Our Rally Diary

NOTICE>>>>

To follow Mike on his trip across the USA on the Trans Am 2015 Rally go to their Facebook Page – OceanGroveToParis 2013.

 

 

**** This page details our diary as we are on the Rally.  Always check our LATEST NEWS page for any late breaking news….

Post Rally The Celebrations.

HandshakeoverEHWe are receiving photos from our army of photographers following this event and will post them under the LATEST NEWS tab.

We had to pick this one and put it on this page as it sums up the boys feeling on crossing the line.

 

 

 

Day 33 – Troyes to Paris (France) 250kms

This is an updated report…….

DrivetoFinishHaving cleaned the car last night so that it would look its best today we were really disappointed that the weather was not as good as it could be. Low cloud and drizzle were forecast for most of the morning for our final run into Paris. Of course Mike and James were feeling on top of the world, not the least because they had had a reasonably early night, unlike some who never went to bed!

Our start time, based on our result and class was 10:03 and so we set off at that time following many of the cars that we had started with over the last week or so. John and Phil in the blue Volvo, Peter and David in the Holden ute, Richard and Sinead in the big Bentley etc. It was a bit of a procession as we wound our way through beautiful French countryside, James driving and Mike navigating. No motorway for us of course! The requirement to traverse 4 passage controls gave us the opportunity to thank the many marshalls who had helped us along the route.

Arrival inParisThen into Paris, our excitement heightened by our first view of the Eiffel tower. Down the hill, across the Pont de Sevres and we took the first turn on the D1 road. Oops! Should have been the second turn! Blame the navigator! No matter,a quick reversal back up the hill and a retrace of our steps and then we were on our way again with Mike and Derek in the big Mercedes right next to us.

Up the Avenue Foch we arrived in the holding area to await our turn to drive down the Champs Élysées to the finish at the Place Vendome. Emotions were high, everyone congratulating each other and of course calling family and friends at the finish line as well as back at home. Then our turn to battle the traffic to the finish. Through the Place Concorde and around a few back streets the traffic was horrendous and the last two kilometres took almost three quarters of an hour. Soon we started to see a few friends as we approached the finish. Then Eva, then Jennie and Lucy at the finish line. Lots wearing the #78 Blue Neptune Racing Team t-shirts. We stopped at the finish to be handed our medals and have some photos as well as heaps of hugs and kisses then in to park the car and enjoy the bottle of champagne that Jennie had promised all along she would have ready.

A little lunch with friends and family capped off the day and then we repaired to the apartment to get ready for the evening. Of course our three girls looked lovely as the boys donned tuxedos for the gala dinner and presentation of prizes. A great night and opportunity to catch up for one last time with all the friends we had made on the trip.

The wonderful EH was left in the Place Vendome in the care of Cars UK and was due to be shipped out at 5 am tomorrow morning. See you in Melbourne for a complete service and check (and to get rid of that bloody Mongolian dust!).

Day 32 – Gstaad to Troyes (France) 453kms

(*** This is an updated report)

Palace Hotel Gstaad1There was a very celebratory mood in the hotel last night. James and Mike were staying in the hotel next door to the Palace where dinner was served. After a quick check of the EH we showered and changed to repair to the hotel for a cocktail party and dinner. Many crews were inclined to party on but we decided to make it an early night. Still a full rally day on Friday.

And so off this morning for another 530km day. At least there were no alps to contend with. The start time had been brought forward due to roadworks. Sure enough as soon as we got going we were delayed sitting at traffic lights.

Then, just as we came over a hill and into a village there were two policemen on the road and we, along with the two Belgians in the Chev pickup, were pulled over for a “document check”. More delays whilst the police officers explained to us that “they had had some reports of rally cars speeding”. It most certainly wasn’t us and we were all smiles etc as though any delay was no problem at all.

Finally away and we eventually turned up at the motorkhana track at Lignieres where we joined the queue for our turn. We watched the other cars going round and worked out a strategy. Then off and with James driving and Mike calling the turns the EH put in a strong performance. Lots of tyre squealing, braking and accelerating. Good fun! We later found out that our time for that event was the third fastest of all cars in the rally!

Sreetsweeper1The rest of the day was reasonably uneventful. As the alps gave way to rolling hills we drove on towards France. Of course there were many Passage Controls to ensure competitors did not take the motorway. One was located at the top of a hill and a bunch of us were stuck behind a tour bus all the way up, only to be stuck behind a street sweeper on the way back down.

CarwashTroyes1Across the border into France there was a Swiss contingent to wave us goodbye and we pressed on to Troyes and our hotel. On arrival we had the time book stamped and then drove to a car wash where the EH received a thorough clean. There are actually few battle scars but our wonderful car will receive a complete detailing on return to Australia.

We were all required to go to dinner tonight in two sittings but there was a very celebratory mood in the bar after dinner.

Off to Paris tomorrow. We can’t believe that the trip is almost over!

Day 31 – Davos tp Gstaad (Switzerland) 325kms

Well today dawned sunny and bright and since we were now in Switzerland we spent some time in the car park after breakfast paying out the Austrians as they had claimed the rights to the good weather.

We spent a little time first thing perusing the amendments for the day. These normally include the Route book and the time card and it behoves the two of us to ensure the correct notes are placed in the correct places!!

Then we were due to depart at plus 29 minutes so we had our time card stamped and we were off! Well, not quite as another competitor had parked his car across the exit gate and we could not get past. Much blowing of horns and eventually the driver came and moved his car.

Very early in the piece we worked out that today was going to be a very big day in terms of time and distance. We had just over 9 hours to complete 450 km which if we were driving from Melbourne to Canberra wouldn’t be a problem. However we had 3 mountains of over 2200 metres to cross, always switchback roads and quite often very heavy traffic.

“Get cracking” was the advice and we did. First to a motorkhana circuit where we joined the queue for the track straight away and James put in a very good time on the short track. Then off for the next transport stage, bearing in mind that there was limited time. With only 24 litres in the tank we were looking for a fuel stop but none were available.

Over the first set of mountains we managed to pass a couple of fellow competitors before descending into a valley where we expected roadworks at an old bridge. This is indeed what we got as the road crew were trying to move a low loader and a digger own the steep mountainside. It took well over 20 minutes to create a clear space for us to get by and by then 15 cars were stuck behind us. Nevertheless the EH was able to power up the hill.

