2018 SILK WAY RALLY : Nasser Al Attiyah wins free entry !

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Baja Russia Northern Forest, the first round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies and only race on ice of the season, was won last weekend by Nasser Al Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel, three-times World Cup winners and title holders. They were followed by last year's winner the Polish Aron Domzala, the Czech Martin Prokop, used to ice-driving and the Russian Vladimir Vasilyev, winner of the 2017 Africa Eco Race and frequent pilot of the event

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2018 Silk Way Rally will start from Xi'an

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Almost five months after the finish ceremony of the 2017 Silk Way Rally, with Cyril Despres (PEUGEOT TOTAL TEAM) on top of car category and Dmitry Sotnikov (KAMAZ-MASTER TEAM) leading in trucks, all eyes are turned to the next edition of the race, which will take off from China for the first time.

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Despres and Sotnikov score doubles at Xi’an

Arriving in triumph and bright sunshine at the ancient capital of the Middle Empire, at the end of over 700 kilometres of liaison, the competitors on the 2017 Silk Way Rally were all smiles.

Cancelled following heavy overnight rain in the Zhongwei region, the last 100,67 km special was transformed into a lap of honour for the competitors and their assistance, coming to the end of 15 days and nearly 10.000 km of racing that was varied and demanding for both man and machine. Pulling into the parc fermé, that marks the end of this 2017 edition, at Xi’an’s exhibition centre, Cyril Despres and David Castera (Peugeot 3008DKR n°100) take a second consecutive victory in the car category, while Dmitry Sotnikov, accompanied by his Kamaz Ruslan team co-drivers Akhmadeev and Ilnur Mustafin (Kamaz-Master n°303) also takes a second victory in the truck class (after their first in 2013), at the end of a fierce battle with their Kamaz team mates.

Despres-Castera, the specialists

On starting their second Silk Way Rally aboard their Peugeot 3008DKR, proudly baring the n° 100 of the title holders, Cyril Despres and David Castera were not expecting it would be easy to repeat their 2016 exploit. The two ex-motorcycle racers were after all up against formidable opposition just from within their own team.

But Peterhansel, clearly cursed in Kazakhstan and Sébastien Loeb, still a little bit in too much of a hurry in the desert, fell by the wayside, to hand the lead to the French duo six days before the finish. With impressive mastery of their subject they took on the huge dunes of the Gobi desert and resisted the attacks from the Mini John Cooper Works of the American Menzies and the Saudian Al Rajhi, as well as those of the Chinese teams led by Lavieille’s Baïcmotor, second on the race and Han Wei’s Geeley SMG Buggy, who completes the final podium.

Shadowed by their guardian angels Peterhansel and Cottret, Despres and Castera pulled off a double that may well be a turning point. “Thanks to David Castera for the excellent work he did during this rally. Thanks to Peugeot who have given me this career changing opportunity,” declared Cyril Despres, five times Dakar winner in the motorcycle category. “Thank you also to the engineers and all the mechanics at Peugeot Sport for having created such a competitive car. I am impatient now to take the start of the 2018 Dakar with the Peugeot DKR Maxi. It is clearly my next objective...

Special wins: Peterhansel (5): SS2, SS6, SS9, SS11, SS13. Loeb (4): SS1, SS3, SS4, SS8. Despres (1) : SS5. Menzies (1) : SS7. Amos (1) : SS10. Lavieille (1) : SS12.

Sotnikov proves the new Kamaz

With the best teams at the start, the 2017 Silk Way Rally promised a fierce fight between the four Team Kamaz-Master trucks and their principle rivals from Team Iveco De Rooy, Mammoet Riwald, MAZ and Tatra.

Once again the experience and team work of the men from Tatarstan proved decisive at the end of the 10,000 km leading to Xi’an. Patient in Russia and Kazakhstan, the blue armada held back until crossing the border into China. The only one able to carry on the fight was the Czech Martin Kolomy (Tatra Phoenix n°311) who finally let go in the Gobi Desert. And it was there, in the heart of the cathedral dunes, that Sotnikov, Shibalov and Mardeev let rip to share the spoils. Keeping a cool head all the way to the finish in his 100% new Kamaz, equipped with a ‘small’ 13.5 litre Cummins engine, Dmitry Sotnikov fought off the attacks of the young and talented Anton Shibalov to take a second Silk Way win. “I can’t remember such a tough race,” commented Sotnikov, “We had to fight for each second and every day the battle became more intense. I am happy that Anton Shibalov kept up the pressure because it really bought out the best in us. Unfortunately there can only be one winner. Anton could very well have won the race, as the gap between us was tiny and shows the degree of competition at this level of racing.”

