2010 Porsche Cayenne S Transsyberia – Mongol Horde

A rally-racing Cayenne? Porsche factory driver Carles Celma is making a convincing argument for it, a twenty-foot rooster tail of shredded earth spewing from the rear tires as he power-slides down a straightaway. There’s a hard, fast left ahead; the Spaniard left-foot brakes and-magically-the SUV transfers its two-and-a-half tons, sliding just short of a precipice that drops 100 feet into a valley. Celma sends the Cayenne bucking through a dry, sandy wash and then aims the vehicle down a narrow dirt track, blurred tree branches slapping hard at the windows.

No question, this off-road-outfitted Cayenne is not your average Porsche-badged grocery-getter. Both the front and rear panels have been altered to improve approach and departure angles, and a hefty sump guard has been installed. Beefier rally dampers have replaced the standard versions, and the Cayenne’s air suspension has been retuned, as has the Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control. The Cayenne S’s 4.8-liter engine, with 385 hp, is unchanged, but engineers swapped in the Cayenne GTS’s shorter final-drive ratio. Porsche fit eighteen-inch BFGoodrich all-terrain tires. Other modifications include plugged drain holes and an air-intake snorkel so the Cayenne can ford water up to 31 inches deep. The SUV also gained four roof-mounted lights and a removable winch. The cockpit has a full roll cage, racing seats with six-point harnesses, and a rally-friendly handbrake. Lastly, there’s the really cool paint job-either a black or silver base with orange accents on the wheels, trim, and side mirrors. These Porsches have been purpose-prepped to tackle one of the racing world’s toughest cross-country challenges: the Transsyberia Rally.

What’s that, you ask? It’s a 4300-mile trail-of-tears endurance race from Moscow to Mongolia, with a whole passel of car-killing country in between. It’s also the answer to a prayer from Stuttgart.

Ever since its 2003 debut, the Cayenne has been lambasted by critics who see it as an unworthy Porsche that exists only to bolster the company’s bottom line. One can only imagine the angst this has caused, especially since Porsche insists that all its vehicles are designed to be raced. So several years ago, the company went on a hunt to find a race in which the husky hauler might prove itself. Enter the Transsyberia Rally.

{{{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 , a Mercedes-Benz G320, a 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.

2010 S Transsyberia
Of course, Porsche always has it in mind to use racing as a marketing tool, and civilian buyers will see the fruition of that with the 2010 Cayenne S Transsyberia, on sale this spring for $70,800. It gets front and rear steel skid plates, roof lights, Alcantara-covered sport seats, and the 405-hp engine from the Cayenne GTS. Porsche North America will import fewer than 600 of them. Buyers who want to entertain Transsyberia Rally fantasies will want to opt not only for the authentic black-with-orange or silver-with-orange paint job but also the available off-road package, which adds a lockable rear diff, a better-protected fuel tank and rear axle, and rock rails.

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14 City / 20 Hwy

Cargo (Std/Max):

NA / 62.5 cu. ft.