And so it went all day, up and down, round and round. After one such episode we ended up only 20 km further up the valley after travelling 70!!

The only minor problem was that the horn started going off whenever we turned the steering wheel. We were stuck behind a delivery van and tooting merrily away much to the annoyance of the driver in front of us who of course didn’t understand the problem. When we finally passed him he looked pretty mad. James waved and Mike continued to try and find the fuse and pull it out!

In the early afternoon we arrived at the Tremola, a hill climb based on the old road made of cobblestones that was quite steep. Added to that was light rain and a few private cars that had somehow managed to get on the track along with people on mountain bikes. Nevertheless James managed a really good time.

We swapped drivers not long after the Tremola, still running around 20 minutes late. Every time we got close to making up time something else would get in the way. Even getting fuel proved troublesome as we couldn’t get the only (self service) pump in one town to work.

By the time Mike got to the top of the second last mountain it was snowing heavily – welcome to summer in Switzerland! The officials were seriously dressed for winter but we were only in shorts and t-shirts. A slow trip down on a very slick road.

The last mountain had a 6 km dirt and gravel hill climb at the top. Fortunately by this time it had stopped raining and Mike enjoyed himself with a good start. Plenty of advice from James saw us at the top in a reasonable time. Then back down the other side for the final run into Gstaad. Still running late we pushed the car as far as speed limits and traffic would allow and arrived at the Palace hotel entrance just five minutes late. James rushed into the foyer to get the time card stamped, forcing his way past the crowds of spectators (including one lady who said to Mike in a strong Oz accent – “that’s an EH! My dad had one of those”). We were, along with all other competitors granted a 30 minute penalty free time for the last time control. Talk about happy.

Then it was shower and change for a cocktail party in the Palace (we are staying in the Alpina next door) followed by dinner. We will check the car in the morning.

One more full day of the rally, into Troyes tomorrow night.

Day 30 – Schladming to Davos (Switzerland) 428kms

abovesnowline1After a huge day yesterday which included a circuit where James placed fifth outright, an incredible hill climb of over 8 km where Mike was not quite as fast but did reasonably well and a drive of well over 500 km we were pretty stuffed last night. We had had a really good and satisfying day with the car performing well in the alps and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Especially the “pancake soup” at the restaurant at the top of the Stoderzinken hill climb.
Then on the “post flight inspection” in the car park of the Sport Hotel in Schladming we discovered a potential problem with what we thought was some play in the left rear wheel, potentially a bearing problem. Tony Jones, one of the ever helpful service crew, helped us remove the brake drum to have a look and everything appeared tight. Further, there were no leaks inside and we resolved to check it on arrival in Davos. Mike also undertook to talk to the rear axle builder in Geelong for any further advice.
boyswithbeerAfter a really good dinner (probably the best of the trip, glad we didn’t accept an invitation to go out!) and a reasonably early night we were up not long after dawn and Mike spoke to Phil at PDR in Geelong. Phil’s advice was that if it wasn’t making any extra noise (it wasn’t) and the were no leaks (there weren’t) then we should leave it well alone and just keep an eye on it. This we have done this evening and all appears well. Thanks heaps, Phil.
abovesnowline3This morning off early, starting from the hotel at 7:37 we set off for the Planai hill climb. Since Mike drove the one yesterday, James had a go today and returned a really good time on the dirt despite the car having difficulty getting going again after each stop at the Passage Controls on the climb. As a result of the difficult starts on hills at altitude Mike put in a call (whilst we were enjoying a fantastic breakfast at the top of the hill) to our ace mechanic and great supporter Ras Hansen at Vintage and Classic Garage in Clayton. Thank you very much Ras. Ras has been at the end of his mobile for our whole trip and never missed answering a call from us. Ras and Mike discussed mixtures and timing and we resolved that we would have a look this evening. In the meantime we were able to ensure we had no hill starts at altitude (sometimes difficult on the roads we were on today as there were often roadworks where we had to stop) and we could look after and not slip that bloody clutch!
Tonight we have had a good look at the car and decided not to touch anything. Aside from the occasional start off problem the car is performing really well and just powers up hills. We made two big climbs today including the Fluela Pass which took us to over 2400 metres and well above the snow line. We have discussed our situation again with the mechanics in the service crew and they agree.
Some of the driving today has been seriously demanding, much of it really picture postcard stuff. Mike commented at one stage that it was like driving through a Marklin train set! The hill we climbed this morning where we were able to take in the view of the fifth highest waterfall in the world was truly remarkable. As was the trip back down into the next valley. Having said that a 3000 ft sheer drop off the side of a narrow road with no Armco certainly gets your attention. Our brakes lasted all the way down with no problems unlike for some others. We even saw a competitor cooling his discs with a bottle of water!!
At the top if the Fluela Pass James decided to throw snowballs at Mike – so much for a Swiss summer. Two further hill sections were cancelled today as the roads were closed due to weather damage. We could have been two hours later into the hotel if they had gone ahead so there were no complaints!
The crews are in two hotels tonight whilst staying in Davos. We had to walk to the other hotel for dinner which was again outstanding. The only downside is that we have to pay for one year’s use of the motorways in Switzerland even though we are only on them tomorrow for 20 Kms – $45 AUD. Oh well, in the grand scheme of things!

Tomorrow another big day with three timed sections. Our star time is 9:14 reflecting our revised position in the rally. Time for a good Swiss breakfast before we start.

Sent from Killa’s iPad ?

Day 29 – Bratislava to Schladming       Austria    442kms

Sorry for late report – Arrived Schladming no ‘net in hotel. Great day on track (5th) and mid class on Stolderzinken hillclimbs. Now 15th in class. Climbed 1800m Solkpasse snowing at top! Small problem with rear wheel bearing, may have to replace tomorrow night. Regards, Killa

Day 28 – Kosice to Bratislava (Slovakia)

Slovakian Church

Slovakian Church

Well today was forecast to be massive and it was! 500 km of driving and four timed sections on closed public roads plus a run around the circuit at the Slovakia Ring.

