Moscow (AFP) - The organisers of the Russia-China Silk Way Rally have rejigged the route of the 9,600-kilometre race in a bid to boost interest as the event enters its ninth year.
This year's rally fielding top level car and truck teams will begin on the iconic Red Square in Moscow on July 7 and will end more than two weeks later in China's ancient imperial capital Xian.
"We tried hard to place the route of the rally through as many towns as possible to give the local people in Russia, Kazakhstan and China a chance to see top class cars and trucks in action," spokesman Erik Khairullin told AFP on Friday.
"We also tried to reduce the time that the drivers spend between competitive legs as much as possible.
"We believe it will increase the interest for the rally a great deal."
After crossing the Russian border following the first three stages, drivers will then face four intense days of racing in the immense Kazakhstan steppes.
After a first stage in China and a day off on July 16, the rally moves on into the sands and dunes of the menacing Gobi desert before turning south towards the July 22 Xian finish.
Last year's winners and this year's favourites Peugeot will present three new cars for their French drivers Stephane Peterhansel, Sebastien Loeb and title holder Cyril Despres to overcome nearly 10,000 kilometres of often harsh terrain.
"The difficulty of the route looks really well-balanced," Peterhansel told AFP. "Today there're two major races in the world: Dakar and the Silk Way.
"It's hard to say which stage will be the most difficult as we have limited experience of races in Russia and China so far."
Peugeot will face tough opposition from a Toyota team led by the Qatari champion Nasser Al Attiyah and South Africans Giniel De Villiers and Leroy Poulter.
"It's my dream to win this race," Al Attiyah told AFP. "It will not be easy. I expect a tough race. But we try to win every competition in which we participate."
Meanwhile, the best truck pilots will also battle for the win.
The favourites Team Kamaz Master of Russia will clash with the Dutchman Gerard De Rooy (2012 and 2016 Dakar winner), who comes back to Silk Way after his first participation in 2009.
"I think we'll have a lot of fun," IVECO driver De Rooy told AFP. "In 2009 it was the most fantastic race that I've ever been in my life. And I think the upcoming race will be even better.
"I don't know if we can win the race but for sure we gonna win some days and some specials."
Silk Way 2017 Schedule
July 7 - podium start at Moscow Red Square
Stage 1, July 8: Moscow (RUS) - Cheboksary (RUS) 722.93 km (61.43 km special)
Stage 2, July 9: Cherboksary (RUS) - Ufa (RUS) 797.33 km (157 km special)
Stage 3, July 10: Ufa (RUS) - Kostakai (KAZ) 876.75 km (324 km special)
Stage 4, July 11: Kostanai (KAZ) - Astana (KAZ) 908.80 km (373.22 km special)
Stage 5, July 12: Astana (KAZ) - Semei (KAZ) 849.54 km (484.47 km special)
Stage 6, July 13: Semei (KAZ) - Urdzhar (KAZ) 597.13 km (387.66 km special)
Stage 7, July 14: Urdzhar (KAZ) - Karamai (KAZ) 412. 90 km (106.90 km special)
Stage 8, July 15: Karamai (KAZ) - Urumqi (CHN) 436.34 km (250.37 km special)
Stage 9, July 17: Urumqi (CHN) - Hami (CHN) 813.89 km (421 km special)
Stage 10, July 18: Hami (CHN) - Dunhuang (CHN) 517.53 km (360.28 km special)
Stage 11, July 19: Dunhuang (CHN) - Jiayuguan (CHN) 783.84 km (488.65 km special)
Stage 12, July 20: Jiayuguan (CHN) - Alxa Youqi (CHN) 483.79 km (254.75 km special)
Stage 13, July 21: Alxa Youqi (CHN) - Zhongwei (CHN) 690.31 km (318.66 km special)
Stage 14, July 22: Zhongwei (CHN) - Xi'an (CHN) 716.56 km (100.67 km special)