Award-winning Chinese rally driver Han Wei and his Geely.
MOTORING NEWS - Motorsports are enjoying a boom across China, from the high-profile two-week long Silk Way odyssey, to the hundreds of local car rallies, motocross events and touring car championships that take place.
The Silk Way Rally cars tore through the Gobi Desert bound for China's Imperial City of Xi'an - fresh evidence of the country's newfound love of motorsports.
Enthusiasts get behind events that vary from the well-established Chinese Grand Prix to an explosion of kids' karting events in a country which until recently relied more on the bicycle than the internal combustion engine.
Just 30 years ago, such "decadent" events were more or less unheard of. But the fast-changing country now boasts the world's second-biggest economy after the United States and a growing urban middle class with money to burn on hobbies.
"People have more and more means and free time," said Wang Xudong, chief executive of Zhongshi Huanqiu, a Chinese company that organises motor racing in the country. In parallel, the Chinese car market is growing fast."
The country also has its racing idols like Chinese driver Han Wei came third in the Silk Way Rally in a Chinese-built Geely car.
It may be hard to believe nowadays as cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have gridlock traffic, but cars were still rare on Chinese streets three decades ago. Now China is the world's largest car market with sales of 24,38-million passenger cars in 2016 and an annual increase of 15%.
Since the watershed 2004 Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, motorsports have grabbed the public fancy. The grand prix is now an annual fixture on the Formula One circuit.
The first Formula E race in the country - cars racing with electric engines - took place before 75 000 spectators at Beijing's Bird's Nest Olympic stadium in 2014.
The Silk Way Rally set off on 7 July from Red Square in the heart of Moscow and travelled through Russia's grassy steppes and the great plains and mountains of Kazakhstan before crossing the daunting Gobi Desert.
Exhausted racers crossed the finish line in Xi'an, after 9 599km, with Chinese driver Han Wei coming in third. The event is organised between China and Russia and has ambitions to rival the prestigious Dakar Rally.
"The Chinese have a thirst for organising their own events, as in Europe, but are a few years behind. Still, they have really become fans of discovery and adventure," said Hubert Auriol, former director of the Dakar Rally. He was brought in by the organisers of the China Grand Rally for his experience and expertise and was race director between 2013 and 2016.
"Perhaps we had in mind a somewhat stereotyped image of the hard-working Chinese, but it is like anywhere else in the world: at one point it is about leisure, relaxation and doing something else," Auriol added.
The growing popularity of motorsport in China also owes much to the exploits behind the wheel of writer, blogger and director Han Han (34). He is a trendy youth symbol and 2012 national rally champion.
Luckily, the Communist authorities also appear to be fans of the sport.
In October last year the Chinese government called for "continuous improvement in the organisation of motorsports". It urged the creation of new racing circuits and encouraged the staging of rallies and other events.
"There is the political will, so everything is easily organised," said Auriol, who sees "enormous potential" in the country for the sport. "China is densely populated, so people tend to imagine that there are only cities, but in the north you have gigantic regions with magnificent deserts that are totally suitable for rallying."
A new generation of Chinese drivers is emerging, according to Chinese race organiser Wang. "Before, they only started to compete in adulthood. Now they are trained in karting first and the future is promising," he said. That was echoed by Han Wei: "Bit by bit, you'll see, we're getting closer to international level."