2006 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Paris to Beijing 4 - Almaty to Lanzhou

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W XYZ

 

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(from DaimlerChrysler Press Release) Paris–Beijing Tour 2006 / Day 19:  After 14 hours, there at last

• E-Class Experience crosses the border to China
• Longest day to date, from Almaty to Yining
• Weather: sunny, maximum temperature 20.5 degrees Celsius

Yining – The E-Class fleet, consisting of 33 E 320 CDIs and three 320 BLUETEC saloons, crossed the border to China in Korgas today and thus began the final leg of the diesel marathon from Paris to Beijing. At this, the largest border crossing for road traffic in western China, all the vehicles were given new registration plates and the drivers were issued with Chinese driving licences.

In glorious sunshine and spring-like temperatures the fourth-phase drivers left Almaty in the early hours of morning, heading for the Chinese border. Although the stage covered only about 500 kilometres, the day was to prove the longest of the tour to date, because of waiting times and long stretches when the vehicles were required to remain in convoy. Not until midnight, some 16 hours after departure, did the teams reach the Twin Star Hotel in Yining.

For two of the contestants the day was even longer: Joe Kyncha, editor-in-chief automotive of carguide magazine, and Michel Crepault of the Group Auto Journal, had already spent 22 hours travelling from Canada before they left Almaty. Crepault, who arrived from Montreal, said in the morning, "I hope that all this effort will pay off." he was not to be disappointed. Following the surprises of Almaty, with its population of more than one million Kazakhs, Eurasian flair, and a large contingent of current and practically every bygone E and S-Class model, the travellers encountered just about every form of life on the broad overland route just a few miles outside the city, including pedestrians, cattle, sheep, horses, dogs, cats and chickens. A donkey and trap and even carts drawn by as many as three donkeys are still part of the everyday road scene in central Asia. The endless pastures are not fenced, so that road users often come across unrestrained cattle. The drivers responded accordingly, watching very carefully for any four-legged traffic.

The poorer the region, the friendlier the people. The E-Class cars, which must have seemed like objects from a different planet, regularly received an enthusiastic reception from waving crowds. The broad link between Kazakhstan and China, along the Ile valley, follows the historic tracks of the Silk Road but nowadays, with its countless fuel stations, roadside villages and peddlers selling everything from vegetables to engine oil, resembles the legendary Route 66 in the USA. Joe Kyncha remarked, with some pleasure, "Man, I can't believe that we're cruising along in a diesel, listening to Johnny Cash, and can see nothing to the left or right but the Steppes." Low fuel prices also called to mind the good old Route 66 in its heyday. Kazakhstan is an oil producer; a litre of petrol costs about 0.70 euros and a litre of diesel only 0.55 euros.

After 160 kilometres the landscape changed as the tour approached the Zailiyskiy Alatau mountain range. The convoy reached the Charyn Canyon, a gorge as deep as 350 metres in places, on a rough private road. The Charyn is a tributary of the River Ile that has cut its bed in the red sandstone. On the approach, the E-Class cars demonstrated astonishing off-road capabilities. The bumpy journey was well worth enduring, as the Canadian Michel Crepault remarked on seeing Kazakhstan's answer to the Grand Canyon, "It's just like a scaled-down version of the Rockies." This magnificent landscape also provided the backdrop for some stunning photographs, taken by the crews from the ground and from a helicopter. Enraptured by the breathtaking scenery, the drivers spent more time here than was originally planned.

From here the E-Class cars were chaperoned in convoy almost to the border, which normally closes at 6 pm, by a Lada police car delegated by the local authorities. Wen Hongwei of the Chinese Mercedes magazine was looking forward to arriving back home because, as he said, "I can't wait to eat Chinese food again." The young journalist has undertaken to complete the entire tour from Paris to Beijing.
The final frontier en route to Beijing was eventually crossed in three groups after a three-hour wait, which is very short by Korgas standards. The Chinese officials made every effort to accelerate the passage of the Mercedes-Benz fleet, but entering the country involves more than simply stamping passports and visas. The E-Class cars were given new number plates, for example, and each of the drivers was issued with a Chinese driving licence. It is unusual for a car to be given a new identity when it crosses a border, but the crews will encounter many more peculiarities of Chinese traffic regulations in the next few days. In every one of the other eight countries traversed during the tour, the Mercedes-Benz E 320 CDIs were free to drive on public roads with their German number plates. Martin Hintermaier of the GSP support team had brought with him a drilling template and a special bending device so that the new plates could be fitted both quickly and neatly.

