Porsche Cayenne development engineer Jürgen Kern had run the Transsyberia in 2006. The bruising, then-6000-mile route took three weeks, kicking off in Berlin and passing through Moscow and Mongolia before ending at Siberia's Lake Baikal, the world's deepest lake. Kern and his co-driver won and returned with suggested modifications to fashion the Cayenne S Transsyberia.
The next year saw Porsche enter twenty-six Cayennes. One driven by a U.S. team, rally ace Rod Millen and co-driver Richard Kelsey, took first place. When the 2008 Dakar rally was canceled due to threats of terrorism, the Transsyberia suddenly seemed less like a mad backcountry lark and more like a race worth winning. Again, the factory entered more than twenty of the specially modified Cayennes. Among the competitors they faced were a Toyota Land Cruiser, a Mercedes-Benz G320, a Land Rover Defender 90, and several unmodified Cayennes-in all, thirty-one teams from twenty-four countries.
The two-week 2008 contest began in Moscow and traced a path through Siberia's thick, boggy forests and the craggy Altai Mountains before coursing over the flatter Mongolian steppes and the Gobi Desert. The 4300 miles were broken into timed rally stages and transit stages, and even the transit portions can damage hardware, especially in Mongolia, where few roads are paved. The stages in Russia are infamous for narrow, muddy logging roads in thick forests. But once in Mongolia, a major component is up to the navigator-simply figuring out where the hell to go. Another important skill is knowing how to cross the numerous rivers quickly. "One day in Mongolia, we had to cross maybe 150 of them," says Millen, about the 2007 race. "We crossed in the rapids because they're shallower. The calm parts are always the deepest-vehicles would get in them and just float."
The overriding issue is keeping the vehicle in one piece. "The key to it isn't just driving fast. It's surviving to cross the finish line," Millen notes. "When you're in the middle of Mongolia, there are no garages. So forget about driving flat-out all the time. You can rotate the Cayenne, but at 5500 pounds, it makes a pretty big rally car. You want to go as fast as you can in a straight line."
In the end, the French team of Transsyberia first-timers Christian Lavieille and François Borsotto piloted their Cayenne to victory, with a time of 27 hours and 13 minutes. Afterward, Lavieille said, "The Transsyberia is magic." No doubt Porsche hopes some of that magic helps imbue an air of authenticity to the Cayenne.