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Russia is rich in many things, including mineral resources, human talents, and expansive territory. From oil and gold to uranium and nickel, Russia has mines for almost everything. Who has not heard the names of Leo Tolstoy or Pyotr Tchaikovsky? And, of course, Russia is the largest country on the planet. Its size makes Russia an ideal place for long motor rallies. In summer 2016, three ŠKODA YETI vehicles covered more than 40,000 kilometres in 72 days. The route spanned nine time zones, stretching on and on without ever repeating or overlapping. This expansive rally even can lay claim to a new world record.

With a land area encompassing more than 17 million square kilometres, Russia is equivalent in size to 200 Czech Republics or nearly 50 Germanies. It takes more than eight hours to fly from Moscow to Vladivostok, and these are not even the most distantly separated of Russian cities. Very few people have seen the whole of Russia – or even anything close to its entirety. Those who have are rarer than Amur tigers.

Andrei Leontiev

Andrey Leontyev is one of those rarities. No, he’s not a tiger but rather a journalist, racer, traveller, and long-time friend of ŠKODA Russia. Leontyev is well known in the countries of the former USSR, where he has been hosting popular Russian television programmes about cars and motor travel for the past 25 years. Leontyev has travelled Russia far and wide to film and share its stories. He knows roads one will never find on any map.

This adventurer came up with the idea to organize an extremely long motor rally. Given the name Exploring Secret Russia, it would showcase for Russians and all the world this most immense country on the globe with its beautiful nature, remarkable historic landmarks, and wonderful people.

A RELIABLE COMPANION

The ŠKODA YETI crossover, manufactured under a partnership agreement at the GAZ Group plant in Nizhny Novgorod, was chosen for the expedition. This model is equipped with the 152-horsepower 1.8 TSI petrol engine.

ŠKODA YETI Expedition in Russia

 

It was clear from the very beginning that a motor rally would pose a tough challenge for the cars. Leontyev nevertheless strongly insisted that only “stock” cars as they come off the assembly line should be used for the rally. ŠKODA Russia supported this idea without reservation. Just one enhancement was added, and that was to install stone guard screens under the radiators. All the cars used in the motor rally had the attractive 17-inch wheels with standard road tyres.

Russia has roads that are tough even for military 6×6 lorries. The decision to use 4×4 vehicles in the rally was thus an easy one. After all, they had to ford streams as much as a half metre deep, with wheels almost fully submerged in water. The cars used in the motor rally had scarcely been run in yet, as their odometers were registering less than 1,500 kilometres. “We want to demonstrate that even with a standard, modern car like the ŠKODA YETI almost every road is open to you,” Leontyev remarks.

 

YETI – Best buddy for an expedition

Three to six vehicles participated in various stages of this automotive odyssey. The cars covered about 200,000 kilometres in total. Thirty tyres were scrapped, and they were replaced with new ones at ŠKODA dealerships existing in nearly all large Russian cities. All crossovers were pockmarked from stones hitting the windshields, but the cars withstood every adversity test and none of them dropped out of the rally due to technical problems.

RUSSIA FROM UPPER LEFT TO LOWER RIGHT

Russia borders on 14 countries, including Norway. The rally set out from Borisoglebsk, the Russia–Norway border checkpoint. This is near the Kola Peninsula, which is a unique place even for Russia. About 1,000 minerals have been discovered there, which is nearly one-third of all those currently known. There is no other such place on Earth. It is renowned, too, for having the world’s deepest well. With its vertical depth of 12 kilometres, the borehole exists for scientific purposes and its drilling was begun in 1970.

ŠKODA YETI Expedition in Russia

We want to demonstrate that even with a standard, modern car like the ŠKODA YETI almost every road is open to you.

Andrey Leontyev

Why was this starting point chosen? Well, because it is common in European culture to read books from left to right and from top to bottom. The rally tackled Russia in the same manner. Interestingly, when local people heard that the expedition’s participants wanted to drive their cars to the location of the Kola Superdeep Borehole, they shook their heads in disbelief, as if to say you need a “real” off-road vehicle to get there – or better yet a tractor. But never mind, ŠKODA YETI managed the route just fine.

ŠKODA YETI Expedition in Russia

REVEALING RUSSIA´S SECRETS

Exploring Secret Russia is a kind of impromptu guide to Russia. Most of the places visited by the expedition are absolutely unknown even to people living in the world’s largest country. The locals themselves often do not know what historic and cultural treasures exist right in their own neighbourhoods.

Rally participants avoided the well-known points of interest, endeavouring to peer into history from a less conventional perspective. For example, the ŠKODA YETI travel team drove to the Ruskeala quarry near the Finnish border. Variegated marble had been mined there two centuries ago for Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, which is one of St. Petersburg’s architectural gems.