We were starting again at standard rally time plus 30 minutes so after sign out, and with Mike driving, we set off from the hotel in Kosiche. By starting at 8:15 we were able to have a reasonably relaxing breakfast. The competitors in the Vintageant class had to start from 7:00!

Time Trial through the Forest

Time Trial through the Forest

Out of Kosiche the roads were not too bad and after approximately 100 km we arrived at the start of the first time trial. Indeed the road was closed so we knew we would not see any traffic. We were still surprised to see spectators and hikers walking along the road as we zipped by at fast speed!

More driving and more time trials! Today the driving never seemed to end. We both commented that as nice as the scenery was, we didn’t really get to see it! Mike’s timed sections were reasonable, of course with a little help from James. The completion of a course on a track prior to this event could be of some advantage.

No Guns at Tesco!!!!

No Guns at Tesco!!!!

After a stop for lunch (actually at a local Tesco buying the makings of ham and cheese sandwiches) we pressed on knowing that we eventually had to be at the circuit no later than 5:19 pm to qualify for the last event. At the circuit we were required to attend a briefing and then off! Full harnesses on, James driving, and we took to the track. Initially on the perimeter road and eventually on to the track we lapped the car that had started ahead of us and recorded a time of 7:21, fifth fastest time of the day overall. A most credible effort. Of course when we arrived back at the Master Time Control the tyres were almost smoking. Good job James.

Then a transport section of 45 km to our hotel. Just as we left the track it started to rain, we were so lucky to have a dry track.

Eventually to our hotel after 10 and a half hours on the road. We shared our dinner table tonight with Daniel and Tony Woodcock and had a great time regaling each other with our stories so far.

Another big day tomorrow as we get closer to Paris. Hitting the sack at a reasonable hour!

Day 27 – Supplemental Report

This report came in from the boys after we had gone to Press.  It contains a lot more detail:-

Day 27 began this morning at 7 am with a knock on the door which Mike answered. James’ linguistic skills were required urgently to translate the needs of car 94, the Bentley stuck in Kiev with a blown head gasket. The Japanese owners were trying to get the car from Kiev to Davos to effect the required repairs but the Ukraine/Europe border stood in the way. By the time Mike joined James for breakfast a solution had just about been found.

Our signing today was at 09:15 so James collected the car from its parking area nearby in the local university and we were then able to collect our route amendments for the day. As a result of the really harsh recent winter the route to the border would now take us via the motorway so the route book had to be changed.

After we checked out we set off from Lviv to the sound of local folk music and blunderbusses being fired by local citizens dressed in traditional military uniform.

The first stages of the motorway were not too bad but the road quickly deteriorated with huge bumps and even bigger potholes (some around 180 mm deep!). Add to that a single lane road, very large and slow trucks and some local drivers with a death wish made the morning very stressful.

Finally we arrived at the Passage Control just short of the border. Then on to the crossing into Europe. All went well and we were into Europe within half an hour. Despite being advised that a FIVA passport for the EH was unnecessary it proved very useful and we transited in the minimal time. It certainly was a great feeling to have made our last order crossing and be in Europe. We pressed on to a car park about 35 km down the road where we were set a departure time for the one speed section of the day, a time trial on a closed road outside our final destination Kosiche. We managed to get some bread rolls and meat and cheese for a picnic whilst we waited. Mike even was able to purchase a vanilla slice!

Eventually off and following the other cars to the start of the time trial. The road was to be closed at 3:30 but it was after 5 before the first car got away and not until 6 pm when the EH got off the line. An 8 km time trial ensued and, with Mike driving and James giving advice we managed a time through a very twisty mountain road of 8:21, the 14th fastest time of all cars competing. There were many spectators lining the route so we still had to be very careful – some stood right on the road on the outside of the corners!!

Then on to Kosiche wherein a very warm welcome was given to all the cars. We drove down the main street through a P-P arch and then onto the hotel. After dinner James and Mike enjoyed a walk in the old town of Kosiche and even had time for an ice cream!

The car has been checked tonight in preparation for a very big day tomorrow. Over 500 km plus 4 time trials plus a circuit.

Day 27 – Lviv to Kosice (Slovakia) 368kms

Slovakia Speed Limits

Slovakia Speed Limits

A fairly uneventful day with the EH recording a stage time of 8:33:21 which was well up with the leaders.  It was a little wet all day which made the drive interesting but safe.

Today we crossed into Slovakia which was done quickly and then had a closed road time trial in which we performed well but keeping the car safe for the rest of the trip to Paris.

We hear that tomorrow we will have four more time trials on closed roads so that will be more testing.  We expect that there will be more of these closed road time trials as we are now well into Europe.

Entry to Kosice in Slovakia

Entry to Kosice in Slovakia

Todays test was was on a steep climb and the climb was hard work, and demanding – “damn gut-wrenching” was how Rhys Timms in the Australian MG SA saloon called it – but everyone was in total agreement at the end: This has been a day all about crossing a border in plenty of time for an afternoon of good fun.

Day 26 – Kiev to Lviv (Ukraine) 583kms

A long day planned today with a timed section on the “Seagull” race track just out of Kiev followed by a transport stage of some 500 km. We left the hotel at around 8 am and with only 16 litres in the tank, elected to put about 30 litres of 98 Octane fuel for the circuit. We then drove the 20 km to Seagull and on arrival unloaded a significant proportion of our spares and tools to reduce the weight in the rear of the car.

MG SA on the Seagull circuit in Ukraine.

MG SA on the Seagull circuit in Ukraine.

The “Seagull” track, also know locally as Chaika, is a very simple but great setup. We had access to 3 laps of the 2.8 km circuit and started In our allotted position at 9:45. It was James’ turn to drive the timed section so, with Mike giving advice as to which corner was what, we set off for the requisite laps. At the end of the drive we achieved a time of 5:48, coming 8th out of all the competitors. James drove really well, definitely exploring the limits of the light truck radials but never exceeding them! We were only 20 seconds slower than the Porsche 911 that is currently running second in the rally.

After we finished we repacked the car and prepared to set off for Lviv. Prior to departure though we spent a little time admiring the classic military and civilian vehicles that had showed up for our event.

Then onto the road! The rally organisers had advised us via a day amendment that the original back roads route had been damaged by the extreme weather over the last winter. Consequently we were forced to read the map book to navigate our way to the hotel! A break at a truck stop around lunchtime for fuel and a soup and salad (OK, a little salo on bread as well!) and a driver change and we were on the way.