The customs officials took a special interest in the three BLUETEC E-Class cars. Because the diesel saloons, which were built in Germany for the US market, disposed of both German and American vehicle identification numbers, the procedure of examining papers, numbers and customs documents in English, accompanied by an authenticated Chinese translation, took a lot of additional time.

As a consequence, the convoy did not embark on the final 80 kilometres to its destination until the sky was already pitch black. The long caravan of contestants and crews' vehicles was preceded by two Chinese police cars. At the request of the Chinese authorities, a convoy was to be formed for the first few miles on Chinese roads, so that the first contestants to cross the border in Korgas had to wait until the last ones had completed their entry formalities as well. Everyone was grateful for the efforts made by the officials to expedite the tour's progress once the border had been crossed. A traffic policeman had been posted at every crossroads to hold up the traffic while the E-Class Experience passed. Many of the contestants were amazed that the Chinese appear never to sleep. Even shortly before midnight, young children were on the streets, shops were open, and building sites were a hive of activity.

A further surprise had awaited the teams a short distance after the border. A large delegation of local dignitaries and media representatives had assembled to greet the teams with a red carpet, inflatable Dragon's Gate and enormous lanterns. The endurance teams felt like film stars again at the end of the stage as they entered Yining, the political and economic centre of the Ili district in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. In the clamour for their autographs, many of the crews soon forgot all about the long hours of waiting at the border.

In view of the late arrival, tomorrow's departure time has been put back an hour. The next stage covers about 700 mkilometres to Urumchi, a city that is farther from an ocean than any other in the world.
PS. The third collision involving a tour car occurred today between Almaty and Korgas when a Kazakh Lada rammed a team of photographers in a G-Class car. As with the two previous accidents – a lorry scuffed E-Class No. 12 between St. Petersburg and Moscow, and E-Class No. 5 was scratched on the side by an oncoming Lada while crossing the Urals – the collision was not serious and nobody was injured.

Long-Distance Drive Paris–Beijing 2006 / Day 20:  High Mountains and Newly Built Motorways

• Start in the “Orchard City“ of Yining
• 18th Day’s Drive over 688 kilometres to Ürümqi
• Weather: Foggy, 9.5 Degrees Celsius

Ürümqi – Overcast by the “Heavenly Mountain“ (Tian Shan) with its majestic, snow-capped peaks, the route led the drivers over sharply curving roads through the Xinjiang Province into the Djungarian Basin. The midway stop at Lake Ebinur offered elevating views before giving way to a long stretch of motorway that attested to the skills of Chinese road builders. The reception held in the early evening at the newly built Mercedes-Benz representation in Ürümqi, which included a welcome show of fireworks, was reminiscent of a state visit.

Somewhat tired by the long drive of the previous day, the brief night’s rest, and the 2-hour time shift, the marathon drivers of the fourth group went into their second day’s drive with a laissez faire attitude. China’s Wild West offers so many new impressions that everyone could discover their own sightseeing attractions on the roadside by using the sunny weather for photo stops and taking repeated short breaks. The fruitful soil of the Uyghur autonomous region of Xinjiang is home to fruit trees and dark grapes used for making wine. China, the land of contrasts: Directly next to the vast fields, workers burned clay bricks with locally extracted brown coal.

At the richly adorned farmer’s markets the mostly non-Asian E-Class Experience drivers gaped like creatures from another planet. “Long-nosed“ Europeans are an extreme rarity in these parts and one market woman remarked flatteringly “you are handsome men.“ Dirk Freihube in Car No. 4, future machine building engineer, was in China not too long ago as a graduate student, from October to March 2006, and managed to translate a few words. The member of Germany’s Automobile Club (Allgemeine Deutsche Automobil Clubs (ADAC), which is the largest in Europe, won his place in the open competition advertised in the club magazine “motorwelt“ and had not really hoped to see the Middle Kingdom again. His co-pilot Alexander Marshall von Bieberstein, free-lance architect who runs his own practice, could hardly get enough of the landscape and the exotic sites. The avid amateur photographer snapped his shots with not one but two cameras: “At home I thought that these long daily drives would be monotonous, but can now see that just the opposite is true. I had not expected this kind of varied landscape. “

The economic upswing in the Middle Kingdom is felt all around through the dynamic building activity, in which many women do heavy work side by side with the men. Everyone who is able bodied is needed: the economy is booming from the rich store of oil, gas and mineral resources. The especially large reserves of crude oil (around 21 billion tons) and natural gas (around 10,300 billion cubic metres), as well as coal, gold and salt undergird the strong growth in this faraway region of China. Moreover, Xinjiang supports electricity production with wind and solar energy: A third of all wind energy produced in China comes from this area. The solar panels are mostly mounted way up on the mountain peaks, where the sun energy can be captured without any losses.

