Today's 8th stage of the Silk Way Rally 2019 from Bayinbaolige to Alashan featured a 327 kilometer special section. The total length of the route was an astonishing 786 kilometers, which took a toll on the competitors as many struggled with a variety of surfaces, including challenging sand dunes.
In the trucks, the leading MAZ driven by Siarhey Viazovich (#304) rolled off a high crest and onto its roof and the red giant came to an abrupt halt. The unharmed crew flipped the truck back and travelled some 200 meters before the vehicle came to a stop. Given the condition of the truck, the crew decided to slowly head back to the start line. Initially, they thought that as their MAZ had fallen on its wheels, it would be able to carry on, but a closer inspection revealed that the roll-cage had given way – impossible to repair. The brave Belarusian was forced to retire.
Suddenly the way was open for the ‘Kamaz boys’, with a red carpet unrolling before them over the infinite dunes. And it was the youngest, Anton Shibalov (#303) (RUS/Kamaz-Master), who seized the occasion, posting his first victory on this rally, following steering problems for the KAMAZ of Andrei Karginov (#300), his most threatening rival overall.
“On crossing a dune I saw Viazovich stopped over to my left. The crew seemed ok and I couldn’t see any damage to the truck. We carried on our way without taking any risks. The dunes were much more abrupt than on previous years. The nose of the truck hit every crest before jumping over the obstacle. Fortunately, we didn’t have to stop,” said Anton Shibalov.
Karginov lost 10 minutes between CP2 and WP3, and according to GPS coordinates, the Renault of Martin van den Brink (#301) stopped in the middle of the stage. We still do not have information regarding the reasons behind this, but one can conclude that today's stage has been exceptionally hard for all contestants.
In the bikes, Great Britain's Sam Sunderland (#6) (Red Bull KTM Factory) had a crash in the special stage which cast a shadow over his day, though he maintains the overall lead. Also, he and Kevin Benavides (#7) (Arg/Monster Energy Honda Team) experienced signal problems with their GPS. As a result, the tracking data updated after a significant delay. By WP3 at 242 kilometers Kevin Benavides was leading with Adrien Van Beveren just behind him. Benavides held on to his advantage and won today's stage, followed by the Frenchman.
Overall, the older Benavides sibling moves up to 3rd place, 25 minutes behind Sunderland with brother Luciano Benavides (#77) taking the 2nd place previously held by Oriol Mena (Hero Motorsports Team) at 21 minutes behind the British rider.
“Today I feel really good. I really enjoyed the first stage in China. It was very different from what we’ve had until now. More navigation, more desert, the dunes… It is an amazing place here in China. I am happy with my work today. We have two more days and my goal is to try and recover time,” said Kevin Benavides.
In the cars, it's another win for Nasser Al-Attiyah (#201) (Qat/Toyota Gazoo Racing Overdrive) and co-driver Mathieu Baumel, as they made it an incredible seven stage wins out of seven. They were followed by Eric Van Loon (#205) (NL/Toyota Hilux Overdrive) and Mathieu Serradori (#203). Jerôme Pelichet (#212) (Buggy Optimus Raid Lynx) is at number 5 on today's stage; since Liu Kun (#211) (Buggy Hanwei SMG) lost time today, Pelichet moved up to second place overall with Han Wei (#208) (Buggy Geely SMG) third.
“There are two stages to race from here to the finish in Dunhuang and anything could still happen,” said Nasser Al-Attiyah. “We aren’t especially trying to win every stage, but we are driving at our pace. We’ve seen a slice of Chinese desert today and I repeat it isn’t over yet,” the three times Dakar winner added.
“I remember the Gobi Desert being beautiful but not this magnificent. We drove in a superb special. The dunes were incredibly high. In certain places we were incapable of following the tracks of the bikes all the way to the top and had to make our own route. The camel grass was hard on the car… and on my neck. I thank my co-driver for the excellent job he did today. I have no hesitation in saying he is the best navigator I’ve had by my side in the last 12 years,” said Eric Van Loon.
Tomorrow's ninth stage from Alashan to Jiayuguan is 501km long, with a 290km selective section. The ninth stage starts from the finish point of previous day. It will be a fast and beautiful route, mostly set along sandy roads. This is the moment when one gets to admire amazing fixed dunes of the Gobi Desert. The next part to the finish is slower, as bumps and dunes are mixed with dry river beds, though the last kilometers will be very fast.