It wasn't quick or easy to get there from Ulaanbaatar, but the short version is the Bodacious Racing team arrived, the truck delivered the cars to the Mercedes dealer soon after Jim, Chris, Jeff and Tim checked in to their hotel, and repairs are complete! Car #36 with Jeff and Chris, and Car #114 with Jim and Tim will rejoin the Peking to Paris rally on Sunday!
What unfolded between Thursday and Friday had Tim's daughter Bridget thinking they were making a sequel to Planes, Trains and Automobiles!
As planned, our drivers left for the Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia around 8:30 AM on Thursday morning. Upon arrival, they checked their bags through to Novosibirsk. They had earlier divided up the car parts that had arrived from Mike Nunes in Rhode Island, stashing various items in their carry-on bags. No one wanted to take a risk these valued parts would be lost in luggage!
While there was a little question about the identity of some of these car parts as they went through security, an explanation and examination cleared them through. Soon they were boarding the plane for their flight to Beijing.
Arriving in Beijing a little after 2:00 PM in the afternoon, still on Thursday, they located the area they would be boarding their plane to Novosibirsk. With a 12-hour layover ahead of them, they had plenty of time to find where they were going! Of course, they couldn't check in for their connecting flight yet, so they spent hours sitting in a Starbucks, watching movies on their computers.
About 3 hours before their flight, they could finally check in. So at around midnight, they found themselves in what Jeff termed "the lounge" of S7 Airlines. He was not impressed by the facility! After more movie viewing, reading, people watching, and napping, the team was able to board the plane to Novosibirsk. The plane was packed! Who flies between Beijing, China and Novosibirsk, Russia at 3 in the morning? It seems that quite a few people do!
Finally landing in Novosibirsk, the guys went to baggage claim to collect their luggage. Unfortunately, after Chris, Jim and Jeff had their bags in hand, Tim was still waiting for his. The airline admitted it had not made it on the plane in Beijing; it was lost!
Tim reports via Peg that it took about 2 hours to do the paperwork for the missing luggage. Part of the problem was the language barrier, of course, but Tim also says he filled out what seemed to be the same document three times, for three different people, answering questions like how many shirts did he have in his bag, how much did each shirt weigh; how many socks, how much did the socks weigh, etc. Crazy!
When a fourth person was going to have Tim fill out yet another document, Tim asked if they had a photocopy machine, and could they just copy the other forms that he had already filled out. The guy said that was a good idea! Things were looking up until Tim took his photocopied document to the airlines' person, who insisted they needed an original document! So Tim went back to the Customs' people, and they came and spoke to the airlines' person and convinced them the copy would be sufficient. Phew!
After this little drama, the car repair seemed simple. They met up with Andy, one of the rally sweeps, and a mechanical genius, at the Mercedes dealer. Cars were unloaded from the truck, with Andy's help, parts were removed and installed, and the Ford started up.
Meeting up with other drivers in the rally was a welcome change from only each other's company Friday night! But our teams were exhausted from their nearly 40 hours with minimal sleep, long air travel, many hours waiting for their connection, seemingly endless lost luggage negotiations, and car repairs. Sleep came early, with everyone looking forward to some real focused time on Saturday, preparing to hit the rally road on Sunday.
Hopefully Tim's bag will show up!
June 13th, 2019
The Bodacious Racing team did not leave Mongolia the way they had hoped - after traversing that beautiful country in their vintage cars. But after being stuck for a few days in Ulaanbaatar waiting for replacement parts for the Ford, they were able to fly out on Thursday, first to Beijing, and then after a stultifying 12-hour layover, on to Novosibirsk, Russia.
As an aside, Chris comments that he found the perfect new job for Jim if the car repairs don't work out. He sent us an open position posting for a journalist for the Ulaanbaatar English-language newspaper - thinking it might be a perfect new career for the ever-motivated, but newly retired, Jim McLaren!
The cars are still tracking towards Novosibirsk, so it's very likely Tim, Jim, Jeff and Chris will arrive before the truck carrying the cars does. The Rally itself is in Novokuznetsk tonight. The truck carrying car #36 and car #114 looks to be a bit further away from Novosibirsk than the rally stop, but the truck seems to be on a major highway. As we well know, the rally will take a much more scenic and challenging route, so it will be interesting to see which cars make it to Novosibirsk first: Bodacious Racing cars, or the full rally? We also know there are already several other rally cars undergoing repairs in Novosibirsk, so our team will be happy to meet up with their fellow competitors once again!
Depending on when the cars arrive on Friday, repairs may or may not be underway. But since Saturday is a rest day in Novosibirsk for everyone in the rally, there should be time to get the Ford up and running, and ensure the Chevy is ready as well.
On the move...
The guys went to sleep Wednesday night in Ulaanbaatar for the last time during this rally. The parts to repair the Ford, shipped from High Tech Fabrications in Rhode Island, arrived late Wednesday morning, allowing them to put a plan together. Jeff booked tickets to Novosibirsk, Russia. They will fly to Beijing via Air China late Thursday morning, arriving in Beijing around 2 PM. They then have 12 hours before they board a Siberian Air flight to Novosibirsk at 2:10 AM.