Special wins: Sotnikov (4): SS5, SS7, SS8, SS13. Kolomy (3): SS1, SS4, SS11. Mardeev (2): SS9, SS12.


Vladimir Chagin (General Director of the Silk Way Rally): “Thank you all!”

“This Silk Way Rally has once again proved itself worthy of its status as an international sporting event. In each country crossed there were many spectators at the side of the route. The race was even tougher than last year due to the rain that has followed us from Moscow, adding an extra degree of difficulty for the competitors. But nothing stands in the way of sport, courage and passion. I would like to thank all the competitors on this 2017 edition for their determination, that is the mark of all great sportsmen and women. I would also like to thank all the members of the organisation, as well as our partners, without whom this fantastic sporting and human adventure would not exist. Thank you all and see you next year.” Frédéric Lequien (Deputy Director of the Silk Way Rally): “Suspense and excitement” “This 2017 edition of the Silk Way Rally was one of suspense and excitement. We’ve had two weeks of real rally-raid with the variety of terrain that is the key to the success of this discipline. All in the magnificent scenery of Russia, Kazakhstan and of course, China. The level of competition has never been so high. Cyril Despres and David Castera’s second consecutive victory in the cars shows just how much off-road experience the Silk Way Rally demands. Bravo also to the Chinese teams and crews who contributed so much to the competition, resulting in the 2nd place of Christian Lavieille and the third of Han Wei. In the trucks the battle was intense from beginning to end, with a final duel between the Kamaz. Bravo to Sotnikov and Shibalov for a fight that came down to the second, all the way to the eve of the finish. Bravo also to team Kamaz-Master for their emphatic podium! Throughout the 15 days, the sporting exploits and human adventure of this Silk Way Rally was broadcast in some 195 countries and thrilled millions of viewers.” Vladimir Putin (The President of the Russian Federation): "I would like to congratulate the organisers of the Silk Way Rally for their excellent work. I am confident that such wonderful projects contribute to the development of international cooperation, the strengthening of friendship and increased understanding between people. I wish you success in your future projects."

Lavieille and Mardeev surf, the leaders suffer

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Christian Lavieille (Baïcmotor n°108) in the cars and Airat Mardeev (Kamaz-Master n°300) in the truck category win the 12th stage of the Silk Way Rally, run in the heart of the big dunes of the Gobi desert. Despite mechanical problems and time lost in this very demanding special, Cyril Despres (Peugeot 3008DKR n°100) and Dmitry Sotnikov (Kamaz-Master n°303) hold onto their leadership positions in the overall rankings.

Despres suffers

In the lead at CP2 (km 122), before attacking the big dunes of the Gobi Desert, with Stéphane Peterhansel shadowing him in his role as rapid assistance, Cyril Despres was looking forward to having fun in the sand. Instead his power steering packed up and he lost 20 minutes wrestling with the steering wheel of his Peugeot buggy.

Luckily for the Frenchman, Bryce Menzies (Mini John Cooper Works n°105), his nearest rival overall, went completely off the route when he overtook Despres at the front of the race and lost even more time going back to find a waypoint. In the process the American slips down from 2nd to 4th overall.

One of the main beneficiaries of the frontrunners’ problems was Christian Lavieille (Baïcmotor n°108) who started far back this morning to drive a perfect special. The ex-double world motorcycle endurance champion and recent winner of the Taklimakan Rally, takes his first stage victory on the race, just 19 seconds ahead of the Geeley SMG buggy of the Chinese driver Liu Kun and moves up one crucial place from 4th to 3rd in the rankings.

Third on the stage the other Geeley SMG buggy of Han Wei also benefitted from Despres and Menzies’ problems and moves up to 2nd overall, 43m22s behind leader.

Sotnikov loses power

For the Kamaz-Master armada the objective of this 12th stage was perfectly clear: to counter the charge of Kolomy and his Tatra, that until now was stubbornly holding onto their 3rd place overall. Starting first on the road this morning, after yesterday’s victory, the Czech driver didn’t hold onto the lead for very long.

Yet it wasn’t the Kamaz that were the cause of his problems, but like Despres, a problem with his power steering that bought his Tatra Phoenix n°311 to a halt in the middle of the dunes. More than enough to encourage Airat Mardeev (Kamaz-Master n°300) to get on the gas.

