Turkmenistan's Motorhead Leader Bags New Racing Victory
A car race in Turkmenistan is hardly worth the while unless the president is competing. And winning, naturally.
The government’s Golden Age website reported that Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov turned up early in the morning on August 22 to take part in the Alfa Romeo 2015 Cup.
A little counterintuitively, the auto-rally track started from the bottom of the Path of Health, a steep, concrete stairway set into the mountains south of Ashgabat that Berdymukhamedov’s predecessor instituted to get Turkmens walking their way to a long life.
Golden Age’s blow-by-blow account of the race brimmed with excitement. Berdymukhamedov took his place in car No. 7, alongside with six other identical green Alfa Romeos.
“The route of the race, which is 57 kilometers long, was designed with a rather complex configuration, which allows competitors to show off their best qualities and to confirm their top class driving skills,” the report explained.
There was some competition, but the outcome was of course a given: “The cars fly, engines roar, the distance between them gets shorter and lengthens again on the bend, but then the Alfa Romeo No. 7 breaks away from its nearest pursuers and rushes forward, to victory!”
Berdymukhamedov clocked a finishing time of 26 minutes and 10 seconds, which equals an average speed of 130 kilometers per hour (81 miles per hour).
Not hugely impressive, some might argue, since that is equivalent to the highway speed limit in France, but perhaps only a closer study of the track would allow a fairer assessment. Foreign sports journalists have been welcomed to Turkmenistan, but then constrained from doing any actual reporting, so any such independent evaluation is unlikely to come soon.
This is not Berdymukhamedov’s first brush with motoring glory.
In 2012, he took first place in a time-trial challenge putting Turkish-made Volkicar automobile against one another. He wasn’t even supposed to be competing in that race, as the state-choreographed unfolding of the event had it. This report from The Associated Press at the time:
“Berdymukhamedov drove to the racing track in a Bugatti sports car Saturday morning ostensibly to give his blessing to the former Soviet Central Asian nation's maiden automotive competition.
While an event presenter introduced the president, he received a request nobody in Turkmenistan would be likely turn down. "Can I take part?" Berdymukhamedov asked.”
Such spectacles are intended on one hand to burnish Berdymukhamedov’s ever-intensifying demigod status, but there is also an international public relations aspect to the exercise.
The government is eager to boost Turkmenistan’s prospects as a potential host for major sporting events, such as the 2nd Asian Indoor-Martial Arts Games, which is being held in Ashgabat in 2017.
Berdymukhamedov pressed that notion at the Alfa Romeo Cup event, describing the construction of a high-speed track as a leading precondition for the country to host international level automobile competitions in future.