THE Paris-Peking rally finished in the Chinese capital yesterday morning in a web of red tape and with little of the adventurous spirit of the month-long competition.
Twenty-seven days after leaving Paris on a crossing of Europe and Asia, only 57 of the original 150 entrants in the longest motoring event in recent years reached the finish line outside a city centre hotel. The plan to end in Tiannamen Square was cancelled as the organisers were keen not to be seen condoning the events of 1989.
Instead, the last few yards of a 10,000 mile journey were made around the characterless driveway of the China world hotel complex, it was an ignominious end for most of the competitors.
Tensions between the French organisers and their Chinese partners ran high after the finishing ramp was sealed off by dozens of uniformed, and secret, police. Instead of a rapturous welcome for the winner, the Citroen driver, Pierre Lartigue, of France, the ceremony was drowned out by taped music.
Following Lartigue on to the rostrum was Erwin Weber, of Germany, the first of three Mitsubishi drivers in second, third and fourth places. Fifth was Hubert Auriol, winner of the Paris-Cape Town rally. The winner of the motorcycle class was France's Stephane Peterhansel while Italy's Francesco Perlini was first in the truck category.
One of the French organisers was furious at the hijacking of the finishing ceremony by the Chinese authorities. 'For three days we have negotiated with the Chinese to issue passes. Now they don't allow anyone in,' he said.
The shambolic end to the rally has tainted the event for many competitors. 'There was just no atmosphere at the end today,' one said. 'There were people along the route into town from Badaling this morning, but none of the public were allowed to the finish, the whole feeling was really flat.'