It will be quite a layover at the Beijing Capital International Airport. Due to Chris's limited Chinese visa, he won't be able to leave the airport. The other guys have a longer-duration visa, but we suspect they have no desire to leave the airport either! It will be more sitting around and waiting, with perhaps some brisk walks through the terminal to keep the blood pumping.
The trackers on the cars show the truck that is carrying them is more than half-way to the border crossing. Today, June 12 is Russia Day, a national holiday in Russia celebrating the birth of the Russian Federation after the Soviet Union broke apart. There is some concern that due to the holiday, the border might be closed for a few days, but given that the truck probably will be at the border late on Thursday or even Friday, we are hoping the border will be back in post-holiday business!
Tomorrow will probably be a report from the airport - but at least they won't be in Ulaanbaatar any longer!
June 11th, 2019
While we wish we could update this daily report with photos of smiling drivers holding a package of '36 Ford Cabriolet repair parts, that is not the case.
Jeff does not believe any of the reports coming from FedEx on the shipment, since it seems they have a different story every time he checks - in Guangzhou; in Seoul; in Ulaanbaatar... But not anywhere they can be claimed by our drivers.
So the schedule is totally up in the air, and while the cars may be heading to Novosibirsk, Jeff, Chris, Jim and Tim will wait to make reservations until the parts are actually in hand.
Not a lot of happy drivers on this rally so far; we can only hope, that as the week passes, things begin to look better for Bodacious Racing!
A mixed report from our Bodacious Racing team, still in Mongolia.
The good news is that with the help of their new friend Ochko, Jeff got all the paperwork lined up to ship the cars, and both Car #36 and Car #114 were loaded on the truck and headed to Novosibirsk, Russia.
The bad news is the package of car parts to repair the Ford did not show up in time to be installed, or shipped with the cars.
Current tracking has the parts arriving Tuesday. The plan is for our four drivers to fly Wednesday from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing; then extremely early Thursday morning from Beijing to Novosibirsk. They will hand-carry the car parts.
The cars should arrive in Novosibirsk on Friday; since the guys will be there by then, they plan to immediately get to work on the Ford, and get it up and running. Saturday will allow them to fully test both cars before rejoining the rally on Sunday, to cross the border into Khazahstan.
They will have a multi-hour layover at the Beijing airport, so here's hoping they don't get themselves into any trouble there!
Sitting and cooling their heels in Mongolia is not appealing to our action-oriented Bodacious Racing teams! So today they made plans to rejoin the Peking to Paris rally - even though they have yet to get the Ford repaired!
It seems one of the other American rally drivers, who was also having car issues, has a daughter who went to school with a guy from Mongolia, who is now in business in Ulan Baatar. This other driver had already connected with him, and he arranged for her car to be trucked to Novosibirsk. It has already left. So she put our teams in touch with him. The guys met with this wonderful man, Ochko, and he has turned into a great advisor and is willing to act as their local "fixer." Over dinner last evening, they made plans to truck the Bodacious Racing cars to Novosibirsk. He explained they need to have a notarized form granting permission to the truck driver to move the cars across the border into Russia, but don't need to accompany the cars in person. He is picking Jeff up Monday morning, and will take him from attorney to consulate to trucking firm or whatever it takes to get all the paperwork accomplished to get the cars to Novosibirsk. Ochko has reserved a truck, and also sent pictures of the other rally driver's car on the flatbed that is currently heading to the Russian border. The cars are currently scheduled to be picked up Monday night, repaired or not. They will be delivered to another Mercedes dealership in Novosibirsk.
The parts for the Ford have arrived in Guangzhou, China; DHL says they should be in Ulan Baatar on Monday. If they get the parts and are able to repair the Ford, great; if not, they will go ahead and ship the cars. If by some chance the parts don't arrive, Mike Nunes of High Tech Fabrications is standing by to ship another set to Novosibirsk for installation there.
The guys are scheduled to fly to Beijing Tuesday night, and then take off from there to Novosibirsk around 6:00 AM on Wednesday morning. Their time-frame is restricted due to their visa status only allowing them entry into Russia after June 11. They should then have time to get the Ford up and running. The rest of the rally drivers should arrive in Novosibirsk on Friday, June 14th. Bodacious Racing will then rejoin the rally as it leaves Sunday morning on June 16th.
Jeff keeps saying they need to get ahead of the rally to be sure they can rejoin! It sounds as if this plan will have them doing exactly that.
The Shangri La Hotel continues to treat our drivers well; looks like local piglet was on Jim's menu for dinner!
June 8th, 2019
The Bodacious Racing team finds itself stranded in Ulan Baatar due to necessary car repairs. Jeff sends us this detailed explanation:
"We Love Ulan Baatar So Much, We Decided to Stay!"
Jeff continues, "For the last several months, I have been saying 'don't break the car', but that's exactly what happened during our first real day in the Gobi Desert. We witnessed unbelievably great scenery and it was very cool to have wild horses racing alongside the car. I was trying to be reasonable about our speed but we hit a couple of ruts hard at 40 mph and the car stopped. We had a broken fan blade and the car wouldn't restart. Chris disconnected the fan and changed the ignition coil connections; the car restarted and we proceeded (a bit more cautiously) for another 20kms or so, and then the car just died... everything shut down. The rally mechanics couldn't get us going and determined that both ignition coils and the ignition relays were damaged/dead. We loaded the vehicle onto the flat bed, and we climbed into into a van for a nice 12-hour trip to Ulaan Baatar. We were not alone, with something like 20 cars being damaged that day, but it doesn't make us feel any better. We now are sitting in Ulaan Baatar (in the very nice Shangri-la Hotel) awaiting parts to arrive from RI.
