The Silk Way Rally doesn't get the same coverage as the legendary Paris-Dakar, but it's one of the toughest tests in the automotive world. The course spans almost 10,000 km (6,214 mi) along an approximation of the ancient Silk Road, beginning in Moscow and weaving through Russia and Kazakhstan on its way to Xi'an, China. Here are some of the best images from the first three legs of the event, which kicked off earlier this week.

At the moment, the highly-fancied Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi piloted by Sebastien Loeb is sitting in the race lead, just a few seconds ahead of teammate Stephane Peterhansel. Peugeot is one of the favorites for the event having won the last two Paris-Dakar rallies, and arrived at the start line in Moscow with a different take on the 3008 DKR for Loeb to test ahead of the Paris-Dakar.

As you might have gathered from the Maxi name, it's a whopping 20 cm (8 in) wider than the model it replaces, which opens the door for a 10 cm (4 in) increase in suspension track. According to the team, that makes for a more stable ride on rough roads at high speeds. Given these rallies are conducted at high speeds on rough roads, that's probably a good development.

Although Loeb and his Peugeot teammates aren't likely to be taking too much notice, the rally is run on some simply stunning roads. The event organizers have developed a route that highlights the history of the region, and are hoping to position it as a high-profile part of the world motorsports calendar.

One step toward that goal is a new television deal for the race, which will see it broadcast worldwide. Another is the excellent companion website. Not only does it offer up-to-date results and images, you can actually check in on where each car is and how fast it's going at any point. As I write this story, Sebastien Loeb is hammering through the Kazakhstan countryside at 152 km/h (94 mph), followed closely by Yong Zhou in his Toyota Hilux.

The rally is currently underway, and runs until July 22.

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