Porsche intends to prove its Cayenne's on- and off-road abilities in the Trans-Siberian Rally
Porsche intends to prove its Cayenne’s on- and off-road abilities in the Trans-Siberian Rally. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Laurance Yap

Photo Gallery: Trans-Siberian Rally preview

Leipzig, Germany – You can sense that Porsche is sometimes a little disappointed in how the world has received its Cayenne SUV. Big, powerful and packed with technology, it is a pretty amazing vehicle, able to do the usual Porsche sports-car thing while also being capable off-road. Its introduction in the early part of the century into a market that was becoming critical of big, powerful trucks meant its presence in Porsche’s line-up has always been a little uneasy. Capable it may have been, but the Cayenne was also big, burly-looking and heavy – in some ways, the opposite of the lithe, lightweight Porsches the world had become accustomed to.

Even Porschephiles (perhaps especially Porschephiles) had their problems with it. While strong Cayenne sales helped make the company more stable and provided the funding necessary to develop ever more sports cars, enthusiasts bemoaned the brand’s entry into the SUV segment at a time when it was spending less on motorsports activities. While Porsche advertised its off-road heritage during the Cayenne’s introduction – evoking the 959’s success in the Paris-Dakar rally among others – it didn’t do much to bolster the Cayenne’s sporting credentials once launched.

With the 2008 Cayenne – sporting a brave new facelift as well as more power – trickling into dealers this year, Porsche went looking for an event it could enter to do the job it perhaps should have done originally: a suitably epic off-road trek to show off the vehicle’s broad range of on- and off-road capabilities, while also demonstrating its long-distance endurance. It found such an event in the gruelling Trans-Siberian rally, a 6,200-km adventure covering the distance between Moscow to Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

The rally will include significant amounts of high-speed travel, as well as severe off-road portions
The rally will include significant amounts of high-speed travel, as well as severe off-road portions. Click image to enlarge

Launched in 2003 and now organized by a group of German off-road enthusiasts, the “Rallye Transsyberia,” as it is known, combines high-speed road stages as well as gruelling off-road stretches. Through Russia, participants will need to cover upwards of 1,000 km on some days at high speeds. Through Mongolia, where roads are few and far between, drivers will not only have to maintain enough momentum through the Gobi desert to cover between 200 and 450 km per day, but will also have to drive through several special off-road exercises. All in all, a tough test for any vehicle and its two-person team.

Prepared by Porsche’s motorsports department in Leipzig, the 25 Cayenne S Transsyberia (the first factory Cayenne race car) models are lightly modified, impressive as much for their GT3RS-inspired paint jobs as for the mechanical mods underneath. Save for the addition of a lightweight sports exhaust system – available as an option on roadgoing models – the drivetrain is stock, with a 4.8-litre, 385-hp V8 delivering power to all four wheels through Porsche’s six-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive system.

Training for the rally
Training for the rally. Click image to enlarge

Like the roadgoing Cayenne, the race trucks come with low range gears activated by a switch on the dashboard; they also come equipped with Porsche’s optional off-road technology package, whose air springs come with an extra-high setting for more ground clearance as well as additional skid plates for better underbody protection.

Other modifications come in the form of weight-reduction measures. The interior has been comprehensively stripped. There are no back seats and the cushy power front buckets have been replaced by lightweight two-piece sports seats with integrated harnesses. Though the climate control system remains (it will surely be a boon when driving across the desert), the complex Porsche Communication Management system is gone; there’s no radio and the GPS unit is a compact Garmin system mounted on the right-side A-pillar. The side glass has been replaced with plastic, the interior door trim is carbon fibre and even the door handles are gone; a fabric loop (familiar to anyone who’s driven a 911 RS America) is in its usual place. The tailgate is made of a single piece of plastic and all of the sound insulation has been stripped out.

In order to meet the safety regulations for the rally, a full roll cage has been welded into the Cayennes and there are winches front and rear. Two spare Firestone off-road tires on orange wheels occupy the space where the rear seats used to be;

Training for the rally
Training for the rally. Click image to enlarge

in between them are two spare 20-litre fuel tanks, a comprehensive tool kit as well as camping equipment for the two team members that will be living in and with the car for two weeks. As you would expect from a factory job, the level of finishing and installation is impressive. The tools are made by Hazet, a company idolized by German-car enthusiasts; even the straps holding the tires in coordinate with the cars’ black- or silver-on-orange paint jobs.

With half this year’s 50-strong field consisting of Cayennes, the chances of one winning the Trans-Siberian are pretty good, especially when you consider that two privately-entered Cayennes finished first and second last year. Most of the 25 will be driven by some pretty well-known and experienced racers; the U.S. entries are being piloted by multiple-Pikes Peak winners Paul Dallenbach and Rod Millen; the three-car German team is being led by WRC driver Armin Schwartz.

The author (left) with co-driver and B.C. race driver, Kees Neirop
The author (left) with co-driver and B.C. race driver, Kees Neirop. Click image to enlarge

Your guess as to how an auto writer from Toronto with no off-road racing experience managed to make it onto Team Canada with Kelowna-based racer Kees Neirop is as good as mine; clearly, someone in Stuttgart has a rollicking sense of humour.

Given the level of competition, we’re hoping to finish and maybe do pretty well; more importantly, we’re both certain it’ll make for some interesting stories and images along the way. Stories and images that, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be filing on a day-by-day basis once the rally starts August 2.

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