We are trying to figure out what really transpired, so we can make a permanent fix. The odd thing is that all of our dash instruments are also fried, which wouldn't likely happen if just the ignition coils went bad. We now believe that it probably goes back to the battery problem we were having when we picked the car up from the warehouse in Beijing. We thought that the alternator wasn't charging the battery, due to a loose belt, leaving us with a dead battery on the first day of the rally. We replaced the battery in Hohhot, so we thought we had the problem solved. We had tightened the alternator belt before the start but just thought that the battery was faulty... the rally mechanic said it had a dead cell. However, we now think that the alternator was in the process of failing and ultimately sent a spike of voltage out after being shaken in the rough terrain. That, in turn, fried our entire ignition system and our dash instruments. Not sure we'll ever really know but we replaced the old alternator with the spare one yesterday. Once we replace all of the ignition parts coming from Mike Nunes, we'll see if the car starts and if we can rejoin the rally.
The logistics of rejoining the rally are now paramount. We are trying to rejoin in Novosibirsk Russia next weekend. It may sound simple, but not out here in the wilds. We don't know when the parts will arrive, but we are assuming Tuesday, having to clear UB customs and get to the Mercedes dealer. So, the earliest we could leave here is probably Wednesday. It is a 2-3 day drive on rough roads to the western border, but that border crossing is not open on weekends and if we missed getting through on Friday, we would be stuck there until Monday. The alternative is to go north into Russia and drive the main logging road from Irkutsk to Novosibirsk. The border crossing to the north is 24/7, so we could potentially go that way, but we hear the trip can be very dodgy and we would have no support if either car broke down. We are investigating shipping the cars on a flat bed truck and us taking a flight out of Beijing to Novosibirsk. Chris doesn't have another entry visa into China, so I think we may get to know the Beijing Capital Airport quite well, if we go that route! Again, all this assumes we can get the Ford running once we get the parts.
So, the adventure continues. We are frustrated with our circumstances but this is part of the Peking to Paris. We had hoped for a good finish result, now we are just focused on getting the cars to the finish line! We've got great team support from Mike and Jerrod at High Tech Fabrication in RI, and Gary at RPS in the UK. We wouldn't have any chance of rejoining the rally without them."
While Jim, Tim, Chris and Jeff are cooling their heels waiting for the parts delivery, Jim got out to walk around some. While he was exploring a temple under renovation - he was thrown out! Meanwhile, Chris and Tim were able to observe their potential dinner roasting over an open fire. We hope they're enjoying the hotel food. Next week (fingers crossed) it will be back to rally buffet food!
Another day at the Shangri-La in Ulan Bataar, Mongolia. Not quite what our Bodacious Racing teams thought they would be doing today!
The functioning rally cars drove through horrendous traffic to the Sukhbataar Square, where there was a crowd and welcoming brass band and string ensemble. The rally restarted from here, with the cars taking off at the usual 1-minute intervals.
However, the teams for Car #36 and Car #114 only know this through hearsay. Their start was breakfast and mingling with the other rally teams who are working through repair challenges, so they missed today's festivities. Most of the day was spent once again with the mechanics at the Mercedes dealership. Word from Rhode Island is that Mike Nunes of High Tech Fabrications has completed the requested parts request, and sent it off to Mongolia. However, no one knows quite how long that is going to take, and the weekend will complicate shipping, customs' clearance and delivery. They are hoping to see the shipment Tuesday, but time will tell.
Meanwhile, they investigated the Ford's problems further. All the car's instruments have been fried, most likely by some sort of electrical surge. There is currently power to the instrument panel, but nothing is working. This leads them to suspect that the earlier issue with the alternator's failure in charging the battery might actually be related to the ignition coils' burn-out. Chris is theorizing there could have been an electrical short related to a bad alternator that was exacerbated by the rough driving, and eventually took out multiple systems. So they replaced the alternator with the spare they were carrying in hopes this might address at least part of the problem.
The real test will be once the replacement parts arrive and are installed; will the Ford run? They can only operate with the thought they will solve these mechanical issues. So the primary discussion now revolves around where and how to rejoin the rally. Their current thought is to aim for a week from now, Friday/Saturday, June 14/15, in Novosibirsk, Russia. Another rally team is also interested in shipping a repaired car there, and they will investigate shipping the cars, then flying to Novosibirsk via Beijing (on Siberian Airlines-now that would be an experience!). Investigating the necessary paperwork will be Jeff's job for Monday, with Tim advising in his usual efficient manner.
Speaking of Tim, he tells us that the mechanic who worked on the Chevy yesterday had good working knowledge of car repairs, but his English was extremely limited. But when something went wrong in the repair, they learned they had one English word in common-- and it begins with the letter F! Common ground was easy to find with their shared swearing vocabulary!
Jim broke his own non-communication record by not only calling his wife Jan, but staying on the phone with her for nearly an hour! Jan reports he was still running on the excitement of the rally, and hadn't slept for more than 24 hours! Let's hope he can sleep a little while they have this enforced downtime, and be ready to hit the ground rested, whenever that might be.
