Good Oil: Silk Way’s the long, hard way
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Here at Good Oil, we’re amazed we haven’t been paying much attention to the Silk Way Rally.
This year’s running of the epic marathon race through Russia, Kazakhstan and China has just concluded and, based on the desert-y action we’ve seen, we can’t wait for the 2018 event.
So, what exactly is the Silk Way Rally? You’ve possibly seen dusty black and white images of unlikely 1960s-era cars — Austin Minis, Hillman Hunters, Citroen DSs — festooned with spotlights and tyre-toting roof-racks, blazing their way across the barren tundra and rocky mountain passes on the infamous London-Sydney Rally.
Well, the start and finish points have changed but the ethos stays the same; go a really, really, really long way in a car and see who can get there first with the fewest breakdowns. Except window demister technology has become a lot better.
Competitors — and there were 385 at the start this year — trek from Moscow’s Red Square, all the way to Xi’an in China; the cradle of Chinese civilisation and the beginning of the ancient Silk Road trade route.
The Silk Way Rally takes two weeks of vehicle-knackering travel to get from one side to the other; a total of 9599km, including 4094km of timed special stages.
All manner of Wacky Racers dune buggy-rally car hybrid contraptions make the trip (there is a special trucks division too, just like the Dakar Rally).
This year’s event was won by a mad Frenchman called Cyril Despres, who crossed the finish line in a Peugeot 3008 DKR.
Another mainstream manufacturer represented at a factory level was Mini, with Countrymans (men?) riding on towering off-road suspension and mud tyres. The two John Cooper Works cars came in ninth and 10th this year.
What is interesting, however, was the number of Chinese manufacturers represented.
Something called a Geely SMG Buggy and a BIAC Motor BJ40L (essentially a rip-off Jeep Wrangler) featured highly in the placings, while Jerome Pelichet had to make do in a boring old Hilux for an eighth-place finish.
With the World Rally Championship struggling to find an audience outside pockets of fandom these days, maybe an event like the Silk Way Rally could be an event to get behind? We’d tune in.
LEAF alone in the desert
A LEAF crosses the Mongolian desert. Photo / Supplied
But wait! There’s more! Tortuous world rally action, that is.
Almost as soon as the Silk Way Rally ends, another entirely different internal combustion torture test begins in another part of the world.
But actually, it doesn’t. Not for Chris Ramsey, anyway. Because he’s competing in this (completely different) 16,000km slog in an EV — an electric Nissan LEAF.
This, it should be stressed, is no mean feat. The Mongol Rally has been going for 13 years and Ramsey’s plug-in is the first of its kind to make the event.
While we quibble over the lack of fast-charge infrastructure in New Zealand, imagine the hassle of trying to plug in your EV in the middle of the Kazak Steppe.
Talk about a mobility issue. Oh, and there is no back-up support truck either; the LEAF and its driver are all on their own.
We’re not at all cynical however, and we’ll be keeping tabs on this intrepid EV pioneer as he crawls his way towards the finish in the Siberian backwater of Ulan-Ude.
Off road on steroids
SandRacer 500GT. Photo / Supplied
But look, forget those Chinese brands for that mammoth off-road adventure, when you could have this beast.
It has been a couple of years in the delivery, but finally we’re seeing a real made-of-metal Zarooq Motors SandRacer 500GT; an off-road monster car that was revealed back at the 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand prix.
Resplendent in orange, its squat, sloped-back stance reminds the Good Oil office of the super-rare Monteverdi Hai 450 (Google it). That, but on massive off-road tyres.
The UAE-based manufacturer says the mid-engined, carbon-fibre bodied SandRacer 500GT will produce a walloping 386kW peak power and 660Nm of torque.
And with weight registered at a slim 1200kg, the orange machine is destined to fly over dunes at the merest provocation.
Although it does have a roll cage and racing harness seat belt, it isn’t a completely stripped-out racer; it’s made for Dubai playboys, after all.
The hand-stitched interior leather is made by Mansory and it even comes with a cupholder, which seems a bit pointless to us, like a singer-seater race car with climate control air conditioning.
Never mind. For about $660,000, it’s one expensive way to traverse the nearest beach, so buckle up and hold on. We presume.