Saturday, March 2, 2024

Silk Way Rally targeting Mongolia, China for 2024 route

The Silk Way Rally is looking to cross borders once again in 2024 by including Mongolia and China on its route. While the specific route will not be revealed until later in November, interest in expanding beyond Russia has persisted as COVID-19 restrictions lax. Race officials completed route evaluation on Sunday.

While the rally is organised and mainly held in Russia, it has made excursions outside the country since the inaugural edition in 2009 when it concluded in Turkmenistan. It ran a Russia-only route for the next six years before adding Kazakhstan and China in 2016, ending in the Chinese capital of Beijing. Mongolia débuted as a host country in 2019, welcoming the rally for five stages before it travelled to and finished in China. The pandemic forced the 2020 race to be cancelled while its return in 2021 exclusively took place in Russia.

The race’s global standing was further diminished in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, relegating it from featuring a global roster of drivers to mostly Russian and Belarusian competitors. A joint investigation between Bellingcat, The Insider, Der Spiegel, and Le Monde in April also uncovered attempts by race organisers to link the rally to Russian geopolitical goals, most notably a massive 2022 route that included stages in China, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Syria, and Turkey; every country has some degree of friendliness with Russia, whereas Turkey walks a tightrope between Russian trade and its NATO membership. Such an ambitious plan was quietly dropped and the SWR remained in Russia for 2022.

Nonetheless, Chinese interest in the SWR has remained strong; while China has officially maintained a neutral stance on the invasion, relations between the two powers have increasingly warmed in recent months. The Chinese Automobile and Motorcycle Federation follows the FIA policy of barring Russian drivers unless they condemn the war, which prevented 2023 Silk Way Rally T3 winner Sergei Kariakin from entering the Taklimakan Rally in the spring, though this has not deterred Russo-Chinese interactions in the rally world.

KAMAZ-master, a Russian powerhouse who has won the Dakar Rally’s truck category a record nineteen times, has fielded a Silk Way entry for Chinese driver Hou Hongning since 2022. The truck is entered with support from the CAMF under the One Belt One Road name, a nod to China’s Belt and Road Initiative economic policy to cultivate foreign trade and development along the historic Silk Road.

“I constantly recommend all Chinese drivers to come to the Silk Way Rally,” Hou said during the 2023 edition. He finished fifth in the truck category. “When the event again passes through two countries, from Moscow to Beijing, a lot of Chinese crews will take part in it, because now sports in China are developing very dynamically.”

Scheduled for 1–14 July, the Silk Way Rally will be the fifth round of the 2024 Russian Rally-Raid Championship.