The roar of engines filled the air around Russia’s iconic Red Square today as the epic 15-stage Silk Way Rally waved off a sea of competitors for the arduous adventure ahead. The route between Moscow and the finish line in Beijing measures over 10,000km and will test drivers and their crews to the absolute limit over the coming weeks.
Previous Dakar Rally winners such as Team Peugeot-Total and Team Kamaz Master have passed the pre-race scrutineering checks with flying colours and been given the green light to attack the course. The expectations within the Silk Way’s administrative hub at the Luzhniki Stadium is that the challenges with now come thick and fast as the race heads from Russia to China via Kazakhstan.
The three star-studded Team Peugeot-Total crews of Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret, Cyril Despres/David Castera and Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena are buoyed by recent Dakar success. Stéphane claimed his 12th Dakar win earlier in the year while a top 10 result for Cyril so soon after switching from bikes to cars bodes well for his own progression in the sport. Meanwhile, nine-time World Rally Championship winner Sébastien won four stages during his Dakar debut in January the most of any driver in the race. All three Frenchmen have a realistic shot at a podium finish during this edition of the Silk Way despite being pitted against a number of FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup regulars.
The podium is also the prize in the sights of Team Kamaz Master with the Russian outfit entering six of their mighty trucks in the contest. Look out for former Dakar champions Ayrat Mardeev, Andrey Karginov and Eduard Nikolaev soaking up the applause of their home crowd before vying for an early lead in the race.
Today marks the ceremonial start of the Silk Way with 100 car and 30 truck crews introduced to race fans in front of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in the heart of Moscow. Tomorrow brings with it the start of timed racing during the 853km route to Kazan as the real business of rallying begins in earnest. With the route littered with potential pitfalls, such as the towering dunes of the Gobi Desert, expect drama every step of the way at this monumental event.
Stéphane Peterhansel: “The atmosphere in Moscow has been really special since we arrived and I’m sure we’ll all be putting on a great show for the fans before we start the race. I enjoy racing in different places around the world because it allows you to connect with many different cultures. This is one of the best things about international cross-country events.
“We’ve all been waiting a long time to have a second long distance event apart from the Dakar to concentrate on so it’s a good thing for us as well as the teams we compete against. Also, this is going to be a real desert race and that’s something that makes me excited to get started. Looking at the course it reminds me of how the Dakar was 20 years ago, lots of dunes and lots of fun.