ŠKODA YETI Expedition in Russia

Something special was found in each and every region the route crossed. A great example is a deserted estate of Count Alexander Sheremetyev. The Sheremetyevs were one of the richest and most celebrated families in pre-revolutionary Russia, and Moscow’s international airport bears their name to this day. Among the Count’s passions were “high-tech” inventions (at the end of the 19th century he already had a telephone, telegraph and electricity) as well as firefighting. To train his firefighting team, he would buy abandoned houses, set them alight, and then let his men practice putting out the fires.

Then there is Temirtau, a mining village located in the Kemerovo Region of Siberia. The famous Soviet astronomer and meteorologist Anatoly Dyakov lived and worked in Temirtau, having been exiled there by Stalin. He was appointed first as a land surveyor and then as head of the local weather station. With only his personal observations to rely upon, his weather forecasts were amazingly accurate. He observed the sun, made calculations and forecasted global events. There is evidence that Dyakov not only predicted the devastating 1966 Caribbean Hurricane Inez, but even that he managed to notify Fidel Castro in advance via telegram.

ANDREY LEONTYEV ON THE ŠKODA YETI

“I’ve explored hundreds of various cars, and I can say the ŠKODA YETI is a very good automobile. It is compact, which is very convenient for city driving, but it is not cramped. At 180 millimetres, the clearance is enough to feel safe off the road, but it is not so high as to impede the car’s handling on high-speed asphalt motorways. A person has to admire the 1.8-litre turbocharged engine. It provides excellent acceleration at full load and good fuel economy at the same time. We could cover 700 kilometres on a full tank, and not every diesel SUV can travel such distances with a full load. The YETI’s short front and rear overhangs assure that we had no worries about bumper damage in off-road terrain. In fact, the YETI could stand up to even tougher adventures.”

RUSSIAN CONCORDE AND OTHER FORGOTTEN WONDERS

Amazing works of Russian engineering genius were marked on the map during the rally. For example, there are Paramonov’s warehouses located in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. These had belonged to the 19th century grain producer Yelpidifor Paramonov. The warehouses are unique in that the temperature inside had been held at +9 °C during winter and summer alike. This temperature is optimal for crop storage. Naturally, in the 19th century this had to be accomplished without the benefits of electricity. Engineers made good use of underground springs located there to achieve this feat.

 
 

Another great accomplishment (this one of the Soviet period) is more widely known: the Tu-144 supersonic passenger aircraft displayed at the aviation museum in Ulyanovsk, the city of Lenin’s birth. The Tu-144 is sometimes called the Russian Concorde. It made its maiden flight in December 1968, two months earlier than its French counterpart. It was the first passenger aircraft to break through the sound barrier.

Another unique vehicle – the TEP80 prototype locomotive – was discovered by the Exploring Secret Russia team in Novosibirsk, a city deep in Siberia and renowned for its scientists. Equipped with a 6,000-horsepower diesel engine, the TEP80 set a world record among diesel locomotives by reaching a speed of 271 kilometres per hour in 1993 on a stretch of railway between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

 

EPILOGUE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS

Although it should be pretty clear that setting records was not the main goal of the rally, a record was reached nevertheless. When the journey was only in the planning stage, Leontyev and his team deemed that the 35,000-km “non-circuit route” would be sufficient reason to apply first to The Russian Book of Records and then The Guinness Book of Records. Who would have imagined that news would come out after the start of the expedition that an Indian motor rally had driven 35,100 kilometres across that country without repeating a road! So the Russians decided to drive an additional 5,000 kilometres while remaining within the same time schedule.

The rally’s terminal point was in the eastern port city of Magadan on the Sea of Okhotsk. At the end, the cars’ GPS trip meters read 40,350 kilometres. That is slightly more than the Earth’s circumference at the equator. In that sense, it was equivalent to an around-the-world-trip, but in 72 days rather than the 80 days in Jules Verne’s novel. It had been a real-life, non-fiction journey, accompanied by thousands of photographs and hundreds of stories describing the largest country on Earth.

All Exploring Secret Russia points of interest visited by the ŠKODA YETI teams are described in the expedition diary at the expedition website. It is only in Russian so far, but there are plans to prepare the guide in English, as well, to serve as a kind of invitation to Russia, a land of exceptional dimensions and opportunities.

ŠKODA YETI: Made in Russia

ŠKODA is widely popular in Russia, where it is seen as a brand offering good value for money. ŠKODA manufactures its best-selling models in Russia, using full-cycle manufacture and mostly local components, including body metal. As part of the Volkswagen Group, ŠKODA always makes it a point to participate in events highlighting the brand’s deep bond with Russia. In 2014, for instance, ŠKODA cars were used as official vehicles of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games (along with Audi, Volkswagen, and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles).