From 1907 and in six subsequent events, reaching Paris is the dream
Twelve months ago (7th July 2019) the weary yet delighted Peking to Paris Motor Challenge crews crossed the Paris finish line after 36 hard days. They had finally achieved their dream of finishing one of the world’s last great adventures. For those on their first event and those who have achieved it before, reaching Paris means arriving at their final frontier after 13,680 kilometers across 12 countries representing the world’s largest land mass.
Tears, laughter, euphoria. The camaraderie experienced between the 20 nationalities on the event as they helped each other through adversity, sharing the highs and lows of such a mammoth challenge, were released in one huge outlet of emotion on a sunny Paris afternoon.
112 years earlier as the triumphant victor of the first ever Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, Prince Scipione Borghese, Roman nobleman, diplomat, explorer and mountaineer, motored slowly to the final check point just outside Paris, it rained on his parade.
The Prince in his seven litre Itala was halted as a 30 seater charabanc was directed to go before it, the bus festooned with French and Italian flags it’s passengers comprised a full brass band who needed to get set up for the final arrival in the centre of Paris before the victors.
Along the route to the finish outside the offices of Le Matin, the newspaper who came up with the Peking to Paris challenge, hundreds thronged the streets eager to greet the winner. Via L’Avenue du Trone, Boulevard Voltaire and Place de La Republique, the crowds massed. So by the time the winner arrived at the road outside the newspaper office it was so rammed that the Garde Republiciane had to clear it. Each time the helmeted cavalry cleared a space photographers rushed into the gap to take pictures before the horses kicked at them again.
Borghese ended up making a u turn and ran along the kerb before accurately parking the Itala right in front of the red velvet stage. Prince Borghese, his crew of a mechanic Guizzardi and journalist Barzini were all carried shoulder high into the Matin building. The champagne was poured, the speeches came before the Prince moved off back outside to the podium to address the adoring crowd, all in perfect French, as he did at the huge banquet that night and the one the night after that!
The other finishers of the 1907 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge arrived twenty days later.
Two days after his arrival Borghese insisted that he remove his car from the red velvet stage where it had been displayed as he was taking it to Italy. The newspaper had to apologise to all the people it had persuaded to come to Paris to see the triumphant machine and instead offered them a viewing on a big screen each night of arrival of Prince Borghese in Paris.
By Friday 16th of August Prince Borghese and the Itala were parading around an arena in Milan in front of 300,000 people who then broke through the barriers to carry the crew to a stage.
On the 7th July 2019 the Place Vendome in Paris was packed with car enthusiasts, journalists, photographers and video cameramen awaiting the arrival of the cars alongside family and friends of the triumphant crews. The speeches, awards and celebrations would run long into the night with the Guest of Honour Prince Paolo Costantino Borghese, great nephew of the Prince Scipione Borghese presenting the wards.
But each finisher would be a winner, just crossing that finish line meant they had realised their dreams. This seventh historic event was run in the spirit of 1907, and just like that first edition where just four finished with one, the Mototri of Auguste Pons being lost to the sands of the Gobi desert, it was tough in every respect.
Regardless of their place in the standings, all who reached their journeys end at Place Vendome, Paris, achieved something great. Travelling halfway around the world, in vintage and classic cars, traversing some of the toughest roads the world’s largest landmass has to offer was no small feat. All crews battled fatigue, the weather, mechanical issues and the emotional stress of completing such an epic endeavour against the clock.
There were other astounding achievements made in Paris that day as records were also broken.
There was a big noise at the Paris finish for Anton Gonnissen and Herman Gelan, completing the event on a three wheeled Contal Mototri and finishing the journey started, but not finished, by Auguste Pons in 1907. Gonnissen had recreated the historic machine from the remains of a rare 1906 Contal Mototri as he vowed to exorcise the ghost of Auguste Pons who nearly died along with his navigator Oscar Foucauld in the Gobi desert when they ran out of fuel, the pair trying to walk back to Peking.
The special significance of the event was not lost on an emotional Gonnissen, the Brussels architect who has competed in previous Dakar events on both two and four wheels. They set the record for the longest distance covered by a Pioneer trike and set the record straight from 1907 by finishing the job Pons failed to do. The Belgian crew also finished a remarkable 16th overall in the Vintage Class. Anton commented afterwards;
“This was the journey of a lifetime. More men have stood on the moon than have driven Peking to Paris. August Pons failed in 1907 and there was a gap to be filled. Today history has been written, we have put the ghost of AP to rest after 112 years.”
