Following a rest day in Almaty, the second half of the 2016 Silk Way Rally is underway and brings with it the challenging dunes of the Gobi Desert. After a frantic first week of racing through Russia and Kazakhstan the race now moves to China with race leaders Team Peugeot-Total and Team Kamaz Master looking to defend their positions.
Intriguing battles within the car and truck races as well treacherous terrain and wicked weather characterised the first part of this year’s Silk Way. Now after a well earned rest comes the biggest test of all as the convoy heads towards the perilous sands of 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 team-mates Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret on an incident packed fifth stage between Astana and Balkhash. 12-time Dakar winner Stéphane 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 Stéphane and Jean-Paul to make it back to the bivouac.
At the midway point of the contest race leader Cyril holds an eight minute gap over Sébastien in second place. Stéphane’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 creating tricky conditions out on the track. 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 hard at work servicing the machines for the battles to come in the second week. Today’s stage serves up a predominantly sandy timed route of 77km as the Silk Way moves to Bortala.
After that there’s still eight more hazardous stages to cross, including the much anticipated Gobi Desert section, before the finish line in Beijing can be reached.