Sahara just desert for banger

FORGET run-of-the-mill destruction derbies and banger racing. The Plymouth-Dakar rally is the ultimate challenge for the car which has seen better days.

FORGET run-of-the-mill destruction derbies and banger racing. The Plymouth-Dakar rally is the ultimate challenge for the car which has seen better days.

None of the vehicles entering the 3,000-mile trek must have cost more than £100 – and for two Felixstowe men that's the princely sum they spent on their transport, plus the event's £7.50 entry fee.

Chris Pearce and Michael Unwin, both 21 and from Felixstowe, have made it across the Sahara desert in their beaten-up white Lada saloon and are back on tarmac again for the final stretch of the journey.

The gruelling Plymouth to Dakar Challenge 2003 is similar to the famous Paris-Dakar rally, but minus the money and the glamour.

There were no hi-tech four-wheel drives as a motley collection of about 40 cars – including Ladas, Fiat 127s, Hillman Hunters and old Volvos – set off from the South Coast on Boxing Day.

Chris and Michael, of Team Lock Stock, who both work for shipping companies in Suffolk, expect to reach Dakar today or tomorrow .

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Their Lada Riva 1.5E saloon has so far proved a good choice and they were delighted when they discovered their P-plated "rally monster" at Stocks quality used cars in Bury St Edmunds.

Advertised at £250, the boys persuaded the dealer to knock £150 off the car by offering to advertise the garage on the bonnet.

Then followed the search for spare parts, in case of breakdowns en route, and a crash course in car maintenance and map reading.

In an e-mail to his parents in Felixstowe last week, Michael wrote: "We have made it across the Sahara. It's been horrendous in parts, but enjoyed every minute of it.

"At present I am in a five-star hotel with air conditioning, which is well-needed after four days in the desert. All tarmac until Banjul now."

Michael's parents Penny and Gerald Unwin said they would have switched places with their son like a shot if they could.

Mr Unwin added: "I wish I'd gone and so do lots of my friends. I had my reservations when they started out, but I'm quite confident they'll make it all the way now.

"The only time we were really concerned was when we didn't hear from them for four days last week when they were going through Mauritania.

"Michael was very cool and calm about going. We couldn't have stopped him if we'd wanted to. He's 21 now, he can do what he likes."

Chris' parents Linda and her ex-husband Peter have also been in e-mail contact with their son.

Mrs Pearce said: "The car has held up amazingly well, we just have to hope it makes the last bit. I was a bit apprehensive at first, but they are sensible and they are in a convoy.

"Chris phoned us on New Year's Day from Marrakesh. He was on a huge high, really enjoying it. I'm sure they will have a lot of stories to tell when they get back – probably some I don't want to hear."

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