The Silk Way Rally has entered Mongolia. The route for the third stage of the ninth annual edition of the Silk Way Rally was 243 kilometers long, including foothills, steep climbs and tricky riverbeds.
It's official: last year's champion in the cars category, Yazeed Al-Rajhi (#200), has exited the race. The day before the engine of his Toyota Hilux failed and the driver could not get his car running again. The 2018 edition winner was forced to throw in the towel following the mechanical problems (a bust engine, resulting from a broken alternator/water pump belt).
In the bike class, Britain's Sam Sunderland (Red Bull KTM Factory) was first on the road this morning and inevitably lost time, but nevertheless crossed the finish line without being overtaken. Starting in a more comfortable fourth, the older Benavides sibling Kevin Benavides (#7) (Monster Energy Honda Team) took full advantage of the situation to win his second stage and increase his overall lead over Sunderland from 8 seconds to 02:54. Kevin's teammate Joan Barreda (Monster Energy Honda Team) also had a good day, despite getting stuck in a deep hole just after the start. He finished second at 30 seconds and in the processes takes the third place overall off Paulo Goncalves of Portugal, who fell into the same 2-meter-deep hole, but thankfully got rescued.
However, on the eve of the marathon stage, talk amongst the riders wasn’t so much what happened today, but what might happen over the next two days, deprived as they will be of mechanics and new tyres.
“I didn’t push to the limit, just focused to keep a good pace and I’m happy with the result. It means that tomorrow I will have to open. We always lose time when we do this and I think we will have tricky navigation tomorrow. So, it maybe isn’t so good for the result, but for pure riding pleasure it is the best,” said Kevin Benavides (Arg/Monster Energy Honda Team).
On another note, Xavier de Soultrait (#16), who had left yesterday's stage because of a technical failure, plans his return to the race. The mechanics of Yamaha Rally Team are busy fixing his bike for tomorrow's stage 4.
“A big contrast in terrain arriving Mongolia after the forests and lakes in Russia. Really nice to have that difference in a race. Not ideal for me to open over such a long day but I felt pretty good. Made a little mistake and lost a couple of minutes in the middle of the special, but all in all a good stage. Its a big one tomorrow and I have a good starting position. The further back the better, hopefully there won’t be too much dust… I’m looking forward to it,” said Sam Sunderland (GB/Red Bull KTM Factory).
In the cars, Nasser Al-Attiyah (#201) won today's stage, seemingly with no stress. Even a puncture delayed him for just 70 seconds. Driving at an average speed of more than 101 kph, Nasser has now pulled out a lead of over 20 minutes.
Overall, his winning streak puts him far ahead of his competitors and he now has a comfortable margin over his rivals.
“It is the first time I have driven in Mongolia and it is really magnificent. Everything is green! We drove well today. The pace was perfect. Mathieu (Baumel), gave me the rhythm to follow. After 150 kilometres we saw that no one was following us, so we backed off a little. We had to stop for a slow puncture 20 kilometres from the finish. We really had to push a little more today, to give us more of a gap going into the first big stage of this Silk Way Rally,” said Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qat/Toyota Gazoo Racing Overdrive).
In today's stage, Russia's Denis Krotov posted his best result finishing second behind the Qatari rocket ship.
“The day was pretty good for us on a much faster special. We didn’t make the slightest navigation error and that allowed to get in the wake of Al-Attiyah. Tomorrow’s stage should also suit us and I hope we can do the same result,” said Denis Krotov (Rus/MINI JCW).
In the trucks, the third stage represented the first real bout in the fight for the heavyweight crown between the Russians of the Kamaz-Master team and the MAZ trucks from Belarus. However, the trio remains: Andrei Karginov (#300), Anton Shibalov (#303), Siarhey Viazovich (#304). KAMAZ might have managed to beat the long-nose MAZ today, but he's still leading overall.
“We drove for 40 kilometres in Viazovich’s dust without being able to get closer enough to make the Sentinel work. In the end we had to wait for a danger zone to get close enough. After that we were able to drive at our own pace over terrain that is better suited to our truck and take back precious time on the MAZ,” said Andrei Karginov (Rus/Kamaz-Master).
But the dusty conditions made overtaking difficult for the trucks.
“It wasn’t easy to pass other trucks in the dust. There wasn’t much wind and when there was it was coming towards us. We lost quite a lot of time behind van den Brink. We made a mistake trying to get past him. After that we managed to get past the MAZ of Vishneuski," said Anton Shibalov (Rus/Kamaz-Master).
“Being the first truck in among the cars wasn’t straightforward. The tracks weren’t easy to see and we made a few navigation errors. Then the air-conditioning in the truck broke down and the temperature in the cab started to go up. We stopped in a slower section to change a fuse but it kept blowing. So we drove a little slower as we got close to the finish and we’ll make sure we repair it for tomorrow,” said Siarhey Viazovich (Blr/MAZ).
All set for Stage 4
Tomorrow the rally takes a 470 kilometer circle route around Ulaanbaatar, with start and finish points just two kilometers away from the bivouac. It will be the longest stage so far. The challenging route includes dry creek beds, low hills and endless steppe roads of Mongolia. Competitors will drive through stony plateaus, between picturesque rocks and salty lakes. The second half of the route offers some beautiful landscapes on a track across stony pyramids and rocks. This section may affect the day’s classification, so competitors are bracing themselves for demanding navigation and high speeds on steppe roads.