Here’s a thoroughly practical way to send a letter halfway around the world – by vehicle. Renowned adventurer Rainer Zietlow and his Challenge4 team are aiming to do just that, deliver a letter in the ancient style of the “dispatch rider of the Tzar” from the mayor of Melbourne, Australia to the mayor of St. Petersburg, Russia, in a Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI.

The novel take is that the team aims to accomplish the 23,000 km journey in a record-breaking 16 days. Zeitlow, together with a cameraman and a Russian journalist, is set to begin the run tomorrow from Melbourne’s Town Hall.

The team will pass through nine countries, Australia, East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, China, Kazakhstan and finally Russia, and will be looking to their Touareg to carry them through the most extreme climates and road conditions, ranging from the Australian desert, through the rainforests of Sumatra and Java, the Himalaya Passes and the Kazakh Veldt.

The crew of three will drive five-hour shifts in rotation, 24 hours a day, carrying enough provisions for the entire trip and will stop only to refuel in order to keep to their punishing schedule. The only times the Touareg will be at a standstill will be during transport across water. A special challenge will be the ferry-trips within the Indonesian islands; the Straits of Malacca will be passed by vehicle and crew on a wooden boat.

The Challenge4 team are of course no strangers to endurance driving, having achieved several world records behind the wheels of VWs. Most recently, Zietlow and his team set a new world record for driving the Panamericana road from Argentina to Alaska, taking just 11 days and 17 hours to reach their goal in the same Touareg that’s making this latest record attempt.

The vehicle has been equipped with larger tyres and heavy duty suspension for comfort over the undoubted rough terrain, but except for this and an enlarged fuel tank, it’s mechanically standard. Incidentally, the world record journey is also one of goodwill: Zietlow will donate 10 Euro cents for each kilometre driven to Plan International, a charity organisation operating a children’s rights project in Laos.