The winner of the 2016 Silk Way Rally 2016 nevertheless took the time to pull out Sotnikov, his leader, losing power and stuck on the crest of a dune. At the finish Mardeev takes his 2nd stage win, 2m15s ahead of Shibalov.

Coming back respectively to 3m04s and 17m54s to Sotnikov overall, both can still hope for final victory in Xi’An. All of which promises a great battle between team mates tomorrow in the dunes of the Tenger desert, as beautiful as it is redoubtable…

Tomorrow: Stage 13 ALASHAN YOUQI-ZONGHWEI “Cathedrals in dunes” 690,31 km

The last stage made up of two specials, the competitors will start early with a first timed section of 162 kilometres in the magnificent desert scenery – a dream day for photographers and cameramen. Navigation will once again play a crucial role on the 2nd 156 kilometre special, notably in the dunes, smaller than on the 1st special but technically demanding. It will be pure pleasure for the competitors to surf their crests! The bravest will be the ones that win the most time…Another page of the Silk Way Rally’s history will be written on this day.

De Rooy without troubles through stage 11, Van Genugten with ‘emergency navigator’

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Yesterday, Gerard de Rooy expressed the wish to finish a stage without any problems, today that wish was answered. In the eleventh stage, from Dunhuang to Jiayuguan with a special of 237 km, De Rooy finished seventh, only 5 minutes and 45 seconds from stage winner Martin Kolomy. Ton van Genugten came in tenth, with Bart de Gooyert as a stand-in navigator.

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Loeb crashes, Despres and Sotnikov lead

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Stéphane Peterhansel (Peugeot 3008DKR n°106) won the 9th stage of the Silk Way Rally, but the notable event of the day was his team mate and overall lead Sébastien Loeb’s accident at km 84. This evening in Hami it is Cyril Despres (Peugeot 3008 DKR n°100) who leads the rankings. In the trucks Airat Mardeev (Kamaz-Master n°300) was fastest on the day ahead of his team mate Sotnikov, who maintain the overall lead.

Cars Loeb caught out

Starting first this morning, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena (Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi n°104) were ‘opening’ at km 84 when they fell into a dried river bed, badly damaging the front of their car. Shaken but unhurt, they lost 2h30 strapping the front together before restarting. They got as far as km 161 before they were again forced to stop, this time to wait for their assistance truck, that had been held up in the first dunes. Whatever time they make it into the bivouac this evening it would seem that once again they have waved goodbye to a victory that looked like theirs for the taking.

After having stopped with Loeb for around 7 minutes, but unable to offer much in the way of practical assistance, Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret (Peugeot 3008DKR n°106) carried on their way to take their 3rd stage win ahead of a trio of Chinese drivers, attacking hard on home ground.

Second on the special, Lu Binglong (Baïcmotor n°130) finished just 20 seconds behind ‘Peter’, with the Geeley SMG buggies of Liu Kun (3rd) and Han Wei (4e) 2m03s and 2m52s respectively behind the winner.

Fifth on the stage, 2m58s behind Peterhansel, Cyril Despres and David Castera (Peugeot 3008DKR n°100) are now the overall leaders, ahead of Han Wei at 44m12s and Bryce Menzies (Mini John Cooper Works n°105), who lost time today with punctures and navigation mistakes to slip to 3rd , at 52m23s.

Sotnikov and the ‘Kamaz connection’

In the truck class it looked like Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz-Master n°307) was heading for his 2nd stage victory on the 2017 Silk Way Rally 2017. But the Kamaz driver, untouchable over the first three quarters of the special, ended up giving away over 9 minutes with a puncture, less than 100 kilometres from the finish.

But in the heavyweight class one Kamaz can hide another… and it was his team mate Mardeev (Kamaz-Master n°300) who stepped up to win, just 36 seconds ahead of the overall leader, Dmitry Sotnikov and 5m09s ahead of Shibalov. At 9m25s behind his comrades, Nikolaev rounds out another one-two-three by the Blue Amarda.,/

Overall Sotnikov leads Shibalov by 14m27s and Mardeev by 26m30s. As a result Martin Kolomy and his Tatra Phoenix slide off the overall podium 31m30s behind the leader.

Tomorrow: Stage 10 HAMI-DUNHUANG “The 492 chapels of Mogao” - 517,53 km

The start of this special (360,28 km) is very fast, then the piste becomes very technical and slower with many changes of direction. Nice driving a big oued surrounded by magnificent scenery. At the end competitors will need to pay attention to compass headings and stay on the track alongside the chott.

