lining the canals and river. Lots of tourists and the queues to the Hermitage and Winter Palace were long.

Yesterday the car developed a vibration which appeared to be a loose bolt on the sump guard which has now been tightened. Checked the plugs, brake pads which were all good.

Tomorrow we head to our fifth country, Finland.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

repairs after suspension collapse
dragon at Great Wall start

entering Erenhot China

Navigator in her office

road obstacle

Ghengis Khan Monument

crowds at morning start

choose best track

catch up photos

broken suspension

tying to straighten sump guard, it later took a 40 ton press

rough track

tyre breaking rocks

"snow leopard" and team

broken axle carrier

after welding and strengthening

differential and axle carrier being reinstalled

Ladies in their gin tent

local costumes

half of a diff

UFA, Russia, Saturday 22nd June 2019
A misnomer if ever there was one...the car park is full of cars up on jacks, wheels off, bonnets up as everyone tries to effect repairs. We came into the city of Ufa about 4pm yesterday afternoon, unloaded our luggage and went straight to a workshop. About 5 other cars there as well. Here we replaced a lower ball joint, replaced 3 tie rod ends, tightened the drop arm on the steering box by way of a shim under the nut. We also cobbled together a new shock absorber lower mount using bolts, spacers and sleeves. The sleeves came from a length of steel tube which happened to be in our tool box. We also grabbed a pair of tyres which had come off the BMW as they had a full new set delivered and were throwing out the old ones. After hammering the dried mud from inside the wheels which had dried like concrete these new used tyres were fitted and a full wheel alignment carried out. We are particularly grateful to the crew of the Alfa Spider who provided the lower ball joint and 2 of the tie rod ends. We got back to the hotel at 9pm, just in time for dinner but satisfied that the car is ready to go again on Sunday morning.

Since our last post we have spent four nights in Kazakhstan, having our last camping night  at Balkhashino where it seems all the local residents invaded the camp site wanting to talk and take photos. Our final camp called for a celebration so Bill & Kathy rigged up a canopy to their Mercedes which was dubbed the gin & tonic tent. BYO chairs and drink.
coffee table gin and scotch

Throughout Kazakhstan it has been the same. People gather to see the cars and families bring their children. The car parks are so full of people looking, talking, photographing that anyone trying to do car repairs has a difficult job as people want to talk or help or ask questions.
Our first night in Kazakhstan was at Pavlodar then on to Astana the next night. Astana has changed its name to Nur Sultan and is an amazing city. Whilst the rest of the country is sparsely populated and seems very poor, Astana is a big city with ultra modern buildings. We didn't see much of this city as there was a torrential downpour just after we arrived. Our final night in Kazakhstan was at Kostanay.
A lot of the houses are built from logs as we passed vast forests of pollarded trees. Much of the land is uncultivated and apart from wheat didn't see any crops growing, yet we have had ample fruit and vegetables throughout. Next day we crossed back again into Russia and on to Bannoe Lake. The resort at the lake is set among silver birch trees with accommodation in two storey buildings. Lots of  Russian families on holidays there.

We had some interesting competitive stages in Kazakhstan, timed sections on narrow tracks across paddocks. One shocking test was through a muddy section where cars slip slided their way through. Our car at the finish was a lovely shade of brown, in fact from the side it looked like a cardboard cut out. Some helpful locals were at the end of the stage with watering cans, buckets of water to get the worst of the mud off.

