Kazakh drivers aim to shine in FIA World spotlight at Inaugural Rally Kazakhstan
Kazakh drivers will be aiming to challenge for honours in both the FIA T1 and T2 categories at the inaugural Rally Kazakhstan, the fifth round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, being organised by the Automotorsport Federation of the Republic of Kazakhstan on May 20-27.
Several drivers from the host nation are regular competitors on the world stage and have competed against the likes of Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Yazeed Al-Rajhi on numerous occasions. But the Central Asian country’s admission to the FIA championship calendar for the first time will enable several other teams to savour their week in the international spotlight on home terrain.
Marat Abykayev is not only the President of the Automotorsport Federation of the Republic of Kazakhstan but also a regular competitor in the T2 category in his Toyota Land Cruiser. Rallying under the Off Road Kazakhstan banner, Abykayev has endured a fraught start to the season and a serious accident that hospitalised his navigator Andrey Chipenko at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge forced the Kazakh to miss the recent round of the series in Qatar. He currently lies eighth in the FIA T2 points’ standings and finished in a similar position last year after sealing a fine third in T2 at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
While Chipenko continues his road to recovery from serious injuries sustained in a freak dune accident in the United Arab Emirates, Abykayev will be hoping for a podium result in the T2 category alongside his son and new Kazakh navigator Nursultan Abykayev.
Kirill Chernenkov and Pavel Loginov will also represent the host nation in T2 at the wheel of their respective Nissan Patrol and Toyota Land Cruiser. Kazakh Alexey Mun and Russian Igor Petenko will co-drive the pair.
The likes of Al-Attiyah and Al-Rajhi are the obvious favourites for success in the T1 category for modified cross-country vehicles, but five Kazakh drivers will be pushing hard over the six selective sections that make up the event and top five finishes are the realistic goal.
The experienced Yuriy Sazonov leads the way in his Mobilex Racing Team Hummer H3 Evo VIII and teams up with Vitalyi Yevtyekhov. Sazonov set several top 10 quickest times in last year’s Silk Way Rally from Moscow to Beijing before late delays dropped him to 35th overall at the finish. Other useful FIA results include eighth at Baja Russia, the Egyptian Pharaons and Italian Baja in 2015, seventh in Qatar’s Sealine event and sixth in Hungary on his way to 10th in the championship. The Kazakh finished equal 11th in last year’s final championship standings after another useful performance in Qatar earned him fourth position.
“I won this event last year before it joined the FIA World Cup and I guess the goal this time is to finish as high as possible and even push for the win,” said Sazonov. “It’s going to be fantastic to see so many of the world’s leading drivers competing in my country and I will be wanting to do my very best.”
Zhanat Zhalimbetov teams up with Russian navigator Vladimir Demyanenko in the Off Road Kazakhstan Toyota Hilux and Yerden Shagirov drives a second Toyota under the Mobilex Racing Team banner with Ukrainian co-driver Dmitro Tsyro. Tsyro won the Rally Kazakhstan candidate event in 2016 alongside Sazonov in a Land Rover.
Kanat Shagirov and Alexandr Linnik wheel out a powerful Land Rover Bowler running as the third car entered by the Mobilex Racing Team. Shagirov’s best result on an FIA round was a top 10 finish in Qatar in 2015.
The local challenge in the main FIA event is completed by the Ford F-150 Evo crew of Dmitry Pitulov and Andrey Rusov, although rally officials are also running a National Rally behind the main FIA event for non-homologated cars
Rally Kazakhstan starts and finishes in the main square in Aktau City, although it will be based at the Kenderly Sea Resort, around 220km from Aktau, for three nights after the second selective section on May 22.