SURVIVAL RACERS TO CROSS RUSSIAN NORTH, 10 KILOS OF GOLD FOR GRAND PRIX

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MURMANSK/MOSCOW, February 21 (Mikhail Smirnov, RIA Novosti sport commentator) - The Expedition Trophy, an all-Russia survival car race, is taking start in Murmansk, seaport in Russia's northwest, February 23-Motherland Defenders' Day. The route will cross 14 major cities in European Russia's north and heartland, to go on to Siberia and the Far East. The race will finish, March 8-International Women's Day, in Vladivostok, principal Russian Pacific port. Ten kilograms of sterling gold will make Grand Prix.

36 teams have been admitted to the contest, each by two cars. Five men and a woman will make every car crew. If any of the racers falls ill or in injured, it will be up to race organizers to appoint a substitute. Only women are among the standbys to offer equal chances to every team. The team that reaches the finish in full will make the victor.

The route includes seven cross-country stretches from the White Sea to the Pacific. One of such stretches crosses the ice-bound Lake Baikal. It will be an elimination race, the slowest teams dropping out one by one, to a final seven to reach Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East, against the initial 36 starting in Murmansk. The route, 12,000 kilometers long, goes along snow-clad roads. The Kola Peninsula, in Russia's extreme northwest, and the Urals will be hard to negotiate with huge snowdrifts and mountain streams that abound in rapids, to say nothing of ice hummocks on the Baikal and Far Eastern rivers. The seven teams that prove the toughest will come to the final stage, to take start on the Amur west bank. The first team that reaches the finish, lighthouse on the Golden Horn Bay coast, is getting the gold treasure.

Many cross-country vehicles have gathered for today in a technical parking lot in Murmansk-German-made Gelenwagens, Japan's Land Cruisers, and Russian UAZes. A majority of teams are making their way to Murmansk on schedule. Some are reporting bad problems en route on the final stretch to Murmansk. To meet them halfway in the predicament, the Race Technical Commission has amended its schedule for pre-start vehicle checks.

An Expedition train will accompany the racers all the way from Murmansk to Vladivostok to accommodate a mobile HQ and a press center. The train people will work in the cities along the route to arrange galas that will make a public attraction of an endeavor that promises to come as the 21st century's most unusual adventure.

The race will go down in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest cross-country route.

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