Seeing as how the Ford is being worked on at a Mercedes Benz dealership, the guys have spent some time exploring the new vehicles on display. Anyone who knows Jeff or Chris will not be surprised by this! While buying a car in Mongolia is not a practical option, it doesn't hurt to build a wish list!
Let's hope the package of car parts will arrive as quickly as possible. Ulan Baatar might be an interesting city, but our Bodacious Racing teams did not come to Mongolia to sight-see.
June 6th, 2019
#Meangolia continues! (Thanks, Bridget Eades Kuglin, for this very apt tag!)
Jeff and Chris finally arrived at the hotel around 5:00 AM. The car had been delivered by truck a few hours earlier. While attempting a detour to get around the locked railroad crossing, the van driver got lost, and needed to backtrack along the train tracks to identify the correct route. It was a long, exhausting trip in, colored by concern over whether either the Ford or Chevy would be ready to hit the road on Friday.
Turns out, it wasn't just the Ford having a bad day. The Chevy, of course, was limping in, trailing oil, and continually having to add more. Tim estimates they used about 40 quarts of oil! Tim and Jim in the Chevy left Chris and Jeff around 4:00 PM, and arrived at the hotel around midnight, nursing the car along, stopping frequently, with the sweeps following along. And since they couldn't figure out what was wrong in the dark, they had to wait for daylight to do a full investigation.
As Tim reports, it was a brutal day. Multiple rally cars were trucked in, having bottomed out, punctured tires, or broken essential gear. There was a serious collision, sending one crew to the hospital and totaling their car. As is so often the case in these rallies, the rest day in Ulan Baatar turned into a repair day.
Tim and Jim figured out the problem with the Chevy was a leak at a seam in the pipe leading to the mechanical oil pressure gauge. As oil was being pumped to the engine, it was being pumped out of this hole. No wonder they used up so much oil! Good thing Tim had babied the car along; more serious damage could have resulted very easily.
The problem with the Ford, however, was not so quickly diagnosed and repaired. The guys had the Ford taken to a local Mercedes Benz dealership with a good reputation for working on old cars, but they had no luck. They were able to replace the fan in the Ford, which had lost two blades. Jeff reports there is power, and the starter works, but no spark is being produced to start the car. Chris spent time on the phone with Mike Nunes back in Rhode Island, and sent Mike a list of all new parts to completely replace the ignition system. Mike will source, pack and then ship the parts; hopefully they get half-way around the world and through customs quickly!
So our teams are staying in Ulan Baatar for the next few days. Bodacious Racing team spirit means one car won't leave the other; they are doing this together, or not at all. They plan to get the Ford up and running, use the down time to go over the Chevy carefully, and eventually ship the cars (and themselves!) onward to meet up with the rally.
Maybe they'll enjoy some of the sights of this Mongolian city! They are shifting from the rally hotel to the Shangri La, and Jeff and Chris say it's a very nice place to stay. With time on their hands, they might as well enjoy it!
The crews were up early after a chilly night camping in Mongolia, at Inkhet Camp. Jeff reports that while he wasn't exactly complaining of being cold - after complaining about hot hotel rooms - it was a challenge to keep warm in his sleeping bag. Chris tells us that being chilly didn't keep Jeff from sleeping; Jeff in his neighboring tent kept Chris entertained with his deep snoring during the night!
The luxury of late starts allowed for a leisurely repack and recheck of the cars, including tightening all the visible bolts, and reaching deep for those not-so-visible.
Taking down camp posed its own challenges; Jim and Chris were in charge of packing up the four sleeping bags, with Jeff and Tim collapsing and securing the 4 pop-up tents. But as everyone knows about pop-up tents, they open way more easily than they close! After some manhandling and choice language, however, the tents were stowed for their next night of camping.
After that strenuous activity, Jeff took a break on a handy rock. Chris appeared with a cup of coffee for him - what a guy! As Jeff enjoyed his coffee in the fresh, cool morning breeze, he noticed Chris walking with a roll of toilet paper towards a port-a-john. Next thing he knows, Tim darts past, with his own roll of toilet paper! There was a race to the two johns - but fortunately each was empty so they both had a good sit-down!
Jeff also reports there are always local "bathroom attendants" circling outside these port-a-johns. Since washing up is accomplished in a bucket of water placed on the ground outside the portable's door, he's not sure what service they are providing, besides making the "guest" feel a little self-conscious while going about their business!
Driving on the camel tracks, trails and pathways in Mongolia is tough on cars, and we're hearing that the recent rains have only exacerbated the difficult driving. This became more evident as the teams started out for the day's drive to Ulan Baatar.
Jeff texted during the drive (in the middle of our night!) that he had violated his cardinal rule: "Don't break the car!" Car #36 was stranded in the desert. Something had vibrated loose when he took a ditch too fast and too hard. The Ford wouldn't start, and he and Chris were searching for the cause. The noises the car had made before it stalled led them to believe something was seriously wrong. When they couldn't find a cause, they called the rally mechanics - the sweeps - who drive around to be on call for just this sort of problem. The sweeps diagnosed the problem. The vibrating of the drive and the bucking when Jeff hit the ditch had damaged the ignition coils. So the car would have to be loaded on a flatbed truck and taken to Ulan Baatar. Eventually the flatbed showed up, with another rally car already loaded on! Jeff and Chris then had to wait in the rapidly darkening desert for a van to come pick them up.
