The Daily Telegraph - Peking to Paris classic car rally 2013: Fighting for victory
June 21, 2013

In Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, Michelle Jana Chan sizes up her closest rivals with just over a week left in the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge.

From time to time I indulge myself and recall how it felt to be leading one of the world’s longest and toughest vintage car rallies. Alas, the unfiltered joy lasted only a few days - although it was during some of the most challenging driving at the start of the rally in Mongolia.

That is a long time ago. It is now day 24 of this 33-day competition. We lie in third place after a series of mechanical problems which included broken suspension and a dysfunctional gearbox. Given our former position at the top, I cannot get too excited about being third. Without stating the obvious there are two cars ahead of us and that is driving me to behave irrationally.

Currently in the number one spot are Phil Garratt and Kieron Brown from Britain, who are driving a Chevrolet Fangio Coupe, the same model that won the last Peking to Paris in 2010. It was a smart, albeit unadventurous, choice of vehicle with proven pedigree. Both men also have rally experience, unlike my co-driver Mike Reeves and myself.

Our interaction with this pair is limited. They are highly focused on their goal to win and that is commendable. Every morning we stand awkwardly across from each other at the checkpoint, throwing furtive glances and offering phony pleasantries. Their unruffled navigator - and I cannot tell one from the other - carries a clipboard, a route book marked in highlighter pen and a stopwatch. In comparison, I confess, I feel frantic as I borrow a pencil from a fellow competitor and local change for tolls. This does not mean I am any less competitive, of course.

One consolation: the duo recently left a petrol station after pouring Russian ‘octane booster’ supplement in their fuel tank. MIke and I had a laugh about this as we believe the stuff to be totally impotent. They may well have the last laugh though, as we have now taken to rummaging through rubbish bins hoping to find evidence of their winning strategies.

But at least we know that our car, Shiner, is the most beautiful - unrelated as this might be.

Lying in second place is a team we definitely want to thrash. Father-and-son Bruce and Ben Washington from New Zealand are driving a Chrysler 75 Roadster decorated with skulls, an oversized flagpole-aerial and a pair of silver testicles dangling from the chassis.

“I’m a man’s man,” Bruce Washington said to me one night. “There is a place for women in this world and it is not on this rally.”

There is a twinkle in his eye but the number of unrelenting chauvinist remarks has been staggering. He barely lets his son - who we have never seen drive - utter a word, which is a shame since I am sure he has more interesting thoughts to share.

In spite of the banter, we know that both of these cars have a strong lead over us - one hour and ten minutes by the Fangio fiends, and thirty minutes by the Chrysler cretins - and it is almost impossible for us to catch them.

The rally is stacked in favour of those who do well in Mongolia. Time trials there could be up to 80 kilometres in length, enabling competitors to gain or lose vast stretches of time. Now there is limited opportunity to shave even seconds off the leaders.

We have had our fair share of mechanical problems. Perhaps it is time for the two leading cars to falter. Not that we are willing that to happen, of course. That would not be sporting at all.