Day 4 and 5

‘Nightmare in the desert’

Day 4 started so well but ended in day and night long nightmare.

As reported in the earlier report we had a major blow during the second time trial of the day. Two and a half km from the finish of this time trial with the finish in view we sped up a fast trail over what looked like a small crest but which turned out a deep ditch over the crest. All we remember is that it happened very fast and the car landed nose first on he ground. Immediately a sever noise form under the bonnet and the oil pressure dropped quickly.

With the finish insight we crept slowly to the finish and parked the car off the road. Unbeknown to us that is where it would stay for the next 12 hours.

A quick look under the front off the car confirmed our worst fears. The metal sump guard had hit the ground so hard it had pushed in the sump that keeps all the engine oil. A massive crack could be seen from the sump. We also found the spare tyre that is fitted to the boot rack missing completely. In the spare wheel we have our air and sleeping beds… The big bang must have completely undone the straps. Fortunately the last official car on the stage picked it up for us and returned it at the place we were standing.

First reaction end of rally.

Second reaction where are we and how do we get the car to the civilized world. At that stage we were in the middle of the Goby desert at least 280 km away from the nearest town Ulaan Baatar.

Although there were rally marshals dealing with the finishing rally cars there is nothing they could do and there was also nothing the ‘sweep teams’ running after the stages could do for us because an alu-sumpguard cannot be fixed on the spot. Without oil you cannot drive.

Many competitors stopped and offered help and water. The latter we declined as we had plenty of water bottles on board or so we thought.

No phone signal in the desert so I set up de satellite phone and started calling the rally recovery numbers on the ERA documentation. There seem to be different numbers for different companies and when I finally got hold of one I booked a truck to pick me up.I gave them my GPS locations and they confirmed they could also see car 94 on the tracker that is fitted in the car.

They informed me it would take the truck seven hours to come from Ulaan Baatar and I therefore concluded it would take about seven + hours to bring us back to Ulaan Baatar.

This was 11 am so I calculated 16.00 pick up and around 23.00 PM arrive in U B.

So Anty and I settled in for a long wait and gradually all rally traffic disappeared to the next stages.

We sat alone contemplating life and much more for hours. At the same time I tried to work out the options when we bring the car to UB.

I had already made contact with the Dutch Consul in Mongolia, Gijs Bakker, before we left for the rally and I made contact with him to explain our predicament. In turn he had already made contact for us at the Mercedes Benz agent in UB and now he briefed them on our situation so they were prepared for our arrival late last night.

Much did we know that we would not arrive there until 9.45 the next morning?

So we sat in the hot desert completely alone and around 1 pm I made a call to the agent to check if transport was underway. The conversation on the sat phone was patchy but what I did understand made me worry a little. They we constantly asking which car we were and also mentioned another car that had called for recovery..

At 4 pm no sight of a truck and I can tell you with the view we had over the desert you could see a car come toward you from miles away.

Remember there are no tarmac roads anywhere near where we were. A tow truck would have to negotiate the rutted and rough tracks for at least a 170 km to get to us.

At 18.00 pm still no sign of any car for as far as we could see. I called again and they called back and said the truck was now 70 km away from us.

At 20.00 pm still no sign of any life around us. The wind dropped and the sun started to go down. I tried to call Tom van den Berg in he other Altena Pagode (no 100) he was already in the hotel and was stunned to learn that we were still where he last saw us. I asked him to ask the organisers ERA to double check if anybody was doing anything for us and that if not they should tell us so that we should start pitching our tent for the night before it got dark.

The water supply that we originally thought to be plenty became a bit sparser. Luckily I have a large bag with protein bars in the car so that we would not immediately starve if we would have to stay the night..

Tom is a big tall man and swung his weight around a bit so he finally came back with word that there was really a truck on the way and that we should wait it out. Many thanks Tom because with all the confusing messages you do not know what is really happening in the desert.

21.30 the sun is now really going down and its getting colder. In the distance we see a spec of cloud as it rushes nearer to us only to find out that is is a ‘local Mongolian’ local with a capital L minding his own business. There is nobody here and we have no idea where he came from or where he went to. He did not stop and asked if he could help though.

22.00 Anty finds a cigar and we smoke one with the sun going down over the Goby Desert.

22.50 It is pitch dark and we sit in the car and just when we think nobody is coming a set of lights and a cloud dust rushes up the hill.

A very old flatbed truck stops a tiny Mongolian with a cap jumps out with a piece of paper with some handwritten coordinates and and points at the number on the piece of paper, the number being 94.

It was almost as if millions of cars were stranded in the desert at night and he had to make sure he was picking up the right one..

Even if it had not been our car number we would have said yes. Within 5 minutes the cars was on this little truck and the driver and his young co-driver motioned that we should get in our car. They took off to Ulaan Baatar and for the next ten and a half hours we sat there shaking about and trying to sleep in our tiny cramped Mercedes cockpit. We naively though we would be 50 km on desert tracks and the rest of the 270 or so km on tarmac.

No we were on desert tracks from 23.00 until we hit a small tarmac road at approx 05.30. All the way I never knew how this driver found his way through this dark desert. No road signs no lights nothing to go by. Then another four hours trying to sit and sleep..

This is character building and Anty and I are thinking of setting up some teambuilding programmes for larger companies with the same type of programme as we experienced. That will separate the boys from the men.

9.35 We arrive at the main Mercedes agent in Mongolia. There were already quite a few rally crews with their cars in the garage but when we arrived it was clear that we were expected. Good English speaking staff helped unload the car. The garage manager asked if we were the team that was announced by the Dutch Consul…It helps .The transport agent of Cars UK then took us to our hotel in town for a well deserved shower and some sleep.


We went back to he garage in the afternoon when we found that the mechanics had already lifted the engine and taken out the sump guard . They had examined the engine ( see foto) in preparation for the arrival of Jan Altena from Holland. Who takes an overnight flight via Moscow to deliver the broken parts and help repair the car.

Jan Altena and his team have prepared the car for us and when they heard about our problem they immediately jumped into action.

Plan was and is : Jan arrives tomorrow Friday morning with the parts. Car gets fixed and we joint the rally at the campsite tomorrow night thereby skipping one more day of rallying. Today was a res day for the rally.

However this afternoon the Mercedes workshop manager and his foreman came to talk to me and said that they looked at the broken sump and concluded that it could not be fixed but they said that the engine in my Pagode is a type that is around quite a lot in Mongolia and they might be able to find me a sump guard tonight. They also said they would work to 10 pm tonight. And that if they find one they could fix the whole car tonight. The manager said he was quite keen to get our car to start the rally in the morning rather then waste a day.. What a spirit!

With Jan Altena coming in with parts and with his last minute VISA ,wich might mean he might not arrive in time, I took the decision to let the Mercedes team have a go at trying to find the sump guard locally.

And yes at 18.30 the manager called me at the hotel and said that they found one and that they were starting work right away. He expected the car to be ready at 8.30 tomorrow morning.

If this works it means we can start again and continue right away and we will have lost half a rally day. Quite a turn around from yesterday when we looked a certain retirement.

Tomorrow more but it looks like we can get going again and Jan Altena can see the rally start ..

Thanks to Dutch Consul Gijs Bakker

Thanks Tom and Femke

Thanks to Jan Altena and team and a great thanks to Mercedes Mongolia!

See the picture of our time in the desert and the recovery truck in he pictures files.

Now to bed after virtually a whole night without sleep.

The next 6 nights we are camping in the desert so messages might became infrequent. Stay tuned though.