Once in the van, the driver took them to where the other stranded rally drivers were, stopping three times until the van was loaded with 8 stranded rally drivers! Once fully loaded, the van headed to UB. Then they stopped. As Jeff says "You can't make this s**t up!" They had reached a railroad crossing, and it was locked for the night! Last we heard from Jeff and Chris the van driver was on the phone with someone, but with no way to translate what he was saying, they could only hope he was asking for the gate to be unlocked so they could proceed. Our fingers are crossed, that morning finds them at the hotel in Ulan Baatar.
Tim and Jim did not escape unscathed. While they were successfully able to complete the day's drive, they've reported a serious oil leak of unknown origin.
As Tim's daughter has tagged it, today's drive has created #MEANgolia!
Fortunately, with Thursday being a rest day, the teams will have plenty of time to work on repairs. They are fortunate to be in a location with good mechanical services, and the time to work on the issues. If past history is any indication, Tim has already put a plan in place to repair both Car #114 and Car # 36.
While our teams were up and in their cars bright and early, they only had a short distance to drive before coming to a full and complete stop - waiting to cross the border into Mongolia.
On Monday there had been torrential rains in the area, and the border was closed. So in addition to the 120 cars connected to the rally, there were plenty of trucks and other drivers waiting to get across. There was a lot of milling around, conversation, and complaints for the multiple hour hold-up! But the rally organization had all the paperwork prepared in advance, which allowed the cars to be cleared as a group, rather than one-by-one. When it was the rally's turn to cross, everyone piled back in their cars to drive across in an orderly fashion to the staging area on the Mongolia side of the border.
And then they were off! This high desert is sandy, but with plenty of grasses to nourish the robust populations of goats, camels, wild horses and other wildlife. Recent rains had caused flooding, leaving the rally drivers making their way through marshy soils, and forcing the route to be changed, rerouted around lakes that had flooded over their banks, or new swamps that formed in the sandy soil. There were no time trials; just an amazingly scenic drive to their stop for the night.
But what a drive! Jeff reports he and Chris drove the Ford past a group of grazing horses. The 50 or so wild horses then formed up and ran alongside the Ford for quite some time, before veering off and going back to their grazing. Tim and Jim saw the horses too, and thought how great it would be to film them on their Go Pro - but, of course, it wouldn't turn on! Throughout the drive, mountains sparkled in the distance, goats frolicked on hillsides, and then the entry to the camp area sprawled ahead. They arrived at a beautiful, grassy field, with the dining tent already pitched, and port-a-johns set up by twos and scattered around.
In the 2016 rally, Chris and Tim said their favorite part was the drive across Mongolia. Jeff and Jim learned why for themselves on this first day of driving in this picturesque, open land. Of course when Chris drove it in 2016, he was both driver and navigator, so he had different challenges than he will this time! And Tim had Willie navigating...
Since the drive was quite rough, many cars showed damage. Jim and Tim's shocks went out on them, so the first order of business for them was repairs to the Chevy. One of the shock absorbers was dangling and it got bent; the bolts holding it had rattled loose! They decided to just remove that one, and plan to do a repair in Ulan Baatar. So only one shock for the drive tomorrow! Three bolts (out of six!) holding the radiator also worked loose, so Tim and Jim scrambled around looking for replacements. They finally found some of the right diameter, but they were too long! Solution: cut them to the proper length!
All this time, Jeff and Chris sat nearby, watching their teammates work on their car, drinking beer and offering the occasional comment - which was well-received, for sure! They all report the Ford seems to be in great shape, but they'll be checking all the bolts for tightness - and maybe liberally applying Lock-tite when applicable. By the time repairs were well in hand, it was nearly midnight, and time to roll into their sleeping bags.
The late start on Wednesday meant they could afford to wait to finish their repairs and do a more thorough check of both cars.
Rally rules require that each car must carry all the things they might need during on the rally - except for food and fuel - and that includes their camping gear. So, setting up camp for the night, pitching their tents, laying out their sleeping bags, preparing their clothes for sleeping and the next day, all had to be accomplished before they could call it a night. No one will be complaining about the heat tonight - it is sure to get cold in a tent in the Gobi Desert at night!
Tomorrow: taking down camp, and looking forward to arriving in the city of Ulan Baatar, and a rest/repair day.
June 3rd, 2019
Today our teams spent more time on the road in Inner Mongolia - Hohhot to Erenhot!
After a long and problem-plagued first day, the second day was a shorter drive, and a problem-free one! Both Car #36 and Car #114 started smoothly and drove well. At the first time trial, Chris and Jeff in the Ford got stuck behind a car going too slowly, and lost time as a result. But all was well, and after a spin around the dusty track, the cars climbed towards the highway for a fairly direct drive to Erenhot (Erlian) and the Inner Mongolia, China/Mongolia (also known as Outer Mongolia) border. With plenty of sunshine and the mountains in the distance, the cars ate up the kilometers.
