Road rallies are a grand motoring tradition dating back as far as the first automobiles. Point-to-point road trips with drivers and co-drivers crisscrossed Europe in the first half of the last century.
The appeal endures.
Grosse Pointe natives Ross Lewicki, 26, and Todd Callahan, 25, felt the call of four-wheeled adventure, and on July 24, they’ll take on the Mongol Rally, a 10,000-mile journey throughout Europe, to the Arctic Circle, and as far south as Afghanistan.
Before embarking on the five-week rally, Lewicki discussed what persuaded the high-school friends to take extended vacations from their respective jobs: Lewicki from the family business, Ryan’s Auto Parts, and Callahan from Donghia Inc., in Connecticut.
Why do it?
The main thing is the adventure. On the [rally] Web site, the first thing that they say is, ‘The world has become too boring.’ I’ve traveled a lot all over the world, and it really has become too easy. Not knowing what I was getting myself into is what really drove me to do this.
Will the teams travel as a group? Does everyone take the same route?
There’s no set route. The teams leave from three different cities: London, Barcelona, and Milan. Everyone meets up in the Czech Republic, [where the organization] rented a big castle to throw a private party for everyone. The [approximately] 1,000 teams that start will probably be on the same road [at first], and then everyone splits up and goes out on their own. Very few people travel entirely by themselves. From what I’ve read, you get into a group of three to five cars. You’re not necessarily driving right behind or in front of them; you’re within 10 to 20 miles.
What if the car breaks down? Are you and Todd mechanical?
We have really minor knowledge. I have more than Todd, since I work in the auto-parts business. Basically, we’ll have to figure it out or hope other teams around us have some knowledge. Our last resort is to find locals who can get us to a garage.
Your Web site says you’ll keep a blog. I assume you won’t find Wi-Fi in many of your locations. What’s your plan?
A team from Detroit did this last year. [They] said that, for the most part, your cell phone works the entire way.
This race is a fundraiser. What’s your charity?
The Mercy Corps. [The Oregon-based non-profit helps families in Mongolia.]
Tell me about your “race car.” How will you get it to Europe?
[The car has to have an engine size of up to 1.2 liters and be a model from 2001 or younger. If the vehicle is bigger, it must fit into a different category for donation.] The Astro van we picked had the qualification for the [Emergency and Public Services machines category. After the race, the team will donate to the car to Mongolia]. I’ll drive it to New York and put it on a cargo ship to London.
What are the living conditions?
In Europe, we’ll be staying in hotels. Once we get out past Turkey, we’re going to put a bed in our car, and we have tents. We’ll have two big tanks of extra gas, two big tanks of fresh water, and camping food — canned things.
What’s the first-place prize, and what’s your strategy?
There isn’t an official prize. They do give a small trophy to the team that finishes first, but it’s all for comic value. Everyone’s main goal is just to finish.
For information or to donate: griswoldsmongolrally.com.