After the romantic drive in the shadow of the Tian-Shan mountain range over the up to 2186 metre high mountain pass, which now and again degenerated into a path of broken stones, the group was rewarded by the breathtaking panoramic view of Lake Ebinur. In the foreground were gentle meadows, in the middle the crystal clear water and on the horizon the snow-capped rocky mountain peaks. However, the new age is leaving an imprint here as well: The traditional yurts already have a set of aluminium poles, and the tent canvass is no longer made of felt but rather of plastic.

The road detours in China proved to be rather rustic: When a road is renovated or large rocks block passage, traffic simply runs over a kind of a dirt track on the ground surrounding the blockage. This calls for robust wheel suspensions.

Once the mountains had been passed, the weather got worse. Luckily, this was the beginning of the long stretch on the new, well constructed motorway, which nevertheless has its Chinese peculiarities and requires careful driving: Frequently, the route leads directly through the towns. Instead of exits there are open crossings, where the centre planks have been removed. And, since the motorway in this region is the only road connection, people often ran on and across the motorway. Even ghost drivers in the guise of bicycle riders or transport mopeds were frequently seen in the passing lane. Crawling trucks, hopelessly overloaded with coal presented yet another challenge.

On the motorway Dirk Freihube got to know and appreciate the advantages of the DISTRONIC in his Mercedes-Benz E 320 CDI: “that is so comfortable. You simply set the speed and the car breaks for slower vehicles and accelerates back to its original speed afterwards. This makes the trip very relaxing.“ Alexander Marshall von Bieberstein even tested the distronic device on the local mopeds. The system recognized their small silhouettes with reliability. And, since the growing fog hampered the visibility, the DISTRONIC feature not only ensured a high level of comfort level but safety as well.

The subsequent reception in Ürümqi was strongly reminiscent of a state visit: The newly inaugurated Mercedes-Benz representation was filled with dignitaries and a procession of curious onlookers, who had gathered together in order to greet the far away travellers. Everyone had to immortalize themselves on a tiled wall with their signatures. And even the hostesses were of star format.

With its population of two million, Ürümqi is the centre of economic development in Xinjiang and one of the most important transport nodes along the Great Silk Road. Today, the city that is the furthest away from any coast in the world is a boom town par excellence in Western China. Thanks to its enormous raw material resources it is posting above average growth of 17 per cent per year, an increase that is unusually high even for Chinese standards.

This applies particularly for motor traffic, which has almost fully replaced the customary bicycle of the past. An especially practical feature: many traffic lights have a luminescent seconds metre visible from afar, which counts down the seconds remaining in the green or red phase. For administrative purposes Ürümqi is to be merged with the neighbouring provincial city of Changji to form the new metropolitan city of U-Chang – a process that is expected to extend over the next ten years. Experts project a total of five to eight million inhabitants for the new city until the year 2020.

Long-Distance Drive Paris–Beijing 2006 / Day 21: Of Desert Ships and Kissing Piglets

• Start in Urumqi, the city that is furthest away from any coast
• 21st Day’s drive over 608 kilometres to Hami
• Weather: first foggy, then sunny, 9 to 18.5 degrees Celsius

Hami – The E-Class Experience drivers started today’s drive well rested and in even better spirits. The typography of the route was marked by strong contrasts and the fascination of the endless Taklamakan desert. Along the legendary Great Silk Road, tradition and the modern conjoin with a kind of energy that is typical only of China.

The friendly camel driver with his four-legged desert ships didn’t’ know what was happening to him but nevertheless reacted like a professional in the unusual situation: On his stony path alongside the motorway, he was suddenly accosted by a storm of camera flashes and clicks. Many of the marathon drivers used the opportunity to capture the exotic scenery and spontaneously stopped on the roadside with their cameras. The light traffic presented no risk, and the local animal owner posed like a model, readily changing positions by the prompt of a hand, so that the photos quickly filled up the camera chip.

