The 2019 Silk Way Rally is over and 5,000 kilometers of tracks - from the Siberian forests, across the Mongolian steppes, to the giant dunes of the Gobi Desert - are behind us, from Irkutsk and lake Baikal, across Mongolia and China.
Motorcyclists are featured on the Silk Way for the first time this year. Two dozen riders, including 4 female racers, challenged the unknown. The most successful was Great Britain's Sam Sunderland (#6) (GB/Red Bull KTM Factory), who won his first White Tiger.
“It has been an amazing experience, going through so much different scenery, seeing so many different sights. It is one of the things I really like most about our sport. Congratulations to the organisers for putting it all together – they did a great job. As far as the race was concerned it was a tough one. Especially these last three days in China. Fortunately, by the time we got here I had a small lead and was able to manage my race a little bit. Many thanks to my team for all their hard work,” said Sam Sunderland.
Second overall in the bikes category was American ex-moto cross racer Andrew Short (#29) (Rockstar Husqvarna), who certainly wasn’t the favourite to take second overall but he managed to keep both Adrien Van Beveren (#10) (Fr/Yamaha Rally Team) and Kevin Benavides (#7) (Arg/Monster Energy Honda Team) at bay on the final stage.
“For me it was the best-case scenario. I think I was very fortunate that it was really fast and defined on the roads. In terms of navigation it wasn’t too critical today. There were a couple of sections that were tricky and my speed wasn’t bad either. A good experience because in the future I think I will know I can open and it will be OK. Really happy with my result and really happy to have this opportunity with the team to come and do this, because it is a really cool,” said Andrew Short.
“I rode really fast to try to catch Andrew (Short) and then right at the end I lost 2 or 3 minutes in the river bed to find the good way and I lost all the time I taken back til then. I’m disappointed because I pushed so much through all the special to make the difference – it is a shame to have this mistake at the end. It is difficult to take back seconds and so easy to lose minutes. It is like that,” said Adrien Van Beveren.
In the quads, the main struggle unfolded between the Polish leader Rafał Sonik (#101) (Yamaha Raptor 700) and Aleksandr Maximov (#102) (Yamaha Raptor) from Russia. Experience won and the prize goes to Sonik.
“Neither my team or I made any big mistakes on this rally. You need to be racing right from the start, not look just on the big stages, find the right tempo and know when to be patient. The organisers did a great job, the rally has been organised in a very good way, especially the road book. I have not even one compliant, the road book was almost perfect. If someone does the road book off-hand, not paying attention, I always complain but here no complaints whatsoever,” said Rafal Sonik.
The fastest in cars was the inimitable Nasser Al-Attiyah (#201) (Qat/Toyota Gazoo Racing Overdrive). The Qatari and co-driver Mathieu Baumel have won all the selective sections, setting an unprecedented record. No racer before had won a rally with such superiority.
“I am so happy to finally win this Silk Way Rally after having twice finished second. It was important to me because it is a big and beautiful race. We have crossed three very different countries, with completely different stages and terrain. I will never forget the first stage in China. I think it was one of the most difficult of my career. Winning all the specials since the start is simply the cherry on the cake, my seventh victory in row this season. It is the fruit, of course, of the work of a whole team and obviously my co-driver Mathieu, without which none of this would be possible,” said three times Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah.
Second in the cars category is China's Han Wei (#208) (Buggy Geely SMG), while Jérôme Pélichet (#212)(Fra/Optimus Raid Lynx) from France is third.
“My car has suffered from an engine problem since the start - sand in a cylinder inherited from a previous rally. It is why throughout the event we have constantly been adding oil, without ever knowing if we would be able to get to the end. I would like therefore thank my co-driver for his excellent job… and my sponsor for having supplied me with such excellent oil,” said Han Wei.
“What joy to finish on this final podium. I knew there were about a dozen cars that were faster than us on the start line of this Silk Way Rally, so I was hoping for a place in the top 5. But finishing third? I would never have bet on it. This morning, after yesterday’s problems, we set off in attack mode. I made a mistake in not asking to be reclassified, so we started 15th and I was worried about some strategy from the Shanxi Yunxiang team buggies. So I drove flat out, to post the third time on the stage and make sure of our third place on the podium, which will be one of the best memories of my career… Right now I’m ready to set off for another two days racing in the Gobi Desert,” said Jérôme Pélichet.
In the SSVs, the duet of Sergei Karyakin (#220) and his co-driver Anton Vlasyuk posted the best time. Just a couple of years ago, Karyakin moved from a quad to an SSV and almost immediately achieved another big success.
In the trucks, the crew of Russia's Anton Shibalov (#303) (RUS/Kamaz-Master) was absolutely the fastest. And the prize podium is once again painted KAMAZ blue as the Kamaz Master team took the top three places in this year's Silk Way Rally.
“I will never forget this race, my first victory on the Silk Way Rally. This edition has been really magnificent, but very tough. So my satisfaction is even greater. The most difficult thing was to navigate off-piste in the dunes on the first stage in China. I haven’t quite taken in what we have achieved. I am going to have a rest before expressing my emotions,” said Anton Shibalov.