No break for China's veteran rally king Lu
Lu Ningjun, dubbed China's rally king for his six appearances at the prestigious Dakar Rally, is the country's most experienced rally driver.

However, the 52-year-old, who became China's first rally competitor 25 years ago when he took part in the 1985 Hong Kong-Beijing Rally, prefers to be defined as persistent more than experienced.

"Most of the competitors in that Hong Kong-Beijing Rally have retired, even a lot of the racers of the generation after ours are now enjoying their leisure days but I am still challenging myself," Lu, of the Rely x5 team, told China Daily during the Tour de Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

"I don't know if my driving skill is the best and I don't like talking about how confident I am in each race. At 52, I still want to surpass myself again and again. That's a simple statement but the hardest thing to do."

Born into a military family, Lu joined the airborne troops at 18 and then became a drillmaster of driving in the army.

In 1985, Lu, along with other three Chinese candidates for the Hong Kong-Beijing Rally, was sent to the UK to hone his driving skills. Lu excelled and won the right to compete in the event and became the first Chinese to do so.

"No matter how long ago it was, I still feel the excitement and the pride," Lu said. "As a soldier in a peaceful era you could not gain the sense of achievement on the battlefield and suddenly, when you were competing in the rally as the only Chinese, it was like fighting for the country and millions of your people were cheering for you.

"It was also a time when Chinese people knew almost nothing about the sport but I knew it was going to be my career I wanted to compete professionally."

Lu retired from the army three years later and went to Japan and the UK to enhance his skills. He then won the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship three times and claimed nine national titles. However, it was not until 2004 that the then 46-year-old realized his dream - to compete at the Dakar Rally.

The event's obstacles were beyond his comprehension. In Mauritania, Lu's car couldn't climb over a sand dune so he and his co-driver had to create a platform for the vehicle to gain traction and accelerate. However, the effort put them on the verge of collapse.

"I was really about to give up in the desert and felt my first Dakar Rally was coming to an end," Lu said. "But a motorist suddenly showed up and dashed to the sand dune. He fainted and then recovered enough to ask us for water. I thought there's no way he could continue but he did. He tried several times and finally he made it.

"He showed me the spirit of Dakar in the true sense of the word. He showed me miracles can happen as long as you keep fighting no matter how difficult the journey seems."

He did not only continue to compete in that year's event but also all the other Dakar Rallys since then and achieved a personal best 28th place in this year's event.

Asked how many more years he plans to take part in the Dakar Rally, Lu told a story of a 65-year-old Frenchman who started competing in the event in its inaugural year of 1978 and hasn't considered retirement yet.

"He was first asked that question (of retirement) 15 years ago, however, next year we will still see him competing. I don't answer it either," he said.

"I know I will stop racing some day, I have to. But only through tough marathon rallys do you get the chance to explore yourself, to know your own limits and to break those limits. I don't want to stop because I want to discover myself a little bit more."

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