This is the Gobi Desert, and it was home to dinosaurs in the Cretaceous period. A local museum tells the story. Rally drivers pass on the highway under the largest display of the museum, an arch created by the famous Erlian Kissing Dinosaurs, two large Apatosaurus statues engaging in what many describe as French-kissing! Spotted around the area are many man-made dinosaur and skeleton exhibits, along with suggestions of the plants they might have eaten when they roamed the area. It's a bizarre counterpoint to the new building and highway construction in Hohhot, as well as the congestion of Beijing!
Once at the hotel, the drivers were welcomed by a singer entertaining the arriving drivers with regional songs. Having a taste of so many different cultures is part of the attraction of driving the rally, and beautiful voices are quite a welcome!
Checking in at the hotel, Jeff was complaining about yet another night in a hot hotel room. Chris told him Tuesday night he'll be complaining about the cold, because he'll be camping in the Gobi Desert!
Jim, who has been sharing a hotel room with Tim since the guys arrived in Beijing, enjoyed having his own room in Hohhot, and didn't care about the temperature since he really enjoyed having his own space. And while Jim is saying he just needs to get used to Tim yelling and swearing at the other drivers, Tim is not so sure he's that bad. He thinks Chris may have him beat on that score! Of course, Chris has been navigating, which means he needs to keep his attention more on the route book than on the other drivers!
The team will start the day tomorrow at the border crossing to Mongolia, leaving China behind. There has been localized flooding in Mongolia, so changes are being made to the route books. The flooding also likely means a hold-up at the border crossing, so we'll hear how that goes tomorrow.
Tuesday night will be spent camping at what is pegged "Camp 1", in the Gobi Desert.
And they're off!
With a little more than 5 weeks until the finish in Paris, the rally cars began their long journey across Asia and Europe to the finish line. Today's destination: Hohhot, China, the capital of Inner Mongolia.
The Bodacious Racing teams were up at 4:30 AM, had their personal packs loaded in the cars by 5:15, and headed into the restaurant to get something to eat before their planned departure from the hotel at 6. A good plan - but not anticipated by the Rally organizers! There were no cooks on hand, and no coffee to be had! It was a pretty grim thought - that they may have to leave without sufficient fuel for themselves. There were plenty of other drivers milling around by the time food started being put out, and Tim tells us it was nearly a food riot!
One of the Australian competitors had decorated hood ornaments with stuffed koalas - a little symbol of friendliness among the drivers.
They were able to get on the road by 6:00 AM as planned, and it was an easy drive to the start at the Great Wall. They arrived with an hour to the Ford's start, plenty of time to take in the music, the Lion Dance, the Great Wall itself, and to feel the anticipation build!
Car 36, the Ford, started at 7:56 AM, going smoothly through the start gate with smiles from both Chris and Jeff. Tim and Jim then had more than an hour to burn before their start. Jim decided he would go hike some of the wall, and eventually got so far away from the rally car park that Tim had to go retrieve him! By the time Car 114, the Chevy, was lined up to go through the start gate, they report they were getting pretty sick of the festive music's drum beat! But they had a smooth, happy start at 9:41 - and our teams were off!
While Jim was really nervous about taking on the first day of this navigational challenge, Tim reports he did really well. They took a few wrong turns, but caught them quickly and were able to get right back on track.
There was a timed hill-climb built into the day's route, and both cars performed quite well. When they finished the time trial, each team had more than enough time to get to the day's finish on schedule.
But things soon changed for Jeff and Chris in the Ford. Chris reports they nearly nailed a local driver when he pulled out in front of them, while they were doing 60 mph! The brakes worked well (thanks, Mike Nunes!), but from then they got turned around and lost for about 10 miles. The Ford then overheated, so they stopped and opened the hood to let the car cool off. When they went to restart, the battery was dead. Since they had deviated from the rally route, they knew no rally folks would be coming along to help. Fortunately, a local truck driver happened by, stopped, and was able to jump the battery. He was happy to help, and wouldn't take any payment!
Back on the rally route, the Ford was making up lost time. But at a toll booth, they stalled, and couldn't restart the car. Chris got out and pushed the Ford through the booth and off to the side of the road. Other rally cars tried to jump the battery, but to no avail. When the Chevy got through the toll, Tim and Jim pulled over to the Ford, and they all decided the best option would be for the Chevy to pull the Ford! So there they were, towing the Ford through Hohhot traffic and highway construction - 5 lanes into one lane - certainly an additional challenge to this challenging rally!
Once at the hotel, Chris jumped out of the rolling Ford to run into the hotel to sign in, to finish. We'll see once results are posted what kind of time they made. Tim and Jim ended up spot on to finish on their scheduled time, despite stopping to help their teammates. Not bad for the first day!
Once safely parked in the hotel's lot, Jeff and Chris removed the seat of the Ford to get at the battery. It turned out that the alternator belt was loose, so all day the battery wasn't being charged. They were despairing over where they would get a new battery on a Sunday night in Hohhot, when Chris had the brilliant idea of asking a local guy who was there to admire the cars. He spoke good English, and called over to a friend who was also in the lot enjoying the car show. That friend called another friend, who showed up in a truck 30 minutes later with a new battery! Car people are car people all over the world, happy to help out!
It was a good day overall for all four of our drivers. A slightly later start for each team tomorrow means a little more sleep, and then on to the drive to Erenhot!