Although desert life appears to be medieval at first glance, it is also home to progress. The most powerful windmill park in all of China is only a few kilometres away, between the Province Capital Urumqi and the Tarim-Basin: In Dabancheng, 111 wind power generators provide electrical power with a capacity of up to 600 Kilowatt each and a total output of around 60 Megawatt. Viewed from the motorway the windmill aerial appears to stretch all the way to the horizon. The People s Republic is the second largest energy consumer worldwide. Until the year 2050, electricity consumption is to increase six fold. The country’s capital expenditures in renewable energy sources are correspondingly great, and this is further evidenced by the route itself: The mobile radio towers of China Telecom planted in the desert at periodic intervals draw on an autonomous supply of electricity from their own solar panels.

After the first 140 kilometres on the well constructed motorway, the initially slightly hilly topography was transformed into an increasingly more rugged rock formation with an imbedded lowland. The Taklamakan in the Chinese Tarim Basin is the second largest sand desert on earth after the Rub al-Chali desert in Arabia: an uninhabited region that has a land area of 360,000 square kilometres – or about as large as Germany. Here, there is more than enough room: The approx. 15 metre wide medians, the missing crash barriers and dead straight asphalt lanes reminded the well travelled drivers of the interstate highways in the USA. Vitali Sminov in Car No. 25 was deeply impressed: “This reminds me of a lunar landscape. I have never seen anything like it“; said the Russian, who has already traversed half the globe as an athlete in kayaking races. “I know the sand desert in Turkmenistan, but this is something totally different. There, tulips grow in the spring and transform the wasteland into a sea of colour. But here everything still seems to be so alien to life. “The treasures are hidden under the scant surface, that much is given away by numerous oil pumps on the roadside.
But the desert is alive. Only 40 kilometres further on, the participants were charmed by the Karez Paradise. For 2000 years the snowmelt of the Tian Shan mountain has been collected in underground canals, called karez, in order to prevent quick evaporation. In this way, over 600 cubic metres of water are available for farming. The karez systems, which are up to ten kilometres long, stretch over approximately 5000 kilometres, thus ensuring fruitful farming and the life sustenance of many people. The midway stop also provided the final proof that the souvenir shops and country knickknack have made their way into the remote corners of China. Nevertheless, the “kissing piglets“, a hand-made toy for children, which sell for about 1 Euro, were truly irresistible.

China’s deepest point is located in eastern Tian Shan some 150 metres under sea level: the Turfan depression, which is also home to the oasis city bearing the same name. Turfan (today 250,000 residents) is not only China’s driest and hottest city with summer temperatures of up to 55 degrees Celsius, but also its most important vine growing area for over 2000 years. Wide streets testify to the growing wealth of the city, but the donkey carts are still slow to be replaced by the moped-driven rischkas.

For the hurried visitors, however, the ruin city of Jiaoke with its old wall ruins and the thousand Buddha caves of Bezeklik were significantly more attractive, not least because of the added attraction provided by the winding drive through the great sand dunes, which seemed to reach directly to the sky. For a long time the extended cave system was famous for its beautiful Budha statues and well preserved wall paintings from the T’ang Dynasty (618–907). While much has been destroyed or removed from research expeditions, the site is still an interesting place to visit. It was also here that some of the drivers braved a change in transport and for the first time in their life took a ride on a camel.

Vitali Sminov and his co-driver and countryman Kirill Kozyrev, test driver at the Russian edition of the international magazine “auto motor und sport“, are enthusiastic about the driving qualities of the Mercedes-Benz E 320 CDI, but do not currently see any marketing opportunities in their home country Russia and are still sceptical for one significant reason: the poor quality of diesel fuel. However, efforts are underway to introduced low-sulphur diesel in Russia as well.

After another drive of some 230 kilometres, the cars arrived in the oasis city of Hami, which is famous for its sweet melons. Here, too, the police was waiting to greet the Paris-Beijing group. This time, not to offer free passage through the city, but with the friendly advice to observe the speed limit of 60 km per hour and keep seatbelts fastened. A given for Europeans, this is still the exception in China.

Long-Distance Drive Paris–Beijing 2006 / Day 22: 
The World’s Longest Motorway Construction Site

• Start in the oasis city of Hami
• 20th day’s drive over 676 kilometres to Jiayuguan
• Weather: windy and sunny, 13.5 degrees Celsius

Jiayuguan – After spending one day in the ubiquitous desert, the participants in the E-Class Experience were continually amazed by the diverse landscapes. A small detour away from the main road served to acquaint the drivers with local country life, which is dominated by the battle for arable land. After that, the long-distance drive team was in for another surprise: a 180-kilometre motorway construction site.

