While some Americans enjoy a good “monster jam” where huge monster trucks race around dirt tracks and drive all over each other, the Russian Army has taken their motorsports to a new level to show off their military tank power. The Russian event is called the Tank Biathlon, an Olympic style event – a Biathlon – but using army tanks instead of skis, and the tank’s guns instead of target rifles.
The Tank Biathlon is a unique competition. Beginning in 2013, notes hotcars.com, the event attracts tank crews from around the world (with conditions) who are invited to “compete in Russia to prove their tank driving and shooting skills.”
The competition takes place every year as part of Russia’s Army Games at the Alabino Testing Grounds near Moscow. The most recent competition ended September 5th. Video of the full event can be found here.
Invitations are typically limited to Russia’s friends and allies, though the U.S. was invited in 2013 and 2017 to bring its M-1 Abrams tank, but declined. This year’s Tank Biathlon included teams from Russia, Qatar, China, Vietnam, Serbia, and a few others.
Teams are selected by invitation only and consist of well-trained military tank crews, explains hotcars.com. All teams are required to use Soviet-made T-72 tanks, or foreign variants, such as the Indian Type 90 or Chinese Type 96.
One of the strangest parts of the highly patriotic opening ceremony, notes hotcars.com, is the “tank ballet,” where tanks literally dance “around each other in a surreal yet impressive display of driver skill.”
What is the actual competition like? Hotcars.com describes it like this:
A course on the Alabino Testing Grounds is constructed with obstacles, such as bridges, steep hills, rivers, and more. The individual race on this course is conducted first, and all teams compete to set their initial times, completing the course one at a time. Sticking to biathlon rules, each team must complete three laps of up to three miles in length while shooting targets along the way.
The first targets imitate the shape and size of tank outlines, three of which must be accurately hit by the competing tank’s main cannon otherwise a miss adds a penalty to the total time. Additional targets after this range vary in shape and size, ranging from being modeled after helicopters to soldiers carrying RPGs, and must be hit by the tank’s machine gun rather than the cannon…After this individual race, times are added up, and teams are assigned a score.
…the individual race is followed up by a relay race, which involves four tanks racing side by side across the course, all while doing more rounds of precision shooting. The relay race takes place on the same course, and is mostly the same, except for a list of four options on how the race will be conducted, and which targets to hit. Comprising the semi-finals and finals, the ultimate winners are decided through these relay races.
There is always plenty of drama and action just like a monster truck jam, since the complex obstacle course sends tanks flying and then splashing through deep pits of water. All this, notes hotcars.com, makes Russia’s Tank Biathlon – “The Craziest Motorsport You’ve Never Heard Of.”