The 5th Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2013
May 28th to June 29th 2013
Route Survey Two - Russia - July 2012
After several months devoted to the ERA Trans America Challenge Kim Bannister returned to Russia to continue his route planning for the 2013 Peking to Paris. These notes cover Kim's July 2012 route survey from Omsk to the Ukraine.
When looking at a route through Russia we wanted to take into account the lessons learnt on the 2007 event and make a number of improvements, this has been done.
The hotels at each overnight halt are far better than those that were available to us in 2007, even in some of the more remote towns there has been a huge development and renovation programme on the hotel infrastructure and this makes getting a decent hotel outside Moscow and St Petersburg now possible. There will be optional competitive sections on most days with an easy main road route for those crews choosing to miss the sections and just head to the overnight halt. Many of these timed sections are on remote gravel or dirt roads , found with the help and advice of local car clubs. There has also been a national policy to reduce the number of police checkpoints over the last 5 years and it is noticeable how this has made travel far easier, even on the major roads. Our route plans to avoid as many major roads as possible but in a country as vast as Russia we will need to use the most direct route at times.
Other good news includes the price of fuel with 95 octane petrol (benzene, gasoline) selling for £0.57 per litre (€0.72 per litre; $3.60 per US Gallon) and there are many fuel stations along the road. The policy of having to pre-pay for fuel is still very common, just as you have to in the US, and it is best to use cash to pay as although credit card symbols are now appearing on many new fuel station signs most do not like to take foreign cards.
Omsk to Tyumen
After an overnight flight from Heathrow via Moscow I was met at Omsk by Arcady and Sergey who are my hosts for this trip. Sergey had already been out and completed a pre-survey trip meeting new contacts in each area we go through.
The vehicle to be used was a completely standard Skoda Octavia rented from one of the major rental organisations. This proved to be a sensible choice as anywhere we could go in the Skoda would be possible for any car on the event. The weather was hot and sunny; this is normal for this time of the year and makes for lovely long days and light evenings, as we left Omsk for a long day to Tyumen.
A route provided by the local 4x4 club president saw us quickly out of the city and into the countryside before leaving the main road and heading for the first competitive section which included a run on the service road next to the main railway line and the use of a number of excellent dirt tracks in the area. This sort of detail will make a memorable drive.
Re-joining the main road to eat up some of the distance we stopped for lunch at one of a large number of excellent truck stops. Eating the local food is part of the adventure for many but choosing the right thing from the menu can be daunting if you do not read Russian. We plan to provide crews with a number of menu options which they can use in the cafes making the task of getting the correct food a little easier.
After lunch the final part of the day was taken up exploring the local dirt roads and two further sections were discovered, the final one within 40 kms of the finish, a great way to end the day. Our hotel for the evening is the Vostok, a former Soviet building I remembered from my first visit in 2005, but which has been completely renovated and modernised. The local classic car club was there to meet with us and discuss how they can help on the event. This local support was something we missed in 2007.
Tyumen to Yekaterinburg
Following Sergey’s earlier pre-survey it was recommended that our route went through Yekaterinburg rather than Chelyabinsk as this route has less truck traffic and a more enthusiastic club to help us making a much easier day after the run from Omsk with no competition allowing crews the chance to spend a few hours exploring the beautiful city of Yekaterinburg.
Before that though our route leaves the major roads as quickly as possible and heads into the lovely, empty countryside as we head towards the town of Irbit. Irbit is home to the Ural Motorcycle and we have been invited to take a tour of the museum by the founder and curator. This is a nice way to spend some time away from cars with many rare and unusual exhibits on display. Crews wanting an early lunch can find plenty of options in the town or they can continue the journey to Yekaterinburg.
Our hotel in Yekaterinburg is a newly opened large luxury hotel, the tourist infrastructure in Yekaterinburg being the most developed outside of Moscow and St Petersburg, and the hotel has all the facilities expected of a top class establishment plus it is only a short walk to the city centre where we are planning to park all the cars in the main square.
The local club were the most helpful of all, the president insisted I stay the night at his home and a number of club members together with Arcady, Sergey and myself were treated to an evening of local food, a visit to a member’s house to see his classic car and bike collection and some of the local drink. I did not understand a word of the conversation but felt very welcome and I know that the Peking to Paris event is seen as a major event for the city.
Yekaterinburg to Ufa
To underline their enthusiasm for the Peking to Paris event the local club are working with the authorities to close a part of the “Old Moscow Road” for us to use as two Time Trials. There would still be the chance to avoid them if crews wanted to but the road is smooth tarmac and should be enjoyed by everyone.
After the old road we continued into the countryside leaving Asia and entering Europe, the spot marked by a large and impressive column, and then found a new café for a mid-morning coffee break. The toilets were a bargain at 10 Roubles per visit and I have made a note in the route book so the ladies can relax for once, the coffee was good as well. Back in the car the route ran through scenery very similar to that of Southern England with rolling green hills and we discovered a superb section of gravel through a forest which will make an excellent Time Trial to finish the day. As always there is a main road alternative for crews wanting to avoid any off-road sections.
