The Silk Way Rally continued on Thursday with a 337 km fifth stage route from Ulaanbaatar to Mandalgovi set along Mongolia's signature tracks of gravel and rocks. The bikes also completed the second act of their marathon stage.
However, Joan Barreda (#11), who started third in the bikes category today, crashed his Honda at 122 kilometers trying to overtake Luciano Benavides (#77). Despite much of his navigation equipment being completely destroyed and the rest of the bike severely out of shape, he managed to get to the finish. It took him 3 hours.
Everyone who saw the crash lost time: Kevin Benavides (#7) (Arg/Monster Energy Honda Team) stopped to see if his teammate was OK and Luciano Benavides also stopped. The rules allow them to get their time back, so the special result might yet go in Kevin’s favour.
“I think I did a good race. I feel good, the bike was OK. My teammate Joan (Barreda) crashed. I stopped to try and help him start the bike again for 1 or 2 minutes but it was impossible. So, I continued. I started 12th and passing other riders was difficult in the dust,” said Kevin Benavides.
The winner, Great Britain's Sam Sunderland (#6) (Red Bull KTM Factory), opened the race and completed both stages of the marathon ahead of the competition, with no technical damage, something that's almost unheard of.
You always need a bit of luck on a marathon stage, but there is no denying that Sunderland made a lot of his own. Winning the first part of the marathon stage yesterday, the British rider was obliged to open the track today. Not the ideal scenario. If you open the stage and avoid getting overtaken it is considered an exploit. If you open the track and win the stage you earn the respect of all your fellow competitors. If you open and win the second day of a marathon stage you are... the Marathon Man.
“Obviously opening the route is never going to be easy, normally somebody can see your tracks and catch you up. I tried to keep the rhythm high all day and on the long stages you start to fatigue because at high speeds you have to be so focused. The bike is feeling really good, despite not being serviced overnight. The tyre was a bit slick towards the end, but it is the same for everyone,” said Sam Sunderland.
In the cars, Nasser Al-Attiyah (#201) (Toyota Gazoo Racing Overdrive) took yet another spectacular win, while yesterday's runner-up Eric Van Loon (NL/Toyota Hilux Overdrive) was forced to change a wheel and lost time.
“At this point in the race we aren’t here to take any unnecessary risks,” said Mathieu Baumel, co-driver of Nasser Al-Attiyah at the finish line of this 5th stage, pretty much summing up how the leaders of the car race are now approaching it. The winners of the last Dakar manage this Silk Way Rally, day by day. At the mid-way point their domination appears to be carefully thought out. “We accelerate only when the terrain really allows it, without taking the slightest risk. Each time it is a discussion between Nasser and myself,” Baumel added.
“A very good stage for us, we were able to follow Nasser for most of the special. At a certain moment I cut the corner a little too much and hit a stone. When changing the wheel we noticed something wasn’t right so we dropped the pace a little. But it was another magnificent special. The road book was perfect and the scenery impressive,” said Eric Van Loon.
In the quads, the Polish rider Arkadiusz Linder (#103) finally threw in the towel, after struggling through the last couple of days, leaving just the Polish rider Sonik Rafal (#101) (Yamaha Raptor) and the Russian Aleksandr Maksimov (#102) (Yamaha Raptor) to fight it out for final honours. Today Sonik was once again first home, to increase his overall to just under 1 hour 48 minutes.
A buggy driven by Sun Ping (#235) didn't let the truck of Airat Mardeev through for 60 kilometers of track. Mardeev verbally attacked the Chinese driver at the finish.
In the trucks, Siarhey **Viazovich's (#304) automatic inflation system failed, but he continues lead overall, while his fellow MAZ team member Aliaksei Vishnevsky** (#311) lost a silencer along the way. But KAMAZ are fighting back, and the battle has just begun.
“We were expecting a reaction from Kamaz. Unfortunately our automatic inflation system got stuck with 7 bars in the tyres. We were shaken all over the place throughout the stage. Once Karginov overtook us we stayed calm. We went to the finish at our own pace. But if Karginov continues the rally at that speed he won’t be finish the race,” said Siarhey Viazovich.
After their difficult 4th stage the Kamaz-Master team came back to the start line in the morning determined to set the record straight. Led by Andrei Karginov (#300), the ‘blue monsters’ attacked from the start, with the 2018 edition winner beating his teammate Anton Shibalov (#303) by more than 4 minutes, and above all taking a large 7 minute chuck out of the leading MAZ of Viazovich.
“To avoid yesterday’s problems we changed our tyres and put more pressure in them. And it was a strategy that paid off. It helped us a lot to keep a very fast pace, even if that made our trucks less comfortable. Because the tyres are an integral part of the suspension. We will continue to attack. There are four great stages left over which to retake the overall lead,” said Andrei Karginov.
Tomorrow's Stage 6 is from Mandalgovi to Dalanzadgad and has a distance of 411.75km. It is a section with fast and wide steppe roads. The main task of each competitor is to follow the road book and constant changes of direction among picturesque nature will never allow competitors to get bored.