2017 SWR: Half-time break

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The first week of the 2017 Silk Way Rally is over and Team X-raid spends the rest day in Urumqi with mixed emotions. With the first eight stages contested, Bryce Menzies und Pete Mortensen (both USA) hold third position while Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA) and Tom Colsoul (BEL) will start from 14th position into the second week that will take the rally train to Xi’an. It also was an extremely tough week for the X-raid team service crew.

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Xi’An is still far away…

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As dawn breaks on the Xinjiang region’s capital, the huge Exhibition Centre, the rally HQ for two days, slowly come to life on the 2017 Silk Way Rally rest day.

For many it is a chance to take a break, but at the bivouac the organisers and the mechanics are already working flat out, as the race crews take time to prepare their strategies for the second week.

Over at the factory teams they are religiously working through detailed check lists, while for the amateurs, with less means, it is more a case of doing what has to be done to make sure the vehicle has a chance of getting to the final finish. The first week saw the competitors cover nearly 5,600 kilometres and there was never a dull moment. With more than 4000 kilometres still to go anything can happen… Xi’An is still far away.


“It will all be decided in the dunes”

1. How did this first week of the 2017 Silk Way Rally go from a sporting point of view?

“First of all I’d like to underline the fact that despite the difficult weather conditions we raced every kilometre of the planned route, both in Russia and in Kazakhstan.

Sportingly we’ve had a tough battle.

In the cars Peugeot’s domination has been confirmed. The struggle within the team was decided by Stéphane Peterhansel’s accident, almost at the same place as last year. And then Loeb and Elena have shown that they’ve made considerable progress in the last 12 months. The difference between the cars is mainly down to tyre development, with the 4x4s left behind by the buggies in this area. In the trucks we’ve seen that Kamaz’s rivals have had the intelligence to wait for the more rolling desert stages.”

2. What can the competitors expect on the second week to Xi’An?

“We will be getting into real rally-raid terrain with the first dunes right from tomorrow morning. Apart from two transition stages, without big dune crossings, there’ll be sand and dunes every day, with two huge stages in the Gobi desert. In one week the competitors will encounter all the typical types of terrain that fans of the discipline love. The high-point will without doubt be on Thursday between Jiayuguan and Alxa Youqi. The stage the day after to Zhongwei will be the most photogenic, though not quite as tough.”

3. Who are the favourites for final victory in the car and truck categories?

“In the cars I have been particularly impressed by the best Chinese drivers. They have been really competitive and now we are coming onto their home ground. I could easily see one of them winning a special… As far as the overall is concerned, Sébastien Loeb has the double advantage of being an hour ahead of Despres and having the latest version of the car, which will be even more useful on the terrain the competitors will encounter in the next week. And like Despres, he will benefit from rapid assistance provided by none other than Peterhansel. In the trucks I’d naturally bet on the Kamaz. My favourite is Anton Shibalov who is currently second, just over 2 minutes behind Sotnikov. I hope that the Tatra of Kolomy, the MAZ of Viazovich, and maybe the Iveco of De Rooy could also get in amongst them.”

Foot, Grand Prix, ‘Tiger Bar’ and opera

On the rest day programme: a mini-football tournament and radio-controlled model car Grand Prix where the different teams and organiser’s departments entered their ‘champions’. A car wash to the pumping sounds of the rally’s resident DJ kicked off the evening, where everyone came together for a Spritz, a Ginger Vodka or Moscow Mule on offer at the Tiger Bar.

For the more culturally inclined, on Sunday evening some 200 competitors, journalists and organisers are expected at the Urümqi opera.

Tomorrow: Stage 9 “Direction Yizhou” - 813,89 km

First big dunes over more than 40 kms. They won’t be as difficult as last year, but longer. Competitors will have to pay attention throughout the 421 kilometres of the special, especially with compass headings and when going from one valley to the next. Navigation will be made easier with waypoints for the first dunes. After that there will be a mix of off-piste and piste. Lots of navigation on this stage, with the end on rolling tracks.

Gerard de Rooy satisfied with week of testing in Silk Way Rally

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The main purpose of Gerard de Rooy at the Silk Way Rally was testing his new truck. “In a race the teething problems will come out. On top of that I have a reference, because everybody is here. I now know what the truck is capable of and what it needs”, De Rooy tells at the rest day in Urumqi, where the mechanics are working hard to get the Iveco Powerstar ready for the remaining six stages of the Silk Way Rally.

