I was sitting on the wrong side of a vehicle that had the potential to launch me into orbit. A standard V8 Porsche Cayenne S has loads of grunt. This one, prepped by Porsche for the 2008 Transsyberia Rallye, is impressive.
This feature was originally published in 4x4 Australia’s May 2009 issue
Roll cages; race seats and harnesses; minimal (read: no) sound-deadening; and plenty of ‘extras’ added for the event mean stepping inside this vehicle is serious business. Being my first foray in a left-hand drive vehicle, nerves were jangling – and I hadn’t even started the thing.
I was at the Melbourne 4X4 Training and Proving Ground with Paul Watson and journo Dave Morley, known collectively as Team Oz, that participated in the 2007 and 2008 event.
Preparation is the key to success and it was clear, sitting inside this Cayenne – and walking around it – that Porsche didn’t leave any stone unturned to get each of its 26 entries in the two-week adventure into fighting trim.
Mind you, the vehicle hadn’t been ‘cleaned up’ since the lads’ 2008 foray, dubbed ‘Unfinished Business’, so it still had that post-war appearance, with dust, a distinct aroma (Watson and Morley call it ‘Yak Burger’) and minimal aircon. This I found out after travelling from the airport to our driving destination.
The team had to wear helmets during the special stages so the small, blue hoses that at least offer some added air, were a godsend, while still offering a very small taste of what would have been the team’s daily (12 hours-plus) discomfort levels.
The moniker Unfinished Business came about through the duo’s conclusion to the 2007 event. This was the culmination of a series of unfortunate circumstances that started with Dave Morley suffering food poisoning so severe that, in Paul’s words, ‘he couldn’t get more than two metres from a dug hole and toilet paper!’
This resulted in Paul teaming up with one of the English entrants for the next day’s stage. Driving over a crest during this leg, the Cayenne pitched head-first, at fast touring pace, into a ditch. The outcome was Paul suffering a fracture to his L3 and crushing the T12 in his spine.
As we walked around the Cayenne, Paul pointed out a highly motivational accessory: a sticker stating ‘Was this really a good idea!’ It took a great deal of mental strength for Paul to get back in the Cayenne for the 2008 event.
When fitting out the vehicle, Paul and Dave were very specific in what accessories they wanted, and where they wanted each one to be fitted. Experience gained in the ’07 event helped here.
For off-road rubber, Porsche went for BFG All-Terrain T/A 265/65R18 tyres, on high-strength rims. The BFGs, according to Paul, performed extremely well in the ultra-tough conditions.
“The kevlar sidewalls were great. We used two sets and the terrain was rough enough to actually rip chunks out of it and cut up the sidewalls, but we only lost one tyre. We came through a tight
section with a quick left and right, spotted a Russian team changing a tyre and hit the same thing they did!”
Re-inflating tyres was left to a portable high-output ARB compressor. It performed faultlessly, according to Paul.
“The Cayenne’s standard air suspension has thermal cut-out. So, if you’re in 45-degree temperatures and bringing the suspension up and down a lot using the standard compressor – as well as having to pump four tyres up constantly – it’s loading a lot of work onto it,” Paul says.
“If it gets too hot it ‘thermals open’ and you lose your air suspension; it will stay at the height its at at that time, so I just didn’t take the chance, fitting the ARB compressor behind the driver’s seat and cable-tying it there.”
Think of all the essentials you would fit to an off-road Rallye vehicle and cable ties are probably well down the list but, for Team Oz, they were a must-have.
“We had cable ties littered all around the car because you need to cable-tie things down for security. And, if something goes wrong and we need to get at something you just cut the cable tie, do whatever you have to do, throw another cable tie on it quickly and you’re gone, rather than stuffing around with straps,” Paul says.
The Cayenne’s snorkel is also unique; it is attached to the vehicle with velcro straps for easy removal when the team needed to work underbonnet.
Recovery gear includes sand ladders, stored in the rear, a Warn winch that can be fitted front or rear, a set of heavy-duty ARB recovery straps and shackles, and a high-lift jack, which the team utilised via a small adaptor.
The terrain during the Rallye was extreme, brought home when Paul showed me a piece of winch plasma rope, torn in half. “That’s how stuck we were,” he said.
Economy and fuel availability (as well as quality!) were big factors in the Transsyberia so an auxiliary tank was fitted to the Cayenne, with a toggle switch up front to activate it when needed. Combined with the team keeping an average fuel economy figure, and checking distance to the next stop against the Touratech IMO 100R Rallye computer, they managed to avoid having to fill up at many of the more suspect fuelling stations.