In general the roads today were good, often dual carriageway but whenever it was single lane we were forced into our procedure for passing the big trucks. This involves pulling out a little, the navigator having a look, then the driver taking third gear and “going for it” to get past.

Interestingly there are often pedestrian crossings, even on the motorways, with pedestrians just stepping out into 110 kmh traffic! Things like this have kept us on our toes!,

The cars arrive at Lviv

The cars arrive at Lviv

On arrival in Lviv we followed our written instructions towards the hotel. As we approached the arch where we expected our photo taken we were directed towards a large tent. Then the next thing we knew we were driving up a ramp and turning left onto a stage within the tent where we were welcomed by about 1000 people waiting inside. It was nothing short of incredible. Even the “Peter Gunn” theme being played whilst we were “announced”! Then a left turn out of the tent and back down the ramp to head towards the hotel.

A long (530 km) but great day and we have now enjoyed a pleasant dinner and a couple of relaxing drinks.

The EH is running really well. A few minor adjustments were required tonight but nothing major. We have so far used 1/2 a litre of oil in over 9000 Kms!

Day 25 – Kiev Rest Day (Ukraine)

After a good night’s sleep in the lovely Fairmont hotel in Kiev we were up and ready to go for our rest day. An excellent breakfast was provided by the hotel and then Mike got changed to work on the car. James needed to make a few calls for work (he had almost forgotten what that was like!) and Mike proceeded to the car park to do some preventative maintenance on the EH.

There were a few interested spectators but they were not too much trouble, just asking the usual questions about the distance we had covered and then being incredulous at the answer!

Huge ChopperTyres were checked for cuts and wear and pumped up to 36 psi in preparation for the track day tomorrow, the air filter paper cartridge was cleaned and the dirty pre cleaner sock replaced with a clean one. All bolts and nuts were checked for tightness and seals and the odd leak checked. We are using a little oil (around 1/2 a litre over the last 4400 Kms since Novosibirsk, not a drama really!). Mike checked with the support mechanics who confirmed his view that all was OK and a top up was all that was necessary.

TU-95 BearIn the afternoon Mike, James and Yasuaki Iwasaki (#58 Datsun 240Z) caught a cab out to the local airport and had a browse around the Russian aircraft museum. 95 various Russian aeroplanes including Migs, Ilyushins and all sorts of helicopters etc. a great way to spend a rest day afternoon. Of course the adventure would not be complete without trying to catch a bus back to town and ending up on the other side of the river about 10 Kms away from the hotel. With the assistance of a few locals we managed to get back to the centre of town and then we were offered a lift (at a price but reasonable nevertheless) back to the hotel where the boys spent a pleasant time having a beer in the car park and talking to Jennie and Lucy on the phone.

Tonight’s dinner was at a traditional Ukranian restaurant and all seven of us chose Chicken Kiev! Of course!

Tomorrow a track day at the “Seagull” circuit and then a 550 km drive to Lviv.

The end gets closer by the day!!.

Day 24 – Kharkiv to Kiev (Ukraine) 485 kms

After our extremely warm welcome into Kharkiv, a good meal and a good night’s rest we were ready for the day this morning.

Our place yesterday was pushed down as a result of not getting our Time Card signed on arrival, giving us a 12 hour penalty. We fortunately were able to convince the officials that we were indeed in on time and that there was considerable confusion at check in to the hotel. By tonight all had been sorted and our rightful place returned. Nevertheless the organisers have warned all competitors to always check their Time Cards signed at every Passage, Time and Master Control as there will not be any lenience in the future.

CrowdsOut of Kharkiv and leaving the hotel car park there were at least a couple of hundred spectators and a MC who was announcing each car and it’s country of origin. Mike, in the navigator’s seat was asked to say 2 words about the city but he managed to get in 10! Typical!!

Then a departure around the statue of Lenin and out of town, ably assisted by the local police who stopped traffic for us. One of the easiest city departures for a while.

We noticed a number of Shell service stations,the first since China. They were even selling V-Power fuel.

Our route took us on some country roads over the course of the morning, a shorter trip than the main road and much more pleasant. We saw a couple of cars broken down but understand that all of them are now in the car park. Of course the Passage Controls were set up so that we could not take any short cuts!

Through some towns there were literally hundreds of people waving to us. In particular the town of Krasnokuts’k gave us a very warm welcome.

photo 3Stopping at an out of the way restaurant saw us sharing a table with the Holden ute crew and two German crews and we enjoyed salads and shasliks for lunch. We also tried salo, preserved pork fat with fresh bread. Very nice but don’t tell the cardiologist!

Then Mike’s turn to drive and we headed for Kiev on the main highway. Most of it motorway and some local drivers thought they were on an autobahn. One passed us at over 200 kmh!

Coming into Kiev we spotted a Ford Capri convertible as made in Geelong. How on earth that car made it in to the Ukraine we have no idea.

KievAlthough the traffic was heavy coming into the city we had no real issues and our wonderful EH is now parked in front of the Fairmont hotel. A quick post drive check revealed nothing out of the ordinary but we will make a further and more thorough check tomorrow morning on our rest day.

 

Day 23 – Voronezh to Kharkiv (Ukraine) 364 kms

Last day in Russia

Last day in Russia

After our last night in Russia we set off early this morning from Voronezh. The rally organisers had advised us that we were able to leave at a time that suited us so long as we arrived at the Master Time Control at the Belgorod race circuit before our set time. Our time had been set at 12:49 and we needed to travel 323 Kms to Belgorod.

The roads were actually pretty reasonable and, as we were leaving town fairly early at 7:00 am there wasn’t much traffic.

We stopped at a fuel station in mid morning to try some 98 Octane fuel. One issue we have with the car is, with quite a tall first gear, we need to keep the revs up on start and slip the clutch a little to get going. As you may imagine, given our past experience,we are rather reluctant to slip the clutch!! So we are trying 98 fuel to see if we can get better starts. So far, so good.

Navigating our way into Belgorod and wondering what to expect for our “track day” we were concerned to see some motorcross tracks near the circuit. No dramas, our first part was to be on a high speed tarmac go kart track and the second half on a 4 km level dirt (read dust and sand!) portion.

