Stage 4 of the 2019 Silk Way Rally took a 470 kilometer circular route around Ulaanbaatar. It's been the longest stage in the race so far, and the bikes have entered the marathon stage, which has already provoked serious problems.
There was some early drama when Russian racer Anastasia Nifontova crashed hard, halfway into the stage. A helicopter immediately transported her to the infirmary at the bivouac and paramedics suspect a fracture of the clavicle.
Meanwhile, yesterday's winner Kevin Benavides (Arg/Monster Energy Honda Team) broke his front brake, and not only did it cost him 18 minutes of time, but the marathon rules forbid the mechanics to intervene. There are many ways to get out of this mishap, but they all have their downsides. Only tomorrow will we know which solution the racer chose. As for today, he finished 12th on the stage, which was won by Great Britain's Sam Sunderland (GB/Red Bull KTM Factory).
“Super long day, a really, really fast stage. Hard to stay focused and at one point it started to rain, which made it difficult to see. But I’m feeling really good on the bike and the navigation was good. Should be good for the result, but as we don’t know how the stages coming up are going to be, it is difficult to work out a strategy,” said Sam Sunderland.
“At kilometre 40 I lost my front brake caliper and so I rode 430 kms without a front brake. It was really difficult. We need to discuss with the team what we do tonight,” said Kevin Benavides.
In the quads, it was a good day too for Rafal Sonik (#101) (Yamaha Raptor). The champion of the discipline consolidated his overall lead ahead of Russian Aleksandr Maksimov (#102) (Yamaha Raptor), who ran out of petrol before being refueled from the rear tanks of Anastasia Nifontova, just before she fell and broke her collarbone.
In the cars, day after day, stage after stage, steppe by steppe, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing Overdrive) continue to dominate the category. The Dakar title holders won their fourth stage on the trot today and continue their trouble-free run. And it is not as if they are taking it easy. Over this Ulaanbaatar – Ulaanbaatar loop they swallowed up the 470 kilometres of steppe at an almost unbelievable 120 kph!
“We drove at our own pace today. It is never easy on a special that is so fast and so long to be quick without making a mistake. This is our fourth stage win in a row but we must take care. Each day we try and increase our lead to have a bigger gap," said Nasser Al-Attiyah.
So it was a double-win for Toyota as Al-Attiyah and Eric Van Loon (P-B/Toyota Overdrive) took the 1st and 2nd places. Chinese driver Liu Kun (Hanwei SMG) finished third. He is one of six Chinese racers who finished in the top 10 today.
“An amazing experience! I have been racing for 12 years and I’ve never done anything like that. 470 kilometres flat out, through amazing scenery, it was just fantastic, even if we had a lot of dust, especially from the trucks, who weren’t easy to overtake. I’m also very happy to find myself back up at the front of the pack, after the mechanical problems we had on Monday," said Eric Van Loon.
The navigation of this year's rally keeps receiving praise from the drivers. Today both Van Loon and Denis Krotov noted that the road books are very well-written.
In the trucks, it was a day of one-two-three for MAZ. Siarhey Viazovich (#304) (Blr/MAZ) and teammates Aleksandr Vasilevski (#311) and Aliaksei Vishneuski (#307) completing the day’s podium as MAZ finished first, second and third on this stage, which turned out badly for KAMAZ: three trucks had punctures, and Andrey Karginov (#300) had to stop 6 times to pour water into a pierced radiator and to switch tires. Still, the team's Anton Shibalov (#303) (Rus/Kamaz-Master) finished fifth and remains second overall.
“We started behind the Kamaz today. In the dust over the fast tracks it was impossible to overtake. We tried just once and ended up in a hole. Luckily without damage to either us or the truck. We set off again only to see Karginov stopped at the side of the track. Then we passed Shibalov who had just punctured. Once we were out in front we drove steadily to the finish, like a training run, because we knew we’d done the job," said Siarhey Viazovich.
"It wasn’t our day. At high speeds in the sand and on the twisty tracks our tyres couldn’t stand the heat. We had to stop twice to change our wheels. Our teammates had similar problems today. It cost us quite a lot of time. But the rally is still long and lots of things can happen,” said Anton Shibalov.
All set for Stage 5
Tomorrow's fifth stage is set along Mongolia’s signature tracks: hills, steppes, off-road driving and many parallel paths, which may misdirect the inattentive ones. There are tourist zones, monuments and stony hollows on the route. Trying to escape from the heat, the track then leads the racers into the mountains, where they are required to seek for their speedy path across plateau at the altitude of 1,600 meters.