The excitement builds! It seems to be a general sentiment: Let's get this rally started!
The parking lot at the Beijing Shangri-La Hotel was buzzing with activity as more than 100 vintage cars, with 2 drivers per car, were unpacked, repacked and organized for the approximately 9000 miles ahead.
One of the primary jobs our teams undertook today was to mount the GPS and the SPOT tracker on each car. Things went smoothly for Chris and Jeff in the Ford, but Tim and Jim in the Chevy were not so fortunate. Both their Garmin GPS unit and their assigned SPOT tracker stopped working! Maybe something about Jim and Tim's personal electrical fields…. Or Jim's nervous energy wreaking havoc on the electronics!
They managed to trade in the SPOT tracker, but the best they could do to replace the Garmin was to borrow an ancient GPS that couldn't be hard-wired into the car. Tim reports they plan to feed it AA batteries as needed. With few roads, and lots of GPS directions in both Mongolia and Kazakhstan, it will be necessary to have a working GPS, but they are confident they will be able to keep it functioning.
The route books were issued today, so the Bodacious Racing teams, along with other competitors, spent the heat of the afternoon in the lobby of the hotel pouring over the books, especially reading and rereading the first few days of travel. A rally route book gives very specific directions to follow, marked by turns, fractions of kilometers/miles, and guideposts such as stop signs, service stations, and the occasional road sign. The route will not be direct highway driving, and the book will rarely let you know what road you are supposed to be on. So while the driving part of the rally is always challenging, rallies are very much competitions in navigating. Being able to absorb the printed directions as the driver is moving down the road, give clear directions to the driver, and have a firm sense of what comes next is necessary for a good navigator. Jeff and Chris are an experienced rally team at this point, and can trade off driving and navigating comfortably, though they both agree Chris is the better navigator! This rally will be Tim and Jim's second together, but they are confident they have found a good way to communicate as they prepare for the start of this greatest rally of all.
Another night of restless sleep, no doubt, and they will meet Sunday in the car park at 6:00 AM. Chris and Jeff are assigned a start time of 7:56 AM.; Jim and Tim will cross the start line at 9:41 AM, the third to last car to start. They will leave the hotel to head to the Juyongguan Gate at the Great Wall on China for the start. There is sure to be a festive ceremony to kick off the 7th Peking to Paris Rally! Then a long first day's drive to Hohhot, China!
May 31st, 2019
The cars have arrived! Bodacious Racing had the cars shipped from Rhode Island to China with a car company called Cars US (there is also a Cars UK, which has also transported our cars). They were delivered to the warehouse organized by the Endurance Rally Association. Once competitors were issued their Chinese Driver's Licenses, teams could pick up their cars, take them to the service station to fuel up, and drive them to the Shangri La Hotel in downtown Beijing where the Rally is headquartered.
While the cars were in tip-top condition leaving High Tech Fabrications in Rhode Island, there is always the worry that something will pop up once they arrive at the start of the rally. The Ford wouldn't start, but it was just a dead battery, and a quick jump by the Chevy had both cars in running order, and heading out to the streets of Beijing.
Earlier this week, Tim had scoped out a perfect shady spot to park both cars, but a truck moved into that space! Fortunately, they found a partly shady spot, and with the cars in such great shape, they won't need to be out in the hot sun doing much work anyway.
The process of "scrutineering" is a check by the rally committee that all is well for a car to embark on the rally. Safety is primary, but there is also a technical checklist to ensure drivers haven't deviated from the rules of the rally for these vintage cars. They have to be robust enough to survive the many miles of road (and unpaved paths) ahead, without losing their original designs.
Jeff reported that one of the fun discoveries of the day was seeing the 1929 Rolls Royce he used to own arrive at the hotel parking lot for the rally! Jeff bought this car as his and Chris's original rally car. After driving it through Spain on a trial run, however, they decided it wasn't the car for them for the 2016 Peking to Paris. At that point they bought and prepared the 1957 Chevy, which has since shown its abilities in multiple rallies. But the new owner of the Rolls is so looking forward to driving his car #14 in this year's Peking to Paris; best of luck and much enjoyment to him!
Saturday will be all about unpacking the cars, and rearranging things for ease of access along the way. None of the drivers have been sleeping well; time changes and nerves have kept them restless at night. Hopefully Friday brought some sleep, since they know the cars are good to go. The real countdown to Sunday's start begins!
The drivers had another day to adjust to time zone changes, and began the official Rally orientation with a briefing on driving rules in China.
While all you readers know one or more of the drivers on Bodacious Racing's 2019 Peking to Paris adventure, not everyone knows how they know each other. The four drivers are friends through sailing, are all experienced sailors, and have spent many hours together on sailboats of varying descriptions, mostly doing distance racing together. The newest member of the driving team is Jim McLaren, whose home base is Chicago, and who met Jeff through the Great Lakes Singlehanded Society. He is the veteran of much lake and ocean sailing and racing, but his first road rally was the Blue Train Challenge, driving through France, in Fall 2017. He decided he liked it enough-and could get along with Tim well enough-to sign up for the Peking to Paris.
