After months of preparations, planning and anticipation we are finally here.
Thursday June 9
After an efficient and uneventful overnight KLM flight from Amsterdam to Beijing we cleared the airport customs and baggage collection on Thursday morning within an hour . Another hour later we arrived at our home for the next three nights the Shangri-La Hotel in Beijing.
Beijing the capital of China has 20 million inhabitants and on Thursday it was hot, humid and polluted and a public holiday with many people on the road. Although it was three years ago that we were in Beijing for the first time it feels liking coming home. At the hotel there are already a lot of familiar faces of the organiser ERA and some of the competitors.
Our Dutch friends from the 2015 Trans America rally Tom van den Berg and Femke Scheepers ( car no 100)have already arrived a day early and had tried to do some sightseeing in the baking hot weather. After checking in we decided to catch a few hours sleep as we had only a few hours on the plane. In hindsight not really a good idea as you feel really groggy when you wake up a couple of hours later.
Then a light Chinese lunch with Tom and Femke.
At 4 pm we were asked to attend the Beijing police briefing in one of the hotels big meeting rooms. The purpose is to instruct us about the traffic and driving regulations in China.
Many competitors turned up and for a packed audience the chief of police and his translator did their act. Once this is done we all qualify for our temporary Chinese driving licence and Chinese car licence plate. Later on we took an early dinner with Tom and Femke after which we tried an early night to overcome the 6 hours time difference. Just before we went to bed there was this massive thunderstorm with very high winds. At least it has cleared some of the pollution in town.
Friday June 10
The day the that we are finally seeing our car back after almost 2 ½ month’s. I am told that it took the rally shipping company 3 full weeks to get all the cars through Chinese customs. At 9am we received our first rally documentation and we had to drop off our Garmin GPS. The organizers will fit the Garmin with a chip with all the waypoints for the route between P and P. At 11.15 our coach was waiting to take us to the warehouse on the outskirts of Beijing where we would be reunited with our rally cars.
With 114 cars to collect we were split in groups and so our turn was at 11.15. When we finally came to the warehouse we found our car in very good condition. I switched on the main power, the power switch, pushed the starter button and vrooommm , the Pagode Rally started on the first try.
Not so with many other cars and some of them needed immediate attention. After checking the paperwork with Cars UK staff we were given a ‘Tulip route’ back to the hotel. The top came off and the caps came on. A few miles down the road we found a petrol station and filled the empty tank to the brim.
The route back to the hotel seemed déjà vu as we did the same trip three years ago. Yet you need to pinch yourself a bit when you are driving through the Beijing traffic in your Dutch registered car.
The Chinese are pretty big on cars and while moving in slow traffic they nearly crash into each other when they hang out of their cars to make pictures of the red Pagode with their Smartphone’s. The going was slow and the weather was hot but the car engine temperatures stayed stable which is a relieve. Just a few km near the hotel we felt some rain drops and just when we parked at the hotel car park the heavens opened with a monsoon type rainstorm. We had the car soft top up just in time.
The hotel has sectioned off a whole area of their car park for the 114 rally cars and 15 organisers vehicles. The car park has 24 hour security but I don not get the feeling that there is much crime in Beijing. In the hotel lobby the ERA organisers team have a permanent information desk for the competitors and there is the information bulletin board that is providing all the latest information for the competitors. This bulletin board is in every hotel lobby that we stay and its compulsory for the navigator to check the board on a regular basis.
After the rainstorm we could go back to the car and started to unpack the car to check that everything we had loaded two and a half month’s ago was still there. With this much smaller car we need to be very careful with packing and as you can see from the pictures we have fitted an extra bootrack so that we can fit the second spare tyre. We will also put the tent on the boot rack. It does not look so nice but it will work.
With a car park full of rally cars its like a candy store for car enthusiasts. There are now three of these enormous pre-war La France cars.. There are Bentley’s, Roll Royce’s, Volvo’s, Mercedes, Porsches Mustangs, Triumph, Aston Martin (with far too much weight on a roof rack) Datsun’s and many more.
Some of them are well prepared, others will eventually be well prepared if and when they arrive in Paris…
It is also good to catch up with old and new rally friends. Some we have not seen since 2013 others come and talk to us because they know us from the website and know all about our Lady in Red. So many nationalities! Quite a few aussies and kiwi’s, Americans. There is a whole contingent Italians with beautiful ‘looking’ Alfa Romeo’s. Only three Dutch teams but with Tom and Femke in the rally the whole south of the Netherlands – Eindhoven- is well covered. The other Dutch team are father and daughter Vos with their beautiful pre-war Lancia lambda. Friday evening we are invited to a drinks party in the hotel gardens for all the competitors.
Saturday June 11
Saturday morning we all have to join our cars in the car park at 10 am for inspections by the rally scrutineers. First two marshals check all the tech specifications of the car. Engine and chassis numbers, brake and suspension systems, tow rope etc. Then a second group of marshals check if you have all the safety equipment on board. Medical kit, triangle ,seat belts and fire extinguishers. They also check the lights, the indicators and the horn. As the marshals know us and the preparation standard of our car, the inspection of car 94 went very quickly.
We received all the signatures and with that we could collect our road books, the Garmin GPS, the name tags and any other relevant information for the rally. In short we are now fully fit to start the rally.
As soon as Anty got his hands on the route book he disappeared to his hotel room and surveyed the route until Novosibirsk. After an hour or so he reappeared with a fairly confident look on his face and he declared that he had not found any serious obstacles en route. Well we will se about that..
Tonight the official farewell dinner at the hotel and tomorrow an early start as we have to drive 60 km out of town to the start line by the great wall. Our start timeslot is 8.48 local time. We cannot wait to get going and tomorrow night the first real rally story.
PS: It has been difficult to log on web sites here in Beijing. Face book is not allowed at all and I can only get on official websites via the Yahoo browser. Hopefully it will get better when we are on the road.