Shortly before arriving in Jiayuguan, Dieter Hubmann, editor at Austria’s second largest newspaper, which curiously bears the name of “Kleine Zeitung“ or “Small Paper“, remarked with astonishment after looking at the odometer of his Mercedes-Benz E 320 CDI Number 31 “Those were 180 kilometres of motorway construction “. His colleague, Helmut Wahl, Department manager Motor at “Oberösterreichische Nachrichten “, estimated that the stretch they had just passed had been the site of ”more than 1000 people working “ under hazardous conditions. While the pillars for the median crash barrier were being mounted, the road remained open for traffic, and vehicles filled with materials or groups of workers were constantly in the passing lane. Utility vehicles also crossed the motorway to the left from the shoulder without any prompting, whilst construction workers did the same in the opposite direction. “Back in Austria a motorway construction site looks like this: The lane is closed for 20 kilometres, the speed limit is set at 60 km/h, and no workers are to be seen anywhere “, sneered Dieter Hubmann about the differences.

The early morning start in Hami had taken some getting used to for the non-Chinese participants: Breakfast consisted of sugar bread, sweet butter, fried eggs covered in oil and chicken soup. The early-morning group exercises of the hotel staff on the car park, accompanied by marching music, fulfilled all preconceptions of the country, but did not appear to be taken very seriously by the uniformed hotel staff.

After that, the group crossed the “Alashan Shamo“ desert. In the largest and most impassable sand area of the Gobi desert the dunes reach a height of up to 400 metres. In the East, the Alashan range extends all the way to the Yellow River. Despite the sunny weather, the strong frosty wind forced the drivers to steer in the opposite direction in order to stay on course. The more than 20 kilometre-long perfectly straight roads headed towards the horizon again and again offered a view of the unlimited vastness of the landscape, which varied between stony surfaces interspersed with sparse sand and lines of gentle mounds.

There were interruptions at the toll stations along the route, which as the water holes of the past have developed into small oases. However, the petrol station, truck stop and truck repair shop are only inviting as a way to pass the time to the hard-boiled or the locals. As no inhabited places are to be found far and wide, the workers sleep at their workplaces and otherwise live mostly on the roadside.

To break the monotony of the drive, the tour organizers had planned a Stop in the Gansu Province. Here, the picture was totally different: In the fruitful and extensively irrigated region, farming and husbandry are two of the most important areas of the economy. Thus, the province in the north-western back land located on the border with Mongolia is one of the five largest steppe and pasture regions of the country. The major crops are cotton, flax, and millet, as well as rice, corn and wheat. The cotton harvest was nearing its end, and in many townships the sorting and cleaning of the plant raw material for t-shirts and twill trousers could be seen. Entire families, including the children, are engaged in this process.

The fight for arable land could not be more contrast-ridden: Whilst to the left of one connecting road are fields, green pastures, and large water basins for rice growing; on the right the desert is already taking over with only sparse vegetation. Rock formations and widely scattered boulders create an inimitable panorama. “Although it was a bit problematic, the detour was worth it“, said Helmut Wahl with satisfaction. He has already been in Dubai and on the Sinai, but “the bizarre landscapes there are nothing compared to this.“ He admired the satellite position tracking: “My wife just sent me an SMS. She is following the tour in the Internet and always knows just where I am. That is both a curious and a sensational thing.“ Another special aspect was also curious: On this 11.11. the vehicles recorded a total of 11,111 travelled kilometres, some even at around 11:11 a.m. The time difference aside, this is the time when Mercedes-Benz’s homeland Germany officially opens the carnival each year.

Upon their arrival in Jiayuguan the tired but happy marathon drivers were awaited by another surprise: The fortress bearing the same name, which was erected in 1372 and has now been extensively reconstructed, welcomed the visitors with a typically Chinese display of fireworks. The 33,500 square metre site is surrounded by a ten metre high and 730 metre long wall and includes numerous inner walls, watchtowers and building. It marks the western border of the Great Chinese Wall, which will also accompany the “E-Class Experience“ drivers in their final route to Beijing during the next few days.

Long Distance Drive Paris–Beijing 2006 / Day 23:  Midday Stop at the Great Wall

• Start in the just 40-year-old city of Jiayuguan
• 21st day’s drive over 758 kilometres to Lanzhou
• Weather: sunny, 8.5 degrees Celsius

Lanzhou – On its final leg the fourth group was in for a day of superlatives: The longest daily route to be covered during the entire long distance drive from Paris to Beijing was today, as was the first contact with the Great Wall. And, at 2965 metres, the E-Class Experience also reached its highest point on the passage road before Lanzhou.

