Band Of French Cars Cruise Into Beijing From Paris
BEIJING (AP) _ With the flap of the French tricolor and the pop of champagne corks, 27 French automobiles cruised around Tiananmen Square today to celebrate the completion of the first Paris-to-Beijing car rally.
The rally began July 12 in Paris and covered more than 11,000 miles through 12 countries.
The participants, 58 men and 10 women, from France, Belgium and Germany, crossed ″deserts, some rainy places, rivers, plateaus and many, many mountains to reach our goal,″ said Alain Lafeuillade, the trip’s organizer.
They also bumped into combat troops in Iraq and braved the roads of Pakistan, where ″the drivers are like a crazy Frenchman who’s late for dinner,″ said Christophe de Scheemaecker, a 23-year-old from Antwerp, Belgium.
The trip marks the first time that a car rally of this size has bridged Europe and Asia, Lafeuillade said. The last time such a feat was attempted was the 1931 Yellow Crusade of Citroen, which was abandoned after many of the cars broke down in mountainous Pakistan. The drivers rode out on camels.
This time, driving the Renault 5 or the Peugoet 205, the roadsters averaged 10 hours a day behind the wheel for a total of about 600 hours each.
″A lot of the time we spent driving by ourselves, stopping in places that interested us and then catching up with the rest of the pack,″ de Scheemaecker said.
Once in Yugoslavia, after 17 hours straight behind the wheel, de Scheemaecker lost control of the vehicle and it smashed into a mountainside.
″We thought we had to leave the race, but a mechanic flew in from Belgium and we were back on the road after a day,″ he said.
In all, four of the original 31 cars didn’t make it to Beijing, two dying in the mountains of Pakistan and two more falling victim to the Chinese deserts - the Gobi and the Taklamakan.
Karine Hervieu, a 21-year-old travel agent from Brittany, France, remembers an encounter with Iraqi troops 62 miles from the warfront with Iran.
″We gave them a message of peace,″ she said. ″For us, it was a very important moment.″
Babette Shily, 28, from Paris, remembers leaving Pakistan and finding out that two days later President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq had been killed.
″We always seemed just a day or two ahead of disaster,″ she said. ″It was the same in India, too.″
Days after some of the cars left northern India, an earthquake hit both India and Nepal, killing hundreds.
″We saw everything on this trip. Floods, droughts, soldiers,″ Shily said.
Hervieu said most of the trip the drivers were allowed to go wherever they wanted, except in Syria, Iraq and China.
″We could understand Iraq because they have a war and Syria wasn’t a problem because it was so brief,″ she said, ″but the Chinese have gone too far with their control.″
Hervieu and others said the Chinese forced them to drive in a single line once they crossed into China from Kunjirap, Pakistan.
″It’s like one big parade, they won’t let us break away,″ she said.
The participants, aged 18 to 30, were all responsible for raising their own money for the trip, organizers said.
″They worked in banks, restaurants, whatever,″ Lafeuillade said. ″Then they’d get a garage to sponsor them and - poof - they’d be on the road.″