The Touratech unit can display total distance covered by the vehicle, partial distance and time of day. Its countdown feature meant the guys could accurately calculate how much distance to the next stop; how much fuel had been used and whether they needed to activate the auxiliary tank or not.
The Cayenne’s suspension and ride controls were modified slightly for the Rallye with the ABS able to be disabled and the whole suspension system to be reset when needed.
So, how does it drive? It’s a genuine Rallye vehicle experience – minimal sound-deadening means there’s plenty of engine roar. The 4.8-litre V8 has oodles of low-end grunt and, combined with the direct steering, makes this thing highly ‘chuckable’.
The air shocks showed the rough treatment they copped (more than 15,000km of testing terrain), although they still deliver ample performance, accompanied by a noticeable thumping sound. Turning stability control off allows for more direct driver input (more sideways in my case) but the vehicle still feels nice and ‘tight’.
Next up, it’s Dave Morley’s turn behind the wheel. He shows his familiarity with the Cayenne and, after commenting on the still-present smell that brings back event memories, declares it is still one of his favourite drives.
Besides the fast stuff, the Cayenne belies its luxury leanings by impressing in more rugged terrain. Utilising the diff locks and disconnecting swaybar allows it to clamber over some challenging terrain. And, it makes it easy – all I have to do is press the diff-lock button three times to lock the centre, rear and then front diffs, punch the swaybar disconnect switch and off it goes. My only job is to steer.
This rams home the standard Cayenne’s impressive off-road ability and how this shiny, posh, rig transformed itself into a Rallye beast that left the Team Oz duo so impressed.
All too soon it was over and I was sitting, still slightly unsettled, on the wrong side of the vehicle as Paul drove me back to the airport. The day had been a quick blast in what is a unique vehicle – and it had given me a taste of what an event such as this would be like. And it explained the extra-wide grins from both Team Oz members whenever they talked about the experience.
Porsche hasn’t mentioned being involved in any more of these events but, after whispered words to Paul Watson about Morley’s advancing age, I fully intend to be right at the front of the driver applicant queue!
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After crashing out of the 2007 Transsyberia Rallye after just a couple of Mongolian stages, I was a bit surprised when Paul Watson phoned me about March last year and asked if I wanted another crack at the event.
I had my bag packed before the phone had hit the cradle.
Right from the word go, we became Team Unfinished Business – Watto was pretty much obsessed with getting to the end of the rally. To be honest, that suited me fine, because getting busted up and landing in a Mongolian hospital didn’t exactly float my boat.
So we swore a pact that if either thought the other was driving too quick, he’d say so. It never happened, though, because we both tackled our driving stints at what I’d call `fast touring’ pace (an approach taught to me by a bloke who’d raced motorbikes at the Isle of Man and lived to tell the tale).
Throw in our much improved navigation form over the year before, and suddenly we were looking okay, despite a disastrous first stage where we copped a 10-hour time penalty even though we were winching out other cars and generally lending a hand.
But from there, we clawed our way back and I swear, when we rolled over the finish line in Ulan Bataar in 13th outright, it felt like we’d won the damn thing.
The rally wasn’t without its testing times. Our biggest blunder was to try a risky short-cut that left us doorhandle-deep in a Mongolian river with nothing to winch off.
So, we dug a big hole, buried the spare tyre and winched off that. We made it out – but not before drowning the car and breaking the winch cable – and finished the 300km stage with three minutes to spare.
Our only real mechanical glitch was a result of busting a hydraulic hose on the active stabilisers somewhere in Mongolia. We soon learnt the hard way that the stabiliser set-up’s fluid also drives (and lubricates) the power-steering pump.
Two days later, that let go, seizing on its shaft and spitting the drive belt into the Mongolian mulga. And since that belt also drives the water pump, we were stuck, 12km from the end of a special stage in which we’d been running about third. I could’ve cried.
We figured that if we could drive the water pump, we could finish the stage. We liberated an occy strap from our luggage, cut off the metal hooks, joined the ends with zip-ties and spun the water pump straight off the crank. And it worked. That occy strap still lives on Watto’s desk.
Beyond that, it was the usual fatigue, stomach bugs, monster mozzies and stopwatch anxiety that makes up a large part of any long distance, trans-continental rally. And this won’t come as any surprise, but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
Would I do it again? My bags are already packed. Just in case. – David Morley