The longest timed challenge for historic rally cars sets out on the third re-enactment of the first-ever rally on 10 September, when 106 vintage and classic rallycars drive out of China's capital, to be flagged off from the Great Wall.

Ahead lie some of the wildest roads on earth, and several days of no roads at all, in the wheel-tracks of Prince Borghese's epic drive of 1907. Mongolia will see over 200 competitors pitching their own tents for ten nights, Dakar-style, over 10,000 miles. Just getting to Mongolia involves a crossing of the Gobi Desert.

Oldest car is the 1907 six-litre Itala, of David and Karen Ayre, similar to the Borghese winner, who are among a dozen in the pre-1925 Pioneer Category, joining 80 entries in the Vintageant section, including ten Bentleys and five Chevrolet Fangio Coupes, and 20 Classics, including such rarities as the Turkish team with their locally made Anadol.

The route will spend 10 days crossing Mongolia, followed by two days in Siberia, before heading south through Kazakstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan for a crossing of northern Iran to Turkey. Once into Greece, the route pounds familiar rally roads from the Acropolis Rally of the 1960s, for a ferry to Italy, arriving in Paris on 16 October - survivors will celebrate with a parade through the streets of Paris to line up in Place Vendome, and a celebration prizegiving dinner.

The event is organised by the Endurance Rally Association. "This has been one of the hardest routes to make happen," said route-manager Kim Bannister this week. "It's been three years of negotiating to gain so much co-operation."

There are a number of Time Trial sections along the way and a team of 30 travelling marshals, timekeepers, results crews, doctors and mobile workshops will endeavour to keep the event together. Four trucks in Mongolia will keep crews fed and watered, while another team of trucks will leap-frog each other with fuel.

"I think this is possibly the hardest organisational challenge we have faced," said Rally Director Philip Young, who is generally credited with having kick-started the historic rally movement with the first international rally in 1988, the Pirelli Classic Marathon.

A number of drivers have their eye on outright victory, including American Garry Staples, a veteran of Baja events in Mexico, who has built an off-road VW Beetle, while former Australian rally champion Gerry Crown in a 1964 Holden can be expected to go well. Alistair Caldwell, former team-manager of the McLaren Grand Prix team (prior to Ron Dennis), is behind the wheel of a fragile 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C, which he says "will be lucky to get out of Mongolia." A total of 26 different nationalities are taking part, thought to be a record for any historic rally.

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