We stood and watched other competitors having a go. There was some exciting driving to be seen but even the older cars made good times.

On the Race circuit

On the Race circuit

Then it was our turn. Mike drove on the tarmac with James giving good advice from the other seat – “flick the tail out, Dad, that’ll get you round the corners!” Mike achieved a reasonable time, all things considered.

Then James took the wheel for the dirt track. An advantage soon realised was that with the C/R gearbox, first gear helped in the corners. The car handled well despite us not taking any of our tools,parts or luggage out of the back prior to the event. From the results posted tonight it would appear that James achieved 3rd FTD on the dirt!

On completion we transported to a mall in Belgorod for a great Italian buffet lunch.

Then on to the border for the crossing from Russia into Ukraine. No doubt assisted by the local team helping the organisers we got through the border controls with a minimum of fuss and we were driving the main highway into Kharkiv. We noticed a real change in the countryside as we drove into Ukraine, a definite feeling of community prosperity in the country.

We navigated our way into the city and, as we approached the hotel, we’re directed to the main square where we were welcomed by over 2000 people lining barricades. We were greeted by young ladies in national dress and given gifts of t shirts, hats, medallions etc.

The EH is now parked in the basement. No dramas except losing a little oil around the top of the dipstick!  James and Mike have had a fine dinner and now will enjoy a well deserved rest. Off to Kiev tomorrow.

Day 22 – Saratov to Voronezh (Russia) 545kms

Collapsed Bridge

Collapsed Bridge

A pleasant evening in Saratova, a couple of beers by the river before dinner and a reasonably early night.

Today the weather was much kinder and the temperature lower so, despite the big day of 608 Kms driving conditions were much more pleasant. Nevertheless it took us over half a hour to exit the city proper in the morning (5 Kms) and another half an hour later we had still only travelled a total if 15 Kms.

Out of town and the pace picked up. There was a timed section planned for the morning and we knew it would be across farmland on a closed dirt track. We watched the sky closely as it looked very much like it was about to rain. At the start the track was dry so James drove at a good pace consistent with our intent to preserve the car. A good time of 6:14 was put in.

Passing Aussie MG SA

Passing Aussie MG SA

We stopped just short of half way for the day and had lunch. Today’s truck stop was a real beauty and set up almost as a cafeteria. Hot soup and piroshki (a potato or egg filled fried bread) gave us the energy to continue. We shared our table with Mike and Pete Armstrong.

Mike took the wheel for the afternoon and we drove through fields of sunflower plants and young wheat. The rain eventually arrived but did not slow us at all. We drove through a town called Panino where there was a Sukhoi 17 mounted on a plinth. Of course we had to stop for a photo and then the locals all had to then have their photos taken with the EH!!  Traffic works delayed us through Borisoglebsk and as we got closer we could see a huge bridge that had collapsed. It apparently failed at the start of this year and it would seem that not much has been done since.

East meets West

East meets West

Off then to Voronezh for our last night in Russia. Tonight we are staying in what many would consider a typical Russian hotel. They ran out of beer shortly after we arrived and out of most food after dinner had been going for an hour. We all had to park in the mud as the good car parks had been reserved for “the owners”! Nevertheless we managed to check the car over and fix the horn (very much needed here!).

Tomorrow an early start. 323 Kms to the start event for the day which is at a motor racing circuit near the Ukraine border.

Day 21 – Samara to Saratov (Russia) 435 kms

Day 20 was a scheduled rest day and for the first time on this trip we almost had a rest.
After cleaning the EH we kicked back in the car park and made sure the car was OK.
In the evening, instead of a traditional rest day pizza we joined a few friends and took taxis downtown. We walked along the riverfront and watched the locals enjoying the “beach” by the river Volga. Eventually we found a bar by the water and cold beers were ordered. Then a walk back to the traditional Russian restaurant that we had booked for dinner. A great meal ensued although we probably ordered too much and many of us were unable to do justice to the meal.

This morning we set off in Samara in very heavy traffic, it took us over half an hour to cover 10 kilometres.

Potato farms on Olga

Potato farms on Olga

Eventually we were on the open road but we were, just like many other competitors, forced to travel at a very reasonable speed due to the road conditions and the temperature.
The road had been rumoured to be very rough and indeed it was. There were grooves in the road left by the hundreds of trucks that use the road every day that were 150mm deep. This made our car “tramline” on the road and consequently difficult to drive. Add to this the 40 degree temperature and it was a hard day.
Of course there are many competitors who are much worse off and they have great stories to tell.

Day 20 – Samara Rest Day (Russia).

Everyone was on the go this morning, some even starting servicing their cars last night either in the car park or by taking their car to a local garage to be at the front of the queue to have work done.

Car WashWe are fortunate that our EH had only to be checked over and cleaned so after breakfast we drove, along with two other cars a short distance to a local “Avtomoika” (car wash). There we were able to have the car washed thoroughly with a high pressure hose and of course it came up a treat. We then drove to the workshop to check on some friends and then went for a cruise around including a drive by the river where there were plenty of people but no parking available, nor cafes or restaurants open (Sunday in Samara). James @ Food StallNevertheless we found a small coffee stall in a side street and stopped for a coffee.

Everywhere we go we get admiring looks and signals from other drivers and their passengers.

Back to the car park and whilst Mike checked the car James was called upon to go to the workshop with a Japanese competitor to translate a requirement from Japanese to Russian. We checked for tightness of nuts and bolts,fluid levels,play in bearings and steering etc. Also managed to get the spare fuel pump working.

Most of the cars are now back in the car park with any looking very spic and span.

435 km to Saratov tomorrow so an early night tonight (after our traditional rest day pizza of course!!)

Day 19 – Ufa to Samara (Russia)    461kms

Well here we are at the end of day 19 of our 33 day trek across the top of the world. More milestones reached today as we arrived in Samara, Russia for a good rest and a day off tomorrow.

Last night in Ufa reminded us that perhaps not everything works here as advertised as when we arrived for dinner there wasn’t much left! Neither James nor Mike are particularly keen on liver stroganoff!

