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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Spirit of Adventure Drives
John Bonar

Twenty six brightly decorated competing fourwheel drive jeeps and eight support vehicles raced earlier this year from Murmansk in the Arctic Circle to Vladivostok on the Pacific seaboard.

There were thrills and spills, adventures galore, some party nights on the private charter train and even a birthday party in Perm. There were also sleepless nights in lurching 4x4 Gaz trucks and cramped days in Mitsubishi L200s.

Murmansk was a surprise. We had flown two hours north from Moscow to this city inside the Arctic Circle and yet the temperatures were much the same. The North Atlantic Drift keeps this city warmer than Siberia.

All the cars were four wheel drive. Most were Mitsubishi L200s provided by the organizers. A few Toyotas were entered by some teams.

The rules of the race were simple.

Apart from rudimentary equipment requirements, the participants had to pass 10 stages in fixed time spans. In the Grand Finale, after reaching Vladivostok, the remaining cars had to race over a special obstacle course and the first one over the finish line won the prize of 10kgs of gold.

So each stage was in effect a qualifying round for the next.

Each car had to have three crew members including one woman and two men. From St. Petersburg to Vladivostok the cars were paired, for safety reasons. Even the organizers support vehicles drove in pairs.

In parallel there was a separate competition for Cultural Navigation in which competitors had, between the start and the finish, to locate and photograph as many as possible of some 300 designated landmarks. Competitors had to decide strategies based on balancing time required to reach some of these points against the time allowed to complete each stage. Some of them required a detour of up to 400kms from the straight route.

To add further excitement to the event there were seven special sections organized along the route. At Maly Vudiyaver, Yekaterinburg, Chita and Vladivostok they raced over barricades and trenches dug in the snow or ice. In Moscow, between Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk and on Lake Baikal, they required spot-on navigation using GPS.

One last point: the participants had just 14 days to make it from start to finish!

To say the race was grueling would be an understatement.

For most participants it would at least be exhausting, with unrelenting stretches of 30 hours continuous driving before a brief rest stop where sleeping bags could be unrolled on a sports centre concrete floor for a few hours rest.

For others it would be a nightmare.

The teams were a mix of private and corporate entries.

Most eliminations were for missing deadlines and taking too long to complete a stage.

The Trust Bank team, who were eliminated from the race at Novosibirsk, decided to continue to Vladivostok , Just for the fun of it, said Leonid a young bank VP who captained one of the cars.

Accidents took their toll as well. The Vimpel team had the most accidents, rolling their car twice and skidding off the road and hitting a boulder. By Vladivostok their number 27 car looked like a tin can that had been used for a football. The Krasnodar team had the most dramatic accident however, colliding with an articulated Kamaz truck just after Lake Baikal. Ekaterina Tribunskikh, the navigator suffered a minor head wound, was concussed and pinned in the car for two hours until she could be cut free. She was the most serious casualty of the race and was only kept 24-hours in hospital for observation. The car was demolished.

Its amazing. Some of the cars have been written off totally destroyed; several have rolled over and in all cases the people have suffered minor cuts and bruises and have walked away, said Race Commissioner Alexander Davydov.

From the flare signaling the start at the lighthouse on the Kola Peninsula to the finish at the lighthouse on Vladivostoks Golden Bay, it was an adrenalin-fueled experience.

The jubilation of everyone who made it to Vladivostoks Golden Bay was palpable.

Some participants tore off their clothes and dived into the freezing sea, avoiding floating ice floes. It being 8th March, International Ladies Day, bouquets of flowers appeared from nowhere to be presented to the lady participants.

In the end the gold prize was scooped by the Multi Ko team from Yekaterinburg, in a second hand Toyota Hilux that they had renovated and equipped themselves. In the seven minutes it took them to race over an icy section at Sidanko near Vladivostok, leap a barrier and see-saw through a ditch, they made it all look amazingly easy. No other car of the eight left in the final made it across the finish line.

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