Sat at the front of the Contal, in the ‘suicide’ seat was Gonnissen’s navigator, Herman Gelan. It is a position few would wish to be in, but for 8500 miles he had a unique view of the rally:
“In my seat I was closer to nature than any of the other competitors and the sheer beauty of the route and the surroundings are what will stay with me for a long time.”
There was also another record set by American Mitch Gross and Christopher Rolph in Gross’ 1910 White MM Pullman steam car. If driving halfway around the world in a 109 year old vehicle isn’t hard enough, to complete it in one powered by a steam engine must be doubly difficult. It is perhaps the longest journey ever completed by a steam car and life-long steam fan Gross and British engineer Rolph had to totally replace multiple furnace boilers to keep them chugging and whistling along the route. Mitch and Christopher, like Gonnissen and Gelan were rightly feted in Paris for their incredible feats.
Mitch Gross; “We set a world distance record for steam powered cars but had to have three engine rebuilds on the way. We also almost ran out of fire extinguishers. But, with the help of our great support crew we made it.”
But the records kept tumbling as cars crossed the Paris finish line.
Aussies Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson, who only won by two minutes after 36 days of competition, took victory the for a record breaking third time in the unusual Aussie Leyland P76. Gerry also broke the record for the oldest driver ever to win the epic Peking to Paris Motor Challenge aged 87!
After 8500 miles (13680 km) of driving adventure the greatest of endurance rallies reached it’s historic Paris finish with Crown Bryson overall winners, their third victory, making it a ‘Triple Crown.:
Gerry “Our third win in the Leyland was the toughest yet but it was also very enjoyable. What we really needed though was a few more 87-year old’s in the field to keep me company. I must also congratulate the organisers for keeping the spirit of the rally alive, it’s the Blue Riband event of the historic world and it needs to be tough”
The 7th edition of one of the last great endurance motor challenges, followed in the wheel tracks of its pioneers, and once in Paris the competitors concluded that it was the toughest one yet!
The remote and turbulent roads are another attraction that draws people to this challenge, and this year saw some of the trickiest yet. P2P rookie Bill Holroyd gave his thoughts on the roads:
“In effect they are mountain roads and farm tracks. If you were driving from Manchester to London and then back to Birmingham on farm tracks and mountain passes you’d go bloody mental”
Holroyd’s wife Julie agreed, “even the veterans said this is a tough one” she said, “exciting but scary, the scenery was magnificent and the camping was great!”
‘Drive the Impossible’ became the challenging invitation set by the original organiser Le Matin in 1907. That tile is still used today and can be applied to the toughest Peking to Paris yet in 2019.
The endurance element is of course what all the competitors come to pit themselves against, and of this Mark Trowbridge (USA), competing in a 1968 Volvo P1800 had these thoughts, on a tough but enjoyable event:
“We had some really gruelling days, but we recovered and got fired up again, lots of fun, fast and flying around a lot.”
There was more praise for the seventh edition from trip character Patrick Debussere, one half of the infamous Belgian Dodge brothers; “Sometimes I’m embarrassed as I don’t have the right words in English to describe this event, but it’s awesome!” The crew nicknamed the Dodge Brothers due to their love of and success in old Dodges, won the prestigious Spirit of the Rally Award.
Patrick Debussere and Bernard Vereenooghe won the spirit of the rally award as they epitomised the spirit and camaraderie that helps make the event what it is. The “Dodge Brothers” were a constant source of entertainment and help to other entrants throughout the rally, despite tough conditions, but were naturally delighted to finish fourth Vintage car home. They celebrated with most of Belgium in Ypres the night before the Paris finish and then long into the night at the official awards ceremony.
Once the dust settled on the 2019 edition of the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, which will surely go down in the archives as one of the toughest and best ever, preparations started for the eighth edition of this gruelling endurance event in 2022.
The phenomenal draw of this epic adventure has once more ensured a maximum entry of 110 cars with a solid reserve list of international crews still hoping to get a place.
Final Results 2019
- Graham Goodwin – Marina Goodwin
- Artur Lukasiewicz – Bill Cleyndert
- Keith Ashworth – Norah Ashworth
- Gerry Crown – Matt Bryson
- David Danglard – Susan Danglard
- Chris Bury – Tjerk Bury
Peking to Paris in Numbers
Distance Travelled: 8500 Miles/ 13680 km
Number of Countries Crossed: 12
Number of Time Zones: 8
Duration of Rally: 36 Days
Number of entries: 106
Nationalities represented: 20
Oldest vehicle: 1907 Contal Mototri Tricycle
Distance Travelled: 8500 Miles