Of course, as the new guy on the team, Jim is open to lots of ribbing. He arrived at the airport in Chicago to meet up with Chris, Jeff and Tim, and was an absolute nervous wreck. He told Jeff "I thought I was nervous before the TransPac race" (a sailboat race across the Pacific Ocean, which the guys completed in 2013-11 days on the water in a 52-foot sailboat. They came in first in their division). "But I'm so nervous now, I feel like I need to throw up!"
Fortunately, Jim made it to Beijing without losing his stomach.
But the Jim stories continue. Tim tells us Thursday morning at breakfast, Jim grabbed a banana on the way out and stuck it in his back pocket. Then Chris, Tim and Jim went to a grocery store for supplies. Tim reports this store is straight out of Blade Runner. As they entered the store, Jim was tapped on the shoulder by a security guard. He pointed to the banana in Jim's pocket. He then took Jim to a locker, while Chris and Tim pretended not to know him, going about the shopping. Jim put his banana in the locker, and was given a key. After shopping and checking out, Jim had to go back up and down escalators to retrieve the suspect banana. Tim asks "Sir, is that a banana in your pocket? Or….."
Leave it to our newest driver to get in trouble even before the start!
Having successfully completed today's briefing, each team member will be issued their Chinese Driver's License tomorrow, and will be allowed to retrieve the cars. Then comes the unpacking and repacking for the road--and the scrutineering by the rally committee to ensure all security measures are in place, and the cars are ready to begin driving Peking to Paris!
The teams have safely arrived in Beijing, and are awaiting the start of the 2019 Peking to Paris Rally! Wednesday was spent acclimatizing to the time change (12 hours ahead of the east coast), shopping for motor oil and various automotive fluids, and meeting up with acquaintances from past rallies. Thursday there will be more of the same, along with obtaining their Chinese Driver's Licenses. They will retrieve the cars from the warehouse on Friday, and the real focus of the rally will begin!
Of course, the start of any rally begins far in advance of the actual starting line. This is especially true of Peking to Paris, hosted and organized by the Endurance Rally Association, now part of the HERO Group. There are a limited number of cars accepted, and spots are fiercely coveted. Early registration is key, and the 2019 Bodacious Racing cars registered more than 2 years ago, in March 2017!
Preparing the cars for such an extreme challenge also takes a lot of time, a lot of thought, and a lot of talent. The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Tim and Jim are driving is a veteran of the 2016 P2P, as well as other rallies, including the 2018 Trans America Challenge. And while this is the first P2P for the 1936 Ford Cabriolet, Jeff and Chris have driven the car in 5 other rallies, including the Flying Scotsman, the Alpine (Switzerland), the Blue Train (France), and the Trans America.
Jeff's mantra for rallies is "Don't break the car!". Both cars have previously been rebuilt, following Endurance Rally regulations, to turn them from regular vintage road cars to rally vehicles. After each rally, problems have been addressed. Following the Trans America last year, both cars came home to Rhode Island and underwent specific preparations for this most challenging of all rallies, the Peking to Paris.
The cars were turned over to Mike Nunes, at High Tech Fabrications in Middletown, RI. Here's what Mike told us about the work accomplished:
Our focus with the cars was to make them as reliable, comfortable, and simple as they could be so that they had the smallest chance of failure and were easy to repair if need be on the side of the road. On the 1936 Ford, Jeff wanted a more comfortable seat than the racing buckets that were in the car. He tasked us with fitting a set of seats from a 2011 Range Rover. We custom fabricated quick disconnect mounts to fit the car and had to figure out how to make the electric motors move the seats. Another custom feature on the Ford was a custom electric fan capable of operating under water and fan shroud to keep the engine cool. By far the most challenging task on the Ford was researching and developing a clutch system to make the 1936 flathead motor work with a modern 5-Speed Tremec transmission. We also fabricated a custom pivoting 2nd spare tire carrier to make the car meet the rule of having two spare tires on board. We also fabricated custom aluminum skid plates to protect the bottom of the car from road debris.
With the 1957 Chevy Bel Air, our main focus was to swap the existing 283 engine and Automatic Transmission with a 350 engine and a modern 5-Speed Tremec Transmission. We completely went through and serviced the brakes and suspension, and we also built custom aluminum skid plates to protect the bottom of the car from road debris. The Chevy also received a custom electric fan and shroud capable of running underwater to keep the engine cool even during river crossings.
High Tech Fabrications specializes in High End Restorations and Custom Automotive Work. President Mike Nunes worked closely with Tim Eades, Chris Pike, and Jeff Urbina to oversee the rebuild project for the P2P cars. Mike has decades of experience with endurance racing from his time racing in the Panamericana in Mexico with Windigo Racing's 1957 Chevy 210. Jarett Hurteau, Electrical and Mechanical technician at High Tech, led the numerous electronic conversions between the two cars as well as researching and ordering parts. Greg Tiedemann, Mechanical and Suspension technician, worked primarily on correcting the suspension geometry of the cars as well as engine tuning. Dan Betts, Paint, Body, and Frame technician, was in charge of making sure the cars looked the part. Patricia Nunes, Accounting and Logistics, made sure the project ran smoothly on the back end. Also part of the team at High Tech was Beth Stachurski, a student from the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center.
Hearty thanks to Mike and his team - they put their combined expertise into the cars, and have volunteered to be on call to talk the drivers through any problems that may arise during the weeks on the road!