MOSCOW: Organizers of the Silk Way off-road race are ringing the changes for the ninth edition of the spectacular rally from Russia to China that starts Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
“We have updated 76 percent of the route,” said Vladimir Chagin, the Silk Way director and seven-times winner of the annual Dakar Rally.
The Silk Way Rally will start on Moscow’s Red Square and end in the imperial Chinese city of Xi’an on July 22,
some 9,599 kilometers (5965 miles) away.
The route is divided up into 14 legs within Russia, ex-Soviet Kazakhstan and China, more than half of which are special competitive stages.
After driving southeast through Russia’s grassy steppes, the drivers will enter Kazakhstan, tackling “more sandy landscapes, great plains but also some mountains,” Luc Alphand, the rally’s race advisor and a former winner at Dakar.
“That will make the navigation varied.”
The longest special competitive leg of the route is through Kazakhstan, covering more than 460 kilometers (285 miles).
The route “will become more and more desert-bound until we cross into China,” Alphand said.
As in the previous year, the most thrilling part of the route will be through the Gobi Desert in China, Alphand said.
“It’s absolutely magical with the fantastic dunes,” he said, predicting that, “the first to get into difficulties will be those who aren’t used to sand.”
“It has a good concentration of everything you would expect in a rally: canyons and navigation, great desert plateaux and areas of dunes,” said Alphand.
The 2016 Silk Way winner Cyril Despres predicted in turn that “the experience will be useful,” saying that “there is a very good mix of tracks, with desert and superb dunes in China.”
“This race is growing and it has proved that it will be one of the biggest rallies in years to come, because the organizers are passionate about it,” said Despres.
This time round, the star Peugeot drivers, who have won the Dakar the last two years, are once again favorites.
A total of 41 cars and 21 trucks will start on the first leg of the race from Red Square on Saturday.