Trucks on roadNevertheless we were up bright and early for our 8:22 start and we successfully negotiated our way on to the motorway out of Ufa. We stopped at a fuel station (they are mostly pretty modern but you do have to work out how much fuel you need and then prepay – fortunately we have a calibrated digital fuel gauge on our Monit) and filled up. Another customer commented on the car and pretty soon we were complimented on our EH. James again used his linguistic skills to return the compliment on the bloke’s Lada and we were then rewarded with a gift of a brand new bottle of Kazakhstani cognac! We returned the favour with a couple of koalas for his kids. Needless to say the cognac is going straight to the pool room!

Finally underway and we were soon off the motorway, heading south for our first passage control at Daviekanovo and then the second at Abdulino, of course combining a few (46) Kms of gravel roads. We then swapped drivers and were disappointed to see our friends Mike and Pete Armstrong stopped on the side of the road with a broken gearbox. Fortunately not long after we arrived in Samara we received word that the problem was a broken axle and had been repaired. The boys are expected in the hotel in time for dinner.

Today we finished RouteBook 1, the book that has brought us all the way from the Beijing car park to Samara.

Pie and sweet coffee for lunch

Pie and sweet coffee for lunch

Lunch was at a cafe in the city of Buguruslan which, whilst not a truck stop, provided excellent food and we had salads and home made Russian meat pies with lamb and plenty of onion! Of course the obligatory sweet coffee to finish it off. Then back in the car for Mike to drive the second half, a few more Kms of gravel roads and kids in every village to wave to us.

An easily negotiated drive into the city as all the Saturday traffic was heading out of town. Our rooms weren’t quite ready but the hotel did provide the thirsty competitors with a glass of champagne.

Off to dinner, hopefully not liver again tonight.

Day 18 – Yekaterinburg to Ufa (Russia)    481kms

A fabulous night’s stay last night in the Hyatt in Yekaterinaburg with the most sumptuous Italian buffet dinner and king size beds had us feeling almost human!

Up again this morning for a 9:22 start, our start time now pretty much settled each day at +37 minutes. The first two Timed Sections were cancelled as our Russian friends were unable to secure the roads for us.

Mike started the driving and we navigated our way out of town. There were some really smooth roads in the morning but it still took a while to get up a decent average speed.

Asia into Europe

Asia into Europe

We crossed from Asia to Europe and managed to take a photo at the monument which represents the border with the trusty EH straddling it. Then on again. We missed the requirement to double back on the highway shortly after and ended up on a very rough gravel road in some village (well, gravel roads have been the norm for a long time!). The “Tulip” diagram was not as clear as it could have been and there were 5 rally cars and an Organisation 4wd milling about in a village just off the highway before we all worked out where we really needed to go!

Pressing on we passed through the appropriate Passage Controls but on one missed that our time card had not been stamped. Fortunately it had been “chipped” so there was no penalty lost.

Borsch Lunch

Borsch Lunch

After our standard lunch of “truck stop soup” (and a salad “Olivier”) James took over the driving and we proceeded to the last timed section. As the public road could not be closed we were advised that this section would be an “average speed” section and we were required to cover 11.7 km in 11 minutes. All done, no dramas at all.

As we rejoined the highway for the last 100 Kms into Ufa we could see trucks to the horizon so once again our average speed suffered. We eventually arrived in Ufa with instructions to “follow the P-P flags”. Unfortunately some kids had turned the directions around or stolen the flags so our last 2 km was a little fraught.

We spent the best part of an hour checking the car before showers and dinner and found nothing major. Just a slight weep from the oil filter which we will monitor. The gearbox tails haft seal is holding up well.

Day 17 - Tyumen to Yekaterinburg (Russia)    360kms

Last night we spent the night in Tyumen, the furthest point north of our trek across China, Mongolia, Russia and Europe. Interestingly the city of Tyumen is the home of Irving Berlin! From now we start to head southwest towards Paris.

Motorcycle MuseumAfter the events of yesterday we all started in a somber mood this morning. To give the organisation staff time to deal with what had happened there were no passage controls today and we were free to travel as we pleased to Yekaterinaburg. James and Mike chose to leave reasonably early and were on the road just after 8 am. We drove to Irbit, the home since 1941 of the Ural motor cycle factory. There is a very nice bike museum there and we were guided through to see the evolution of the motor bike in Russia over the past 70 years. The museum is well set up and is due for a major government funded upgrade within the next 12 months.

Position 13:6The road to Yekaterinaburg via Irbit was of a good standard and best of all – no trucks! Having said that, the truck drivers we have encountered have been most professional and courteous.

After lunch at a truck stop for soup and shasliks we swapped roles and Mike drove. This was a good thing as during the morning Mike missed a turnoff as navigator and added 6 km to the day’s trip!

James’ excellent knowledge of Russian meant we were, able to find our way in heavy traffic to our hotel for the evening and check in reasonably early. The EH is of course performing faultlessly so we had time for a gym session (the first since Beijing) and a walk to the supermarket for water for tomorrow.

Yekaterinaburgburg is located on the Iset  River and we have views of the “Church on Blood” which is built over the site of the execution of the Tsar and his family in 1917. The city is considered to be Russia’s border between Asia and Europe.

Mike and James are now just over half way to Paris, both in time and distance!

Day 16 – Omsk to Tyumen (Russia) 632kms

A very quiet night last night saw the both of us asleep by 9 o’clock! We were pretty exhausted after all the driving although a lot better off than some who were still working in the hotel car park in Omsk until late in the evening.

Screen Shot 2013-06-13 at 9.02.07 AMThis morning’s standard start time for Classics was 7:45 so we, at RallyTime plus 37 minutes, started at 8:22. Off we went with James driving and Mike navigating out of Omsk on the way to Tioman. Whilst the weather was much better than yesterday with bright sunshine and light winds all day, the roads were not so good and we saw the results of a few accidents. The driving standards are interesting to say the least. The truck drivers are generally very professional and they often provide all sorts of assistance. The standards of car driving are unfortunately not so good and these,combined with some not so good roads provided for a slightly stressful day.

Nevertheless we managed to find a good truck stop for lunch and were served home made soup and bread for $2 AUS each!

We swapped drivers at lunchtime and Mike drove for the afternoon. Unfortunately the timed sections today were all cancelled, two for roads that were too wet and one because of unforeseen circumstances.