Before starting on the last leg, the tour organizers had provided for a great photo shoot. The participants met for a final group photo with their cars on the landing in front of the fortress of Jiayuguan. Because of the icy wind all the participants, and particularly the photographers, was glad to get the pictures over with quickly.

From Jiayuguan, a city of 190 000 that was founded only 40 years ago and lives from its iron ore, the group drove towards the south east to the foot of the Qilian Shan mountain range. The Qilian Shan is a part of the so-called Southern range, the Nan Shan. This 6 346-metre high mountain range also extends over the Gansu Province and inner Mongolia. Travelling on the new, perfectly constructed and almost deserted motorway, the group covered the first 240 kilometres quickly and without any stress – despite the many people who sat on the median crash barriers, weaving baskets or trying to sell fruit, thus necessitating careful driving through their behaviour, which is absolutely normal for them.

The directional signs written in Chinese hieroglyphs and English text also attest to the determination to open to land to tourists from all over the world. Large yellow signs alert drivers not to fall asleep at the wheel. In view of the very few vehicles on the road, these warnings are quite sensible. Stone greenhouses and carefully cultivated pastures testified to the fruitful soil of the Gansu Plateau. The change from an agrarian society to an industrial nation could be felt all around. The cities are growing around the industrial areas and offer their inhabitants better consumer and living conditions, however also at the price of placing a greater burden on the environment, which can be seen and smelled. The kerchiefs, which many people carry over their mouths and noses, serve as protection not only against the ever present desert winds.

After 300 kilometres, the group left the comfortable motorway, and reached the first highlight of the day over narrow country roads: The first remainders of the Great Wall were reached promptly at midday and were ideal for a stop over. Instead of tourists the drivers were met by a local shepherd who was happy to have his picture taken holding foreign motor sport magazines alongside his herd. The ruins spoke of the horrific greatness of the wall, which was to protect the country from the Mongol enemies.

The only graffiti painted on the walls in the cities and villages along the way come from China Telecom as advertising for its mobile phone network, which enables cell phone operation in even the most distant corners of the Province. Otherwise, Sunday is not generally known as a day of rest. Work went on all around, all shops were open and road construction likewise did not come to a stop. Only the tidy suits, worn by truck drivers and road workers alike, indicated that this was another day. The street outside the simple living quarters was full of life. This is where shoes were shined, vegetables cleaned and even pool billiard played. “The people make a very friendly impression“, commented Jim McCraw from the internet magazine ”Winding Road“ in Detroit. “Although there are many policemen around, they appear more as citizens in uniform than for a show of authoritative power. Most of all, they do not carry any weapons. I have not seen anyone carrying weapons during the entire trip. China seems to be a friendly country.“ His colleague Jamie Florez from “Sobre Ruedas“ magazine in Miami agrees: “The people are satisfied with a lot less than we can imagine. This is why we should also not underestimate China as an economic power.“

The two US drivers were extremely enthusiastic about the driving features of their Mercedes-Benz E 320 BLUETEC. “There is nothing better for covering long stretches“, noted Jim McCraw. “We experience this every day. The car is large enough, fast enough, and very safe. It has comfortable seats, a good air conditioning system, and is simple and easy to operate. In the USA I often drive over 750 miles at a stretch. With an E-Class I am still fresh when I get out of the car.“ Jim has been on the job for over 40 years and knows what he is talking about. His co-driver Jamie Florez pipes in: “I particularly like the diesel with its low consumption and high engine smoothness. It is good for driving stretches of more than 1000 kilometres. For this trip, there is no better car, at the most another SUV perhaps.“

Joachim Lindau, head of E-Class testing, is vindicated by this view: “We wanted to build a car with which a normal driver can travel at his leisure, whether in snow, on poor roads or under other difficult travel conditions. The E-Class is a comfortable saloon with good tuning and assistant systems as serial equipment, which help drivers to relax during long journeys.“ Jamie Florez is convinced of this and has already reserved his car Number 22, which he wants to buy for his personal use at all cost after the end of the long distance drive. “Driven carefully by one owner only in good weather“, he joked informally.

To the great pleasure of the team the drive to the highest point of the tour at 2965 metres was accompanied by radiant sunshine in a landscape that was reminiscent of Andalusia, Spain. Soft mounds of grass and bizarre rock formations seemed to be impressively arranged by a giant hand. The arrival in the million-strong metropolis of Lanzhou could not have been more full of contradictions: Here, too, tall modern buildings, bustling traffic and construction cranes as far as the eye could see are a sign of the region’s rapid growth.