Back in Russia we've had a couple of track tests where there is a minimum and a maximum time. Our times on these have been respectable.

camping gin tent in blue

Friday, 14 June 2019

Novosibersk, Friday 14th June
On Wednesday on a gravel road, we broke the differential housing and waited four and a half hours for a tray truck to transport us to Novosibersk, missing two and a half days of the rally. We arrived here at 3am, having been driven through the night. The truck dropped us at a workshop and we took a Uber to the hotel about 4am. The truck driver stopped for dinner at a spotless place which simply looked like a two storey house. No English and we managed to get a delicious meal of chicken soup, chicken & potatoes, baked bread & coffee for a total of $25.
At 7.30 am we went back to the workshop and the car was assessed by a mechanic. The whole rear axle assembly was removed, the broken side removed and welded. It was reassembled and put back in the car. Many other items were attended to, such as the sump guard which took a 40 tonne press to straighten, headlights reattached, engine mount replaced and sundry small jobs. Achim, the mechanic was excellent with great work.
We've accumulated huge penalties because of the missed controls but better to have the car repaired and now concentrating on getting the car to Paris.
The roads in Mongolia were diabolical with huge gullies, ruts, bumps etc, very hard on the cars so a large attrition rate. We survived the camping in Mongolia and some of the camps were in spectacular places, beside lakes or running streams. The camps were set up with temporary shower blocks, toilets and a mess tent. The food was excellent and plenty of vegetarian options.
The people in this part of Russia are very friendly and helpful, a vast contrast to the people of Mongolia. Border crossings to date have been slow and bureaucratic, particularly the one from Mongolia to Russia. With a long line of 60 cars waiting to cross, the entire crossing shut down whilst the staff walked out for lunch.
Leading up to the Mongolian border the shocker mount broke. At the border we removed the shock absorber and continued on to the day's end camp not realising that the remaining part of the mount had worked loose, allowing suspension to be hanging on one bolt. That bolt broke as we turned off the main road into the camp where cabins were provided. We suspected something was wrong as the car was pulling to the left for the last 100 kms. Turning off the main road we hit a bump and the single remaining bolt broke and the front left wheel folded under the car as that side's suspension collapsed.
Passing locals jumped out of their cars and took control. Using jacks & some of our tools had us on 4 wheels again by way of a temporary bolt and a hammered in tapered pin.This was adequate to get us the last few hundred meters to the camp, where we worked until late to effect repairs. A couple of the helpers were working on the conservation of the snow leopard as very few remain in Russia. They were providing entertainment for local children so had one of the troupe dressed in a snow leopard suit. Quite a site with a snow leopard helping to do car repair by the side of the road.
The Russian side was closed for a holiday on Tuesday and 4 cars were unable to cross so had to stay in Mongolia for another day.
Lots of animals wander across the roads here and in Mongolia: horses, sheep, cows and goats.
The villages in Mongolia were like compounds with fencing all around. The colourful colorbond roofs stood out, bright shades of orange, aqua, blues and yellows.
The dust from the roads seeps into everything in the car, including us, and we arrive at the end of the day looking like vagabonds.
Internet service has been hit & miss, and the rally very intense so very little time to blog.
Tomorrow is a rest day before we head to Kazakhstan on Sunday.
The Russians are extremely particular about taking US dollars, anything old looking, creased, marked etc is rejected. Every note is examined twice and we've had a few rejected at the bank today.
Having had five blowouts in 3 days due to bad advice received about installing tubes in tyres, we are off tomorrow to have the remaining tubes removed and to obtain some cast-off tyres from another Australian competitor who has had new tyres flown in. Along the way we have purchased 3 tyres of varying quality, mainly second-hand. It will be good to be back on 4 good tyres with one good spare as we have driven the last 3 days with no spare whatsoever. We are also attempting to obtain another rim as we destroyed a rim in Mongolia.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

In Ulaanbaatar. Part two

having technical issues so continued here.

We bent a wheel and had a flat tyre yesterday day 4.
Destroyed our tyre so we bashed the wheel straight(er) and purchased a new “similar sized” tyre from a yokohama tyre shop today.

Also fabricated new shock absorber rubbers and fitted those..  Tidied up the car and did a few other repairs and now ready to go tomorrow.

For photos and organisers reports visit.  There is a photo of us on either day3 or day 4, can,t remember which.
No time so far to add our own photos but maybe at next rest day.

Now into email blackout for next fed days.
We are well and looking forward to next desert stages.