Arrival in Tioman and no dramas with the car. A cold beer in the car park whilst we cleaned and checked everything and then off for showers and a seriously good buffet dinner. After dinner we were called to our car for “leaking fuel” – of course only a case of over fuelling with cold fuel at the service station on the way into town and fuel venting as a result of the warm evening.

Siberia had amazed us – beautiful green scenery and wonderful friendly people.

Off to Yekaterinaburg tomorrow.

Day 15 – Novosibirsk to Omsk (Russia) 668kms

Tuesday (day 15) we have driven to Omsk – just a transport day with all competition and gravel roads dropped. We shared the driving, Mike first and James after lunch. We stopped for lunch at a little cafe and had some really great soup and egg filled rolls.

Sitting in the bar now having arrived at 5:15 pm, checked the car and now having a really nice local beer it all feels rather civilised. Certainly a change from those days in Mongolia!!

Tomorrow off to Tyumen, 632 Kms and 3 timed speed sections. An early night is in store!!

Day 14 – Rest Day Novosibirsk

Day 14:1Good to have a rest today and get all our washing up to date before we head into the back blocks of North Russia.

The car spent the day in the workshop having a service and doing minor maintenance work as well as a thorough car wash to remove the tonne of Mongolian dust.

Day 14:5Was great to sleep in a hotel room bed instead of the camping in the Mongolian desert listening to a sandstorm.

This is a late update from Mike – Ed) - Today (day 14) we wanted to check over the EH and give her a service so we teamed with the Armstrongs and the Kirkhams and put our name down to be sent to a garage that had been organised by the support team. It was so far away from the hotel that we had to get a taxi there so James rode in the taxi (his Russian linguistic skills are becoming even more important) and four cars followed.

We arrived at a garage at the end of a dirt track and from the start were made to feel incredibly welcome. The garage had a high pressure washer to clean the car and hoists at our disposal. We were able to give the EH a thorough service including oil and all filter changes and a serious inspection underneath. The only issue is a slight weep from the rear gearbox seal so we will keep an eye on that

The garage team were very helpful, supplying brewed coffee and pastries at “smoko” and excellent mechanical assistance. Of course James was able to practice his Russian and we handed out a few koalas!

Dinner at an Italian restaurant in the evening. Pizza and a Chianti in Novosibirsk!!

Day 13 – Aya to Novosibirsk (Russia) 560kms

Hotel in Novosibirsk

Hotel in Novosibirsk

All is going great and the boys are now well into Russia.  The scenery is totally different with green trees and grass instead of desert sands.  Tonight we stay in in Novosibirsk which is an industrial city but this will allow us time get our laundry done and give the EH a well earned service and checkup.  We have lots of photos and we will be posting these up on the “Latest News” section of this website over the next few days.  As we go into the rest day keep coming back to check out the photos – there are some great ones.

(This came in later from Mike -Ed)… We arrived in Novosibirsk yesterday afternoon (day 13) after a really pleasant stay in Aya, next to Gorno Altaysk in Siberia. A really good day wherein Mike drove the first half which included 3 timed sections, one of which was in soft sand. James then drove the transport section to Novosibirsk. We arrived at the hotel in heavy traffic around 6:45 pm.

Our overwhelming impression of Russia, especially the Altai region of Siberia is one of incredible beauty and a really stark contrast to the dryness and dust of Mongolia.

Everyone here is exceptionally friendly and all the competitors have been greeted by teams of “support crews” along the roads, many wearing specially made P-P regalia.

Last night we had dinner in the hotel. Russian hotel food leaves a little to be desired but it is very edible and satisfying.

Day 12 – Russian Border to Aya (Russia) 470kms

Russian BorderDay 12 – up at 5:30  after a night so cold there was ice on the inside of our tent. Left camp at 7:30 and proceeded 14 km to first border checkpoint to exit Mongolia. Now 11:10 and maybe 1/3 cars through! After this then Russian border. Rumour is entry into Russia around 4:30 then 500 km transport stage to Aya. Going to be a big day!!

(Later)………. Arrived in Aya after 7 1/2 hour wait at border and then 500 km drive to hotel. So glad to be out of Mongolian dust! Scenery beautiful huge mountains, trees, so different from past 10 days. Big day again tomorrow – 600 km to Novosibirsk. Hopefully more comprehensive update with pics to come…….

Day 11 – Ureg Lake to Russian Border (Mongolia) 271kms

Olgii capital of Bayan Olgii MongoliaDay 11 – Now At Russian Border. Great run but really average roads. Only minor technical issues today. Many high passes, Hit 7900ft out of Olgii Town. Impressive scenery, freezing cold in camp. Bottle Oz Cab Sav for dinner. Into Russia tomorrow……

 

Day 10 – Chjargas Lake to Ureg Lake (Mongolia) 259kms

Ureg LakeThe boys have just arrived at Ureg Lake and have reported that the car is performing faultlessly.
They have made up 2 more places and this will be their last night in Mongolia as they now head tomorrow to the Russian border.     Mike is complaining that again there is no beer in the camp tonight but after tomorrow there should be lots of Vodka.

Correction: Still one more night in Mongolia – right on the Russian border…… Ed.

 

 

Day 9 – Telmen Lake to Chjargas Lake (Mongolia) 288 kms

NomadWatcherAt the end of Day 9 the boys are still in the hunt as they have reached Chjargas Lake. From reports they had some fuel problems but that did not stop them recording one of the best times of the day. The EH is proving to be a very competitive car.
On reaching camp they were greeted by gale force winds and a sand storm which blew down the food tent and the beer tent so no beer tonight. They now have only one night left camping out in Mongolia before they head into Russia.
They are looking forward to a comfortable hotel room and a car wash.

Day 8 – Murun to Telmen Lake (Mongolia) 293 kms

Emma + camelThis was a great day for the Killas.  The car ran like a dream and the boys sound like they are having a ball and can’t believe the fantastic scenery.  They made up more time on the field and if it wasn’t for the two lost days early in the rally they would have been up amongst the leaders.

Other cars have troubles but what is amazing is that they carry out major repairs in the wilderness and get going again quickly.  The older cars continue to prove what a reliable type of transport they were with the majority of them churning out the miles day after day.

