Intriguing battles within the car and truck races as well treacherous terrain and wicked weather characterized the first part of this year’s Silk Way. Now after a rest day in Almaty the convoy heads towards the Gobi Desert.
Cyril Despres and co-driver David Castera hold first place in the car category thanks to a string of stage wins in their Peugoet 2008 DKR. The French duo took top spot from teammates Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret on an incident packed fifth stage between Astana and Balkhash. 12-time Dakar winner Peterhansel and his co-driver suffered a spectacular accident during the stage which caused their car to roll. The third Team Peugeot-Total crew of Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena stopped to help before the intervention of an assistance truck allowed Peterhansel and Cottret to make it back to the bivouac.
At the midway point of the contest race leader Despres holds an eight-minute gap over Loeb in second place. Peterhansel’s crash may have wiped out his own chances of taking the overall win, but he has vowed to fight on and help his team-mates to battle for a Team Peugeot-Total victory.
The truck race has been no less dramatic with gale force winds and torrential downpours. Soaking up everything that the elements have been able to throw at them have been Team Kamaz Master. The Russian truckers arrived at Friday’s rest day in Almaty with first place in their possession.
Leading from the front with an advantage of 8m37s is Eduard Nikolaev in his new look Kapotnik truck as the Silk Way sets a course for China. Eduard’s fellow former Dakar winners and team-mates Andrey Karginov and Ayrat Mardeev sit in fifth and sixth position respectively as Kamaz place a total of six trucks inside the top seven overall.
While the drivers have benefitted from a deserved rest day, the crews of mechanics have been servicing the machines for the battles to come in the second week. Saturday’s stage serves up a predominantly sandy timed route of 77km as the Silk Way moves to Bortala.
After that there’s still eight stages to cross, including the much-anticipated Gobi Desert section, before the finish line in Beijing.
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Cyril Despres: “A lot of crews are going well! We had the difficult honour of running first on the road again on the last stage and there was a great deal of offroad driving. We did the job we had to do and we are still first overall. The second part of the event is quite mouth-watering, with lots of sand and dunes… proper cross-country rallying!”
Sébastien Loeb: “In conditions like this, it’s obviously an advantage to run a little way down the start order because you can see the tracks made by the cars ahead of you. That’s what happened on stage six and we soon caught the front-runners and it turned out to be a good day for us because we made up time on our main rivals. Being in second place at the rest day was a big confidence booster.”
Stéphane Peterhansel: “After our crash on stage five we needed to build up our confidence again and get back into the rhythm. All the mechanics spent the night doing everything they could to make sure we could stay in the event and then we were even in a position where we were able to fight for the stage win! Our aim now is to help Cyril and Sébastien and make sure there’s a Peugeot on top when we reach Beijing.”
Eduard Nikolaev: “We’ve had some really enjoyable stages in the first week of the rally and it looks like there’s lots more interesting racing to come. My navigator has been doing a really good job and the new truck has been performing really well. I can’t wait to race in China for the first time and experience competition in another new country.”
Credits : Photos and content courtesy of Red Bull Media Content