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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Drive From Murmansk to Vladivostok in 13 Days

www.expedition-trophy.ruThe winner will be first of the 36 teams of cars to reach a lighthouse near Vladivostok.
The world's longest winter car race sets out Wednesday from a lighthouse on the Kola Bay near Murmansk, as 72 cars attempt to drive across the country in a 13-day gold rush.

The four-wheel-drive cars, from Toyotas to Ladas, will race to be the first to reach a lighthouse at Zolotoi Rog Bay, near Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast.

The prize at the end of the road: a reported 10 kilograms of gold.

The race comes a year after President Vladimir Putin symbolically opened the new federal Trans-Siberian highway, which spans 10,500 kilometers from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok -- the world's longest road in a single country.

The ceremony sparked a dozen attempts to cross the country by bike, foot and road vehicle.

This, though, is not one man and his dog driving across in an Oka, but an attempt to set up something akin to the Paris to Dakar rally.

The 36 teams, each consisting of two cars, five men and one woman, will battle their way through seven stages, with teams being eliminated at the end of each stage. On the final stretch between Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, just seven teams will be racing for the finish line on March 8.

The race reaches Moscow on Friday.

The contestants are a mixed bag of amateurs, semiprofessionals and corporate-backed teams from all over the country, the former Soviet Union and as far away as Germany and the United States.

The organizers of the Expedition Trophy, which is being promoted under the slogan "There Are Enough Roads for Everyone," say they had the idea even before Putin had his scissors out to cut the tape on the final section of the road.

Part of the reason they were so eager to run the race was the knowledge that the new road was not going to be anything like driving along the United States' famed Route 66.

"It is a road in the loosest sense of the word," said Alexander Kravtsov, the president of Ruyan, the company organizing the race and its chief judge.

Indeed, thousands of kilometers of the federal highway are still a gravel track, and the road is not expected to be finished anytime soon.

"There was an ice road before and there is now," Kravtsov said.

Accompanying the race will be a specially chartered train, colored bright orange, which will carry paid travelers, journalists and assorted pop stars and celebrities on the railway from Murmansk to Moscow, and then along the Trans-Siberian Railway. When the race gets to Irkutsk, a huge concert will take place on a frozen lake.

Setting off for Murmansk from Moscow last week, the support team received a blessing from a fellow traveler of long distances, Orthodox priest Father Gavrill.

The priest's journey makes the road racers look like Sunday drivers, as he is soon to travel to his parish serving the Russian community in Antarctica. That day, however, he had just come from his monastery in Sergeyev Posad, Zagorsk, 70 kilometers northeast of Moscow.

"Everyone has their own journey," Father Gavrill said, when asked if he envied them their somewhat shorter trip.

When testing out the route last year, the organizers drove across the country in 12 days. The ice roads of Lake Baikal, with cracks and rolling water underfoot, left the deepest impression, they said.

Kravtsov, who went on the practice run, said that the main difficulty competitors will face is not the state of the roads, or the various degrees of mendacity of the local traffic police, but simply staying awake.

After the first few days of excitement, you reach Novosibirsk and face thousands of kilometers of unrelenting monotony, he said. To avoid falling asleep, Kravtsov said the group on the practice run, read and even sang to each other.

And not speed but team spirit will be decisive, the group found. To stay on the road and stay sane for the 24-hour race stages, the teams should not argue over "who slept and who didn't," he said.

The worst road on the trip was not the gravel tracks of the Far East but the first 200 kilometers from Moscow, where the organizers had to negotiate the wrecks of cars that had crashed or run off the road.

There have been similar ideas of coast-to-coast car races in the past. Japancar, a car company in Vladivostok, organized a summer race not long after the opening of the highway from Vladivostok to Moscow and back. A total of 13 cars finished that race.

As for the 10 kilograms of gold reported to be on offer as first prize to the winning team, Ruyan had no information Monday as to how it would be paid out.