Car39We only have satellite phone contact with the boys for the next few days but we can track them and see their times for each stage.  They are really doing well and the EH is performing as well as we expected it would.

 

Day 7 – Bulgan to Murun (Mongolia) 350 kms

EHnearriverIn camp at Murun after a very good day.  We are still starting at the back of the pack as we lost so much time in the Gobi desert earlier in the rally.  We have made up some good time however.  Three time trials today and the car went like a dream with only the bonnet catch coming loose.  We completed a very competitive time today however at the end of the 3rd time trial we had a fuel pump failure.  Fortunately we carried a spare and we were going again after 40 minutes..  Many cars are having lots of troubles and crews were working late in the night.  A VW rolled yesterday and they had to pull out. Nomads A 240Z driven by a Japanese crew also rolled but they have been able to continue on.  We are in preservation mode now – the aim is to get to Paris.

 

 

 

Day 6 – Ulaan Bataar to Bulgan (Mongolia) 343 kms

P2PBandA much better day today.  We got the car fixed and headed off with the rest of the field after being sent of in style by a brass band in the town square.  The roads were generally pretty atrocious but we did get in some fast and spirited driving.

Arrived into camp just outside Bulgan with hot showers setup and some great food.  Car is going well with only a couple of minor niggles.

It is great to be back and in the Rally again.  Unfortunately some competitors have had to withdraw and some others are stuck waiting for spare parts to arrive to get them going again.  Communication with our team back in Bellbrae is going well but could be minimal over the next few days as we head further into Mongolia.

Day 5 – Rest(?) Day

This morning, Saturday, James and Mike travelled to the Nomads’ garage where our car had arrived earlier. We had to wait until some ramps arrived to get the EH off the truck. On Truck1This was achieved about 10:30 and we rolled our car into the workshop. The facilities were pretty basic but at least we had a pit to work under the car.
After 4 hours we had the clutch out and Mike had done a real job on it!! Fortunately we had a new clutch plate although we were advised that we could have had ours refaced eventually here in UB.
Then came the laborious job of putting everything back together. CaroverPitsThere were a few setbacks not the least of which breaking a plastic (yes, plastic!!) connection piece in a gear linkage. James demonstrated his excellent metal working skills and manufactured a new one from some scrap.
After 11 hours we were finished. We had excellent support from Ras, the rally mechanics and the Nomads staff. Nevertheless we managed to do nearly the whole job ourselves which has given us great confidence in ourselves and the car.
We start tomorrow at second last but we are back in the race and up for the challenge.
More news when we can as we head out tomorrow into Western Mongolia.

Check out LATEST NEWS for more stories – Ed.

 

Day 4 – Altanshiree to Ulaan Bataar (Mongolia) 426 kms

Unfortunately we missed this stage as we blew our clutch in the previous stage.  Mike and James spent 10 1/2 hours in a Landcruiser  passengering from Altaranshee to Ulan Bataar!
Car not here yet but it is expected later tonight or early in the morning. We have been in touch with our mechanic Ras in Melbourne and he will give assistance by phone to remove the sump guard, tail shaft and gearbox so we can access the clutch plate and replace it with the spare we are carrying.
Boys in desertSo good to get to a hotel tonight and have showers and wash the only clothes we have (all others are in the car!) and then go to dinner. Minor problem of wet clothes solved with a hair dryer!!
Absolutely stuffed but our resolve to get back on track is as strong as ever.
Currently 9 cars on trucks on way to UB, we were fortunate that our problem happened early and we were at the start of the truck queue!!

 

 

Day 3 – Erenhot to Altanshiree (Mongolia) 296 kms

Unfortunately we got 12kms across the border into Mongolia and got stuck in the sand.  To make matters worse as we tried to get out of the deep sand the clutch burnt out.  EH on truck#3The car is now on a truck to Utan Bataar and lucky there is a rest day coming up so we can hopefully repair the clutch (any Holden dealers in Mongolia for parts?).  Have a workshop lined up in Utan Bataar and we do have lots of tools and parts.

The going on the road was very tough today as it was real desert and most cars had a difficult time navigating through the sand.

 

 

Day 2 – May 29, 2013 (Daihai to Erenhot) – 508kms

A fine day today for our start from Daihai Lake. Our hotel was built for the Beijing Olympics.
Scenery this morning was almost reminiscent of Southern California with hills covered in trees and winding roads.
ErenhotDinosJames drove today and Mike navigated. We drove along some good roads and were impressed with the size and modernity of Hohot, a very big city.
The highest elevation reached today was 1785 metres.
As we approached Mongolia we noticed many villages composed of yurts and also saw horses for the first time.
For the most of the afternoon we were on a very good dual carriageway and arrived in  around 4:30pm.
LocalKidJames has managed to use his excellent language skills during the day, helping the officials explain a change to the route book to a Japanese competitor and then asking a local in Erenhot (in Russian) how to find a petrol station.
We are staying in a very good hotel tonight and have enjoyed a couple of beers and a good dinner.
Tomorrow we set off for the border into Mongolia, only 4km away from here. Then we get serious! Navigation via GPS tracks and timed sections across the Gobi I desert.
Next communication with our technical guy in Bellbrae will be via satellite phone from our camp at Altanshiree in the desert.

Sent from Killa’s iPad

Day 1 – May 28, 2013 (Peking to Daihal) – 472 kms

This is just in from Mike and James – “Day one raining Beijing. 60km to Great Wall start all family with us for the start. Chinese school band and dragon and lion dancing to send away bad spirits.

The Start Line
The Start Line

On expressway first then many main roads following remains of Great Wall. Police guidance through many towns and lots people waving to us. The road deteriorated in afternoon to almost 4wd track with many huge trucks. Went through many small villages and poverty evident in very agricultural areas but also wind farms and nuclear power stations. Car running beautifully with no problems but some others have either mechanical problems or got lost and late in.

A water crossing
A water crossing

First water crossing 1/3 metre deep but no problems. Arrived at Daihai Lake to ok hotel. Car cleaned (we only one’s to clean) and then banquet in hotel with a couple of beers and review of tomorrow route – 358km today”

It seems that wet weather hit them on day one.  That being said, most car arrived safely in Daihai Lake with only a few problems.  It seems that most of the cars are really well prepared with some experienced rally drivers competing.  Our car is in equal 1st place.