The Daily Telegraph - Peking to Paris classic car rally 2013: Highs and lows
June 28, 2013

Michelle Jana Chan reflects on the highs and lows of her Peking-to-Paris Motor Challenge, as one of the world's toughest classic car rallies reaches its end tomorrow.

Scariest moment?
I do not think I was ever scared for our safety but there were many times I was afraid for the well-being of Shiner, our 1940 Ford Coupe. The worst moment was on Day 6 (Ulaan Baatar to Bulgan, Mongolia) when we ended up driving through a marsh. We had to keep up our speed -- to prevent us getting bogged down -- but that meant violently porpoising for a hundred metres. We knew the suspension was being smashed to pieces -- and we were right. That incident set us back from lead position to sixth yet we feel like we got off lightly.

Friendliest people/crowd?
Definitely the Russians. There was spontaneous cheering, thumbs-ups and blasts of car horns wherever we went.

Funniest moment?
Day 30. The hill climb up to Planai, Switzerland. Under pressure to set a good time, we were burning up the track… until we turned a corner to be faced with a herd of very fat cows in the road. As we tried to nose the car forward the cows became increasingly stubborn. It was totally exasperating but Mike and I both got the giggles and we laughed all the way to the summit.

Best meal?
Day 20. Packet noodles in a garage in Samara, Russia, the location of one of our so-called ‘rest days’. It was a day of a dozen repairs including changing tyres, patching inner tubes, replacing the fan belt, tapping the wheel studs, installing new dampers and reinstating the sump guard. Then we discovered a crack in the chassis and set off to find a garage with welding facilities. It had been a long busy day without a scrap of food but under some spare shock absorbers I found two packet-noodles we had bought in Beijing. The garage had a kettle and the noodles were ready in minutes: we sat on the oily floor eating tangy beef noodles with chili as if it was the best meal in the world.

Prettiest landscape?
The astonishingly beautiful Altai region of Russia with its snowy peaks, impenetrable forests and glacial lakes.

Coolest car?
Car 1, the 1917 La France Tourer - it does not get bigger nor better than this - and the oldest car on the rally, Car 3, the 100-year-old Ford Model T with stamina in spades.

Prettiest route and toughest drive
Day 8. The spectacular scenery from Chjargas Lake to Uureg Lake, Mongolia. After reaching one mountain pass, we took a few minutes to watch fellow competitors tackle the steep road. One car decided to climb in reverse gear. Many more chose to do the switchback route like a train. Shiner managed it in one breath but her oil pressure was never quite the same after the strain.

Best lesson learned?
How to read the road - achieved by driving without brakes for 40km.

Creature comfort you missed the most?
Clean fingernails.

Saddest moment?
Just outside Tyumen we heard there had been a car crash involving one of the rally cars. It turned out to be Car 92 and the driver, Emma Wilkinson, was killed instantly. Two people in the other car -- the driver and a small baby -- were also killed. It was a shocking and terribly sad day for the rally.

If you could re-do any part of the race, which would it be?
Mongolia. Mongolia. Mongolia.

Strongest local tipple?
We stayed the whole night at a garage in Omsk, Russia, investigating why our oil pressure was so low. As we changed the oil pump, the mechanics and their friends cracked open the alcohol. Beer flowed. That was followed by cheap Cognac. The sun was rising. I was shattered. Now I was also losing my mind. I wondered how we all would put the engine back together...

What's the first thing you want to do when you reach Paris?
Walk around the Tuileries gardens with family and friends who are meeting us in the French capital.

Favourite and least favourite aspect of being on the road?
Favourite: the support of strangers, like the lovely guys in Novosibirsk, Russia. Nikita, Andrei and another Andrei helped us source obscure spares and put Shiner back together after the pounding in Mongolia.

Least favourite: dangerous drivers; there seemed to be a particularly high concentration of careless truck drivers int he Urals region of Russia.

Proudest moment in the race so far?
Day 28. Kosice to Bratislava, Slovakia. We had serious mechanical problems including losing the clutch and the gears. Yet Mike and I put our heads down and pushed on. Rob and Bob, two brilliant mechanics, helped us back on the road. We drove like there was no tomorrow -- and worried there might not be for Shiner and our rally. We suffered a swathe of penalties and lost our position in the European Cup -- from first to nowhere. Yet we retained third place in the Peking to Paris competition due to a healthy buffer. Mike and I high-fived each other at the end of the day, and then a black cat crossed the road in front of Shiner.

What was most surprising about the whole experience?
That a 73-year old car can perform so well on such an epic, gruelling, transcontinental journey.

Would you do this rally (or another similar drive) again?
Absolutely. Perhaps not the Peking to Paris but we are already thinking about the La Carrera Panamericana in Mexico.