A final run in to Ufa on the main road was busy but allowed the easiest entry to the hotel. The hotel in Ufa stands in its own grounds a little way outside the city but has an excellent outside eating area where we hope to hold the group dinner for the evening. Once again the local classic car club met us and discussed a number of ideas. One is to use a group of students from the local university as guides for crews wanting to explore Ufa city, these students are all studying to be interpreters and want to be involved.
Ufa to Samara
Once again with the help of the local classic car enthusiasts club we had a guide to show us the quickest and easiest way out of the city and on our way to Samara. As the rally will leave Ufa on a Saturday morning the traffic should be lighter than normal anyway. After a short run on the main road, including a chance to stop at IKEA if you really need to, the route headed out into the countryside and away from almost all of the traffic and particularly the trucks. Large fields of sunflowers are everywhere, grown so I understand for their oil rather than the seeds, and they make a lovely site blowing in the gentle breeze.
Having got away from most of the population we found a few excellent grave roads on which to run the day’s first optional Time Trial section, these later turned to the baked mud track very common in the area, lovely and smooth today but would be great fun and slippery if wet. There then followed a section which reminded so much of Mongolia, only a lot smoother, with straight, wide gravel tracks running through an empty landscape. Lunch was taken at a café recommended from his earlier trip by Sergey. The Borsch and Shashlick were as good as promised.
Further gravel and dirt roads were discovered for the afternoon sections, these were so good I hope everyone decides to drive this way rather than take the main road alternative, but this is entirely up to the crews and how they feel on the day. A final run in on the main road led us to our hotel for the next two nights in Samara right on the banks of the Volga River. Our hotel is a new building, built because Samara has been chosen as one of the host cities for the 2018 World Cup, and will be a great place to spend a much deserved and well earned rest day.
Samara Rest Day
Samara is Russia’s 6th largest city and was formerly known as Kuybyshev. It is on the confluence of the Volga and Samara rivers and enjoys some of the best beaches in Russia many of which are close to the hotel. As the region enjoys a Continental Climate this means that the summers are generally hot and sunbathing is a must. As with many large cities there is any number of attractions and Samara’s include a zoo and a museum dedicated to Tolstoy as well as a lovely city centre in which to get lunch.
Samara is also a major centre of the Russian space programme and the Vostok rocket that launched Yuri Gagarin into space was built here. One final mention should be that Samara is a city with a car named after it, the Lada Samara, but do not let that put you off.
Samara to Saratov
There are few roads which could be used for any form of competition in the region between Samara and Saratov, as it lies in the Volga delta there has been much damage caused by both water and poorly built roads so most of the side roads are just too rough for long journeys. This has actually allowed me to plan a late start from Samara; crews can enjoy a late and leisurely breakfast before heading into the Samara traffic.
With over 1.5 million people in the city rush hour can be a nightmare, by leaving at around 11:00 we will avoid the worst and have a good days drive along main roads to Saratov. Saratov also sits on the banks of the Volga and close to our hotel is a large sand island very popular with both locals and visitors until late in the evening. The beach closes at 21:00 and is then apparently taken over by packs of dogs which are then driven away each morning. It seems to work and there was barely an empty patch of sand available when we drove into the city.
Our hotel is on the banks of the Volga, well away from the island and the dogs, but there are plenty of riverside cafes and bars to walk to on what should be a fine evening if the weather runs to plan.
Saratov to Voronezh
This will be the last full day in Russia as we leave the following afternoon for Ukraine. There is a lot of distance to cover between Saratov and Voronezh and we will start by taking a good main road, which is currently being turned into a dual carriageway, before turning off into the countryside for our competition for the day.
Finding the roads we finally chose was typical of many trips into Russian villages using Russian maps. We started off on a lovely tarmac road which sees no truck traffic as the trees have grown over the road as though they are trying to reclaim the tarmac for nature. We then arrived at a village to find that someone had either stolen or completely mis-placed the road shown on the map, it was even shown on Sergey’s sat-nav so the authorities must have thought about building it.
After much searching, which included going places that a standard Skoda Octavia probably shouldn't have, we finally found a most fantastic dirt road going through fields, woods, a dried river bed and even past a collection of bee hives producing the local honey. After such a trying morning there was a lot of celebration in the car as we emerged back onto tarmac with another wonderful Time Trial section to add to the collection.
From there it was back to reality and the need to cover the remaining kilometres to Voronezh stopping at one or two of the many very good truck stops for refreshments on the way. Once again the hotel was found to be recently renovated with all the rooms now having air conditioning, very comfortable beds and a good restaurant and bar; this together with a large car park makes for a great HQ.
Voronezh to the Ukraine border
Again Sergey called on the services of the local enthusiasts to help me plot the best route out of the city and on our way to the border with the Ukraine.
On our way though there was one last surprise at the town of Belgorod. There we were introduced to a superb motorsport complex on the edge of town which will be ours to use on our last morning in Russia. The complex features a 1.5 km circuit with a number of testing layouts, an indoor kart circuit, which I have a few cunning plans for, and a large restaurant and café in which we can take lunch before completing the short journey of 50 kms to the border. A really great find and it will make a fun way to finish the Russian leg of our adventure.
Next up I fly to Mongolia to continue the Peking to Paris route survey.