Today’s leg of the Silk Way Rally through Kazakhstan was the first one to be split into two sections, underlining the length and complexity of the stage. Extreme weather conditions added to the challenge, with torrential rain turning the roads into an apocalyptic mud bath and the stage into slippery skating rink. As a result, several competitors got caught out, including two of the Peugeot crews.
Stéphane Peterhansel, who started the day second overall, was the first to stumble at kilometre 43, rolling his car in a place that was marked as ‘danger 2’ on the road book. This caused extensive damage but, undaunted, he repaired his Peugeot in 2h13m and got to the finish as quickly as he could. With Stéphane having lost his place on the provisional podium, Team Peugeot Total’s mechanics are now waiting for the Peugeot DKR #106 at the bivouac to fully evaluate the damage.
Despres also got caught out by the tricky route and went off into a hole at kilometre 166. He was helped back onto the road by a competing truck and was able to reach the finish with a great time, which was enough to secure second position overall in the general ranking.
No such problems for Sébastien Loeb, who now extends his overall lead to 1h07m. The Peugeot DKR Maxi sealed its third victory in four stages, which is a big source of satisfaction for the Peugeot Sport engineers, who feel confident in the potential of this brand new car.
Today was one of those epic days that can be typical of the Silk Way Rally. It’s actually what we expected, as you have to be ready for anything in rally raid competition, which is why we always said that we needed to approach this event with humility and respect. The slightest problem, the smallest touch of over-optimism on the part of the drivers, and you can easily face what we experienced today. Stephane lost the most time as the result of a roll on kilometre 43; he had to fix the car on the stage but we will need to look at it in service to see if there is any further damage. Cyril just got caught out in a braking area and fell into a hole: luckily a competitor in the truck class was able to come to his rescue and he was able to continue with no lasting consequences. For Seb, it was a perfect day and now he has an increased margin at the head of the leaderboard. Obviously, this changes things a bit, as he will now feel less need to take big risks to hold onto his advantage. But it’s still too early to talk about any sort of strategy.
It went well for us and we avoided any big mistakes, but I have to say that these were the most complicated conditions I have ever seen in my rally raid career up to now. There was some torrential rain so no grip, and it was impossible to judge what was the right pace. Braking was particularly difficult: the road was so slippery that the car often didn’t want to stop, just sliding on the mud. Despite that I think we found the right rhythm and again Daniel’s navigation was perfect. It depends a bit on the type of road, but in general the Maxi version of the car gives you more confidence because it feels more stable, which is really important when the conditions are as extreme as they were today.
Of course, I am disappointed to go off but at the same time I am happy with the overall time. We sorted out the situation pretty well and it could have been worse. We were just surprised by the hole after we had some trouble with the brakes earlier in the stage. I’m very grateful to the truck crew who pulled us out and helped us get back on track; it shows once more the fantastic atmosphere in this sport. In rally raid, everything counts. Now we’re going to have a good rest and look forward to tomorrow, which is another day.
Unfortunately, we were just too fast over a hole in the road – nothing to do with the weather, as it was actually dry in the place where we rolled – and that tipped the car end over end into a series of rolls; I think we rolled two or three times in total. The damage was really bad and we had to replace everything we could, including all the suspension. It took more than two hours, so that was that. Then afterwards the car was driving very badly and we had no windscreen so I couldn’t see anything: we just had to go slowly to the end of the stage. Hopefully now it can be fixed at service so that we can carry on in the rally and help our team mates if they need us. It’s more or less exactly the same situation as last year. I like the Silk Way Rally, but I don’t think the Silk Way Rally likes me!
Tomorrow’s route takes the crews from the futuristic city of Astana towards Semey: 849.54 kilometres of driving including 484.47 kilometres of special stage. While today’s action was incredibly demanding, tomorrow’s leg is reputed to be even more difficult. It will be the first taste that the drivers have of the Kazakh Steppe, with some of the most stunning scenery witnessed yet. But to get through it without problems, navigation will be of paramount importance.
Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world (although it still has a navy) and the ninth largest country by area in the world. Nonetheless, the population density is incredibly low with just 16 million inhabitants in total: part of the reason why it’s an ideal place for rally raid.
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