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The Toughest Event in the World

Every three years people from all around the world make the pilgrimage to what is considered to be one of the most organic and original motoring events in the world, the Peking to Paris (P2P) rally. The motor challenge is one of the most unique rallying events in the motoring world. The ethos of the rally is largely unchanged from the original rally over 110 years ago, in 1907. The rally consists of many challenging environments, each with their special twists. The idea of driving an old car halfway around the world is to many competitors, the ultimate challenge and one of the most exciting 36-day periods in their lives. We had a catchup with the chairman of the Historic Endurance Rally Organisation (HERO), Tomas de Vargas and the managing director, Patrick Burke, about the next Peking to Paris rally in 2022 and why Bentleys carry the crown of dominance.

Passing through over 10 countries, the competitors get the blessing of witnessing the geographical changes across half of the world along with the differences between each country’s cultures. HERO claim the rally is a “life-changing, never to be forgotten, adventure”, which is a quote we can be sure any previous participant of the rally will thoroughly agree with. The P2P rally is iconic for many reasons, from the vast historic importance of the original rally in 1907 to the assortment of cars that turn up in Peking to tackle the rally. When asked what makes the P2P rally so prominent in the motorsport world, Tomas de Vargas claims “The history! We have 105 different crews who turn up from all across the world, who then drive across very different countries. What you see is the change in culture, traditions and landscape from East to West. You get to drive it and see different melting points of cultures. It is really quite something. The rally is like a time warp. It is the best geography lesson you will ever have’”.

The P2P has been continuing on the tradition of the original rally since 1997 when they celebrated the 90th anniversary of the 1907 event. Each time the rally is slightly different, due to the many factors that are involved with planning an event which passes through numerous countries. It is said to still bear the same challenge that the competitors in the 1907 edition experienced. Many claim that the later editions of the P2P have become “too polished”. However, the HERO team added that “when we took over the organisation of the event, we made it very clear that we want the legacy of Phillip Young’s Peking to Paris rally to remain. We are returning the event closer to its routes. It takes a lot of planning to keep the rally off the roads and on the gravel and tarmac because the infrastructure in the countries we pass through has rapidly expanded so we try our best to use mainly ancient roads and passages laid by locals”. When asked which P2P event the majority of people enjoyed the most, Tomas replied very swiftly with “That’s like asking a collector which car is their favourite! However, the P2P that went to Iran was fantastic. Unfortunately, Iran is a very different country now. Another event that springs to mind is the first revival of the Peking to Paris after the 1907”. 

One of the most captivating elements of the rally is the array of landscapes. From valleys to mountains and substrates including gravel and mud. The environment can prove to be wildly entertaining yet dangerously vigorous for the machines in which the competitors trust to carry them to the finish line. Many describe the conditions as if it was made to tear apart cars and their inhabitants. Dust will act as an abrasive and chew through mechanical intricacies on your vehicle and the harsh surroundings can prove to be difficult for many of the competitors. “When you are going from 25° and areas where there’s no Ozone and then all of a sudden you are in -5° weather. Your body has to adapt from the very dry land to the very humid and at the same time you have to deal with the constant vibrations through the steering column which rattles through your body. The P2P is to many, the hardest classic car event on the planet” claims Tomas. Anyone who can handle 36 days of the Peking to Paris deserves the most upright of respect, as does their vehicle of choice.

Bentleys play a huge part in the rally, not only do they swarm the event, but they are also extremely competitive! Last year, Graham and Marina Goodwin placed first in the Vintage category in their glorious Bentley Super Sports which was prepared by the Vintage Bentley team. When asked why the pre-war Bentleys are so common on the rally, Tomas claimed “I think Bentley enthusiasts and owners are still of the mindset that Bentleys are motoring pioneering, so to speak. So what we have found is that in the vintage world, of which Bentley is at the pinnacle of, the crown jewel even, the owners tend to be pretty resilient people who are more enthused by fighting the elements in a Bentley over those who prefer younger cars”. Although the pre-war Bentleys may be older and perhaps less advanced than some of the more modern cars on the rally, this does not equate to a lack of performance and reliability. Rallies like the Peking to Paris demonstrate how the Bentleys were designed in a day and age when the roads were rough and the cars had to be relatively simple so that even the most mechanically inept driver can get the car up and running again.

The next P2P outing will be in 2022, which seems like an eternity away but the HERO team are already hard at work with their planning. When asked why it takes a three year period to plan for the next one, Tomas and Patrick say “It takes a long time to organise the event. It is a very sophisticated process considering some of the geopolitical situations we have like crossing from China into Mongolia and through Russia. If for example Mongolia and Russia were in a ‘spat’ we could be caught in the crosswinds so to say”. When considering the amount of mileage the competitors and crews will overcome during the rally, it is to no surprise that an event spanning such a large area would take a sizeable amount of time, manpower and logistics to plan. Like all of the competitors for the 2022 Peking to Paris, Tomas and Patrick are very excited to see what the rally will have in store. “We are ecstatic for the Peking to Paris rally to return in 2 years time! We launched it on the 4th of February in Paris and we have had 847 expressions of interest to compete in the event. We received over 250 applications and it is now fully booked with a waiting list. So clearly we aren’t the only ones excited about it”. Tomas is currently preparing a 1914 American LaFrance to compete in the 2022 Peking to Paris. The American LaFrance is a veteran car that has no front brakes, belt-driven and used to be a firetruck. The car will be the oldest car at the event and will be sure to attract a lot of attention. Could the 2022 Peking to Paris rally be the most exciting year yet? We will have to see!

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