The Russian capital is braced for the roar of revving engines as 100 cars and 30 truck crews descend on Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium for the 7 July start of the Silk Way Rally. What lies ahead of the fearless motorists is 17 days of epic racing through some of the most treacherous yet thrilling terrain on the planet.
The race is set to cover a total of 10,780 kilometres as it runs from Russia to China via Kazakhstan and has attracted a world class field of cross-country competitors, including a bevy of Dakar Rally champions. The Silk Way represents a home fixture for the mighty Russian trucks of Team Kamaz Master and they have certainly thrown plenty of muscle behind their bid to take top honours. Among the six Kamaz Master crews entered into the race are three trucks driven by previous winners of the Dakar. Ayrat Mardeev, Andrey Karginov and Eduard Nikolaev now all have the invaluable experience of winning a two-week event such as this. Also, in Kamaz team leader Vladimir Chagin – himself a record holding seven-time single category champion – the guys have expert guidance when it comes to parking their truck on the top step of the podium. While there’s no let up in the race for success within the Kamaz camp, there is one change planned for the Silk Way. Watch out for Eduard’s new look all-black truck being used in international competition for the very first time.
Over in the car category there’s also a team looking to build on recent Dakar success as Team Peugeot-Total get back to racing after a glorious start to the year. Stéphane Peterhansel’s Dakar win this January behind the wheel of the awesome Peugeot 2008 DKR was the culmination of a two-year period of dedicated work behind the scenes from the French manufacturer. Now 12-time Dakar winner Stéphane and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret are reunited with their victorious machine and are hungry for further success.
Team Peugeot-Total will also be represented at the Silk Way by another all-French crew in the shape of Cyril Despres and co-driver David Castera. These two maybe relative newcomers to racing on four-wheels – even though Cyril is a five-time Dakar bike race winner – but they have demonstrated the kind of speed and consistency of performance that underlines an accelerated rate of progression in their new discipline. The Far East has already proven to be a happy hunting ground for Stéphane and Cyril with first and second place finishes respectively at last year’s China Silk Road Rally.
Nine-time World Rally Championship winner Sébastien Loeb of France and his Monegasque co-driver Daniel Elena require little introduction to race fans. However, few could have predicted their immediate impact during their Dakar debut earlier this year. They won a total of four stages during the race – the most collected by any crew in the car race – to leave no doubt that they had the sheer pace required to compete in the cross-country arena. The Silk Way represents the next big learning opportunity for the third Team Peugeot-Total crew traveling to Russia.
Expect both Team Kamaz Master and Team Peugeot-Total to take centre stage at the ceremonial departure of the race from Moscow’s Red Square on July 8 as hundreds of thousands of motorsport enthusiasts come out to wave off their heroes. Race fans will also be in for a treat the following day when the Silk Way convoy arrives in Kazan for a prologue stage to determine the starting order for the 662-kilometre route to Ufa on July 10. Next up on the jam-packed schedule of high-speed action are three stages in the laborious landscapes of Kazakhstan before a well earned rest day in Almaty.
From Kazakhstan the race moves into China which will host the final nine stages of the Silk Way. The Gobi Desert will be the precarious playground where this race is expected to be won and lost. Dunes are such an integral part of cross-country rallying and our competitors will find no shortage of these during the final week of the contest. Drivers, co-drivers and mechanic crews will need to stave off exhaustion to successfully guide their vehicles through what promises to be a series of ultra tough tests for both man and machine.
Those skilled enough to battle through the elements during all 17 days of racing will be relieved to see the finish line in Beijing on July 24 is no mirage.