Today's penultimate stage of the 2109 Silk Way Rally from Alashan to Jiayuguan was a fast and beautiful 500 kilometer ride that featured a 290 kilometer special section.
In the bikes, American ex-moto cross racer Andrew Short (#29) (Rockstar Husqvarna) took his first win on a special stage of an international FIM rally.
“Today it was more like moto-x, not those fast roads, I was able to move on the bike, I had a good start position, so overall a really good day for me. Nice to win my first FIM special even if it has taken me a lot longer than I thought to get to this point - and I’ve still got a long way to go. These guys have been doing it so long. They have so much knowledge and expertise and also speed. There’s some truth in the fact that this being a level playing field helps (first time for bikes on the Silk Way Rally) but for the most part its just because they’re fast,” said Andrew Short.
Meanwhile, Argentinian rider Luciano Benavides (#77) had lost his time card yesterday, which resulted in five minutes of penalty time. He moved to the fifth position overall, behind his brother Kevin Benavides (#7) (Arg/Monster Energy Honda Team).
But Great Britain's Sam Sunderland (#6) (GB/Red Bull KTM Factory) maintains his overall lead in the bikes category coming into the final stage tomorrow, even though he finished fourth today.
“After what happened yesterday – a crash like that can be ‘game over’ – I had a little word with myself and today I just tried to manage my gap. With 25 minutes I could afford to take that extra time anywhere I was unsure. Today was really tough, very physically demanding. Happy to get another day done. They saved the toughest to last that’s for sure,” said Sam Sunderland.
At today's finish line, the Director of Silk Way Rally development Bulat Yanborisov and Chairman of the Chinese Auto- and Motorsport Federation Chjan Godzun were meeting and greeting the contestants.
Needless to say, Nasser Al-Attiyah (#201) (Qat/Toyota Gazoo Racing Overdrive), who once again aced the stage in the cars category for an eighth straight stage win, was one of the first to receive such a welcome.
“It was a very difficult stage today. I have raced many Dakars but I have never known such an exhausting special. Like yesterday, it was very interesting, but the body, already tired, was really tested today. There’s only one stage left now to finish this Silk Way Rally in style,” said Nasser Al-Attiyah.
Elsewhere, Mathieu Serradori's buggy (#203) (Buggy CR6 SRT) crashed into a large rock and lost a wheel as a result. The Silk Way is over for him as the Frenchman waited in the desert for a sweeper truck.
Overall, the Buggy Optimus of Jérôme Pélichet (#212)(Fra/Optimus Raid Lynx) and Han Wei (#208) (Buggy Geely SMG) switch places as the Chinese driver moves up to 2nd position.
“We started off with the idea of fighting with Han Wei and defending our 2nd place overall. In the soft sand the engine made a strange noise and I had to keep changing down to keep power. Suddenly we had no more drive. We’d broken the left rear shaft drive, but we managed to replace it in half an hour. After that the engine seemed to be still down on power. We had to go round a few dunes rather than over them. At the end on the rolling tracks it was better. At the finish we realised that the engine was only running on 6 of the 8 cylinders because the spark plug cables had burnt out. Tomorrow we will restart with full power because we really want to keep that place on the podium,” said Jérôme Pélichet.
Three times Dakar winner Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel lead the scoreboard with a 70 minute advantage.
In the trucks, Anton Shibalov (#303) (RUS/Kamaz-Master) leads with confidence as his KAMAZ truck finishes first on today's stage, followed by his teammates title-holder Andrey Karginov (#300) and two-times winner Airat Mardeev (#302). The top-3 in the general classification is identical with the Renault of Dutchman Maarten Van den Brink (#301) in fourth position.
“We drove this special at a good pace but I never had the impression of taking any risks. The goal was to drive carefully and get over the obstacles as efficiently as possible. Something we clearly achieved, as the first cars didn’t take much time off us,” said Anton Shibalov.
All set for Stage 10
Tomorrow's last racing Stage 10, from Jiayuguan to Dunhuang, has a total distance of 556 km, with a 255 km selective section. It starts in the foothills and becomes harder and more technical with every kilometer, going through the canyons, across plateaus, along twisting roads and dry river beds. After covering the first half of the section, racers will reach a valley. The last kilometers are set along a smooth and fast dirt track, which will define the rally champion.