The epic challenge of the 2017 Silk Way Rally is now in sharp focus following the announcement of the official route. With nearly 10,000km split over 14 gruelling stages on a course stretching through Russia, Kazakhstan and China only the best in the business need apply for this one.
At yesterday’s Silk Way Rally route reveal press conference in Moscow we learnt that we’re in for intense racing from start to finish. Once the competitors are waved off from Red Square on July 7 they will face three stages in Russia and then four more days of racing in Kazakhstan. Then comes a total of eight stages in China with no less than seven of these crossing the dunes of the Gobi Desert. Adding to the drama will be three days of racing that will contain double the fun with two special stages. So who is brave enough to test their talents at the upcoming Trans-Eurasian trip of a lifetime and taste glory in Xi’an on July 22?
Team Peugeot Total’s D-ream Team were quick to commit themselves to defending the title they won last year in Beijing. Once again Monsieur Dakar Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) and Monsieur Rally Sébastien Loeb (FRA) will race alongside reigning Silk Way champion Cyril Despres (FRA) for Peugeot.
Peterhansel has continued to create rally-raid history since joining up with Team Peugeot Total. His Dakar victory in 2016 at the wheel of the PEUGEOT 2008 DKR was his sixth four-wheeled win and he grabbed his seventh car category win at the start of this year at the controls of the PEUGEOT 3008 DKR. It’s now 13 Dakar triumphs in total for Peterhansel as he adds to the six bike titles he collected earlier in his career. Peterhansel will compete with long-time co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret (FRA) at the Silk Way Rally.
Following Peterhansel home in the runners-up spot at the 2017 Dakar was rally-raid newcomer Loeb. Since retiring from WRC with a legacy of nine consecutive titles Loeb has been trying his hand at a number of new driving disciplines. The Frenchman was also runner-up at last year’s Silk Way and alongside co-driver Daniel Elena (MON) the target is to now park on the top step of the podium.
Completing Peugeot’s all-French driver line-up is Despres. Like team-mate Peterhansel a string of successes in the Dakar bike category has been followed by a switch to four wheels for Despres. A dominant victory at the Silk Way last year has been backed up with a podium finish at the Dakar. It’s clear that there’s plenty more victories out there for Despres and co-driver David Castera (FRA) to chase.
With more than half of the upcoming Silk Way taking place in China the dunes of the Gobi Desert are set to be the dividing line between success and failure at this year’s rally. That will be music to the ears of sand racing specialist Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) and his co-driver Mathieu Baumel (FRA). Al-Attiyah will be out to glide over the massive Gobi dunes in his Toyota Hilux and add to his impressive haul of international titles.
Also looking to conquer the Silk Way in a Toyota Hilux will be former Dakar winner Giniel De Villiers (ZAF). Rally-raid’s Mister Consistent has all the tools he needs to give his fans back in Africa something to cheer. With co-driver Dirk Von Zitzewitz (GER) reading the roadbook there’s no lack of experience and pedigree in this crew.
What Bryce Menzies (USA) lacks in rally-raid experience he more than makes up for in enthusiasm, bravery and raw talent. Already a sensation in his native United States thanks to Baja success and TORC series victories the time has come for Menzies to try his hand at a two-week rally-raid adventure. The truck jump world record holder will race the Silk Way in a MINI alongside co-driver Pete Mortensen (USA).
Over in the truck category there’s a strong line-up from Team Kamaz Master of Russia as they look to make it four wins on the spin at this event. Vladimir Chagin (RUS), Team Kamaz Master captain, will be sending his troops into battle against the best offroad truck crews on the planet. Kamaz’s Ayrat Mardeev (RUS) returns as defending champion but will his team-mate and reigning Dakar champion Eduard Nikolaev (RUS) be the one celebrating in front of the Terracotta Army when the chequered flag falls in Xi’an?