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Loeb and Sotnikov dominant

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On the eve of the rest day, the 8th stage to Urümqi, the capital of the autonomous region of Xinjiang, saw wins by Sébastien Loeb (Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi n°104) in the car class and from Dmitry Sotnikov (Kamaz-Master) in the trucks. With 6 stages left to run, before the finish in Xi’An, the two leaders of the 2017 Silk Way Rally continue to strengthen their positions.

Cars: Loeb, the lion roars

One day is starting to look very much like another for Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena (Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi n°102) who took advantage of this 8th stage to win their 4th special and reinforce their overall lead going into the rest day. If they don’t actually start first on the road it doesn’t usually take long for them to get to the front of the pack…

Passing Despres and then Menzies today, on reaching the finish line, ‘Mr 50%’ beat his team mate by 5m06s and the American by a whole 13m57s.

Stuck in the traffic and dust, over this often bumpy track, Peterhansel, who started 15th on the road this morning, finished in 4th giving away just under 15 minutes.

The Saudian driver Yazeed Al Rajhi (MINI John Cooper Works n°102), rounds out the day’s top 5 at 16m49s. With a lead of 1h08m41s overall over Despres and 1h48m32s over Menzies, Loeb and Elena can look forward to next week’s racing in the Chinese dunes with plenty of confidence.

Despres is also in a reasonably comfortable position, but behind him the fight for the third place is going to be a close one, with Menzies, Han Wei (Geeley SMG Buggy n°107) and Lavieille (Baïcmotor n°108) separated by less than10 minutes.

Trucks: Sotnikov from beginning to end

Dmitry Sotnikov (Kamaz-Master n°303) also showed total mastery of his subject. Starting first, the overall leader of the truck class was momentarily threatened by his team mates Nikolaev and Mardeev. Until that is, they got to the soft dunes. Sotnikov made it through unhindered to take his third win, while his fellow Kamaz drivers had a less clear run.

Untouchable from beginning to the end in his new truck, the Russian finished 01m52 ahead of Mardeev and 04m59 in front of the Czech Kolomy.

Tomorrow: “Rest day in Urümqi”

No special this Sunday, with the entire 2017 Silk Way Rally enjoying a well-earned rest in Urümqi, the capital of the autonomous region of Xinjiang. A late morning for the drivers but lots of work for the mechanics to get their vehicles ready for the last 6 stages of this 2017 Silk Way Rally.

Peterhansel and Nikolaev, victories good for the moral

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The penultimate special in Kazakhstan saw victory go to Stéphane Peterhansel (Peugeot 3008DKR n°106) in the car class. In the trucks it was Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz-Master n°307) who took his first victory, just before the rally heads into China. As for the last few days, since the rally has been in the vast Kazakh steppes, it was the crews who started further back who had the least problems with the navigation.

Cars: ‘Peter on the ‘Kamaz highway’

On arriving at the bivouac in Urdzhar, in the extreme south-east of Kazakhstan, it was all smiles again from Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret.

After two particularly difficult days, the winningest pairing in rally-raid history took their 2nd stage win on the 2017 Silk Way Rally. And even if, by starting in 25th place, the Peugeot 3008DKR n°106, that rolled on Tuesday and had mechanical problems yesterday, was able to take advantage of the tracks left by the trucks, and especially the Kamaz, transforming the special into an autoroute, their win gave them a boost.Especially as with 8 days of racing and 2000 km of timed special still left to go, ‘Peter’ has come back into the top 10 overall and is only 1h52 off the 3rd place.

After having caught Cyril Despres, the day’s piste opener, Sébastien Loeb (Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi n°104) initially decided to follow his team mate, so as to protect his overall lead. But as the navigation became more complicated, the two Frenchmen ended up swapping the lead all the way to the finish.

The Chinese driver Han Wei (Geely SMG Buggy n°107), third on the day, takes the 4th place overall, while his fellow countryman, Lu Binglong (Baïcmotor n°130), once again got the better of his new French team mate, Christian Lavieille, who finished just behind him in 5th.

T2 category

Other than the 5th stage victory of Adrian DiLallo (Isuzu MU-X n°135), the big news in the T2 class was the retirement this morning, before the start of the special, of the Toyota Land Cruiser n°133 of the Japanese driver Akira Miura and Laurent Lichtleuchter. Running off the track yesterday they damaged the front end of their vehicle beyond repair, reluctantly forcing the factory Toyota Autobody team to pull out of the race…

Trucks: Nikolaev : Moral booster!

For Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz-Master n°307) this first stage victory could be the turning point of his Silk Way Rally. Forced out of the top 5, over 2 hours behind his team mates, who are leading the race, ‘Prince Eduard’, victim of a broken shaft drive on the third stage, was also smiling again this evening. Especially as he had to work hard throughout the special to fight off attacks from Siarhey Viazovich (MAZ n°304) and Martin Kolomy (Tatra n°311).

Just 2 seconds behind Nikolaev, 57 km from the finish, the Belarusian’s final charge was cut short when he lost nearly an hour with mechanical problems.

The ‘Supersonic Czech’ Kolomy took over but in the end missed out on the top spot by just 39 seconds. Third on the special, Dmitry Sotnikov (Kamaz-Master n°303) holds the overall lead, 2m12s ahead of his team mate Shibalov, while Kolomy completes the podium at 12m53s.

Tomorrow: “In the land of black gold”

Fourth and last special in Kazakhstan just before crossing over the Chinese border, this magnificent 106 km special will be pure driving pleasure. The vegitation will be dense and the scenery hilly. The finish will be almost at the border, before a 250 kilometres liaison to the bivouac at Karamay, famous for its oil refineries.

Menzies makes it to the top three

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On the past two days, a lot of things happened in the Silk Way Rally and with the sixth stage contested, MINI John Cooper Works Rally pairing Bryce Menzies / Pete Mortensen (both USA) hold third position in the overall standings behind two Peugeots. Meanwhile, their team-mates Yazeed Al-Rajhi (KSA) and Tom Colsoul (BEL) in the second MINI John Cooper Works Rally who had to cope with a major dose of bad luck in the second special stage slowly work their way back up and hold a top-20 position. And there is still another week to go before the field arrives in the finish city, Xi’an.

Yesterday, in the fifth stage, Menzies secured the very fine third place, thus also climbing up to third in the overall standings. “The opening sections were really fast and it also went pretty good in regards to the navigation,” said the US American. “Later, the navigation got more difficult but we were able to again gain time in the closing section.” Although he couldn’t confirm this performance today and finished 11th, Menzies succeeded in defending his third position. “Once again things ran really well for us in the opening section and we could pass several competitors but then we were stopped by a damaged tyre. Unfortunately we had problems with the jack and we lost time,” Mortensen said later. “Afterwards we also had some navigation problems and in addition, we lost more time in the dust of several cars driving ahead of us.”

Having finished second in stage four, Al-Rajhi and Colsoul were the second pairing to start into the fifth special stage. The high grass made the navigation for the first cars truly difficult and far easier for those following behind. “We virtually acted as pathfinder for them,” said Al-Rajhi. The cars following behind could take advantage of the ‘pathfinders’ tracks. Due to this situation, Al-Rajhi and Colsoul had to settle for finishing ninth, in the stage. Today they could – despite some problems during a tyre change because of a puncture – work their way back up and finished sixth. “We hit a rock and damaged the wheel,” reported Colsoul. “All in all, loosening the wheel and changing it cost us about eight minutes.”

On the following two days the field will still be racing in Kazakhstan but on the end of the Saturday stage the entire Silk Way Rally armada will cross the border to China were everybody will enjoy their well-deserved rest day. Furthermore, Saturday will also bring the first sandy sections.

Despres wins without playing his joker, Kamaz score a stage podium

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Cyril Despres (Peugeot 3008DKR n°100) took his first stage victory of this 2017 edition of the Silk Way Rally, while in the truck category the Kamaz decided to get on the gas – resulting in a stage win for Dmitry Sotnikov (Kamaz-Master n°303), ahead of his team mates Shibalov and Nikolaev. Cars and trucks combined this 5th stage to Semey, to the far east of Kazakhstan, saw the Blue Armada put three of their trucks in the top 5…

Cars: Loeb plays it safe, more problems for ‘Peter’

Starting in 18th place this morning, Cyril Despres and David Castera (Peugeot DKR3008 n°100) knew they were taking a big risk in deciding not to play one of their three jokers that would have allowed them to start in a more favourable position. Principally the risk of spending long minutes stuck behind slower competitors.

A risk that, in the end, paid off handsomely, with the title holders taking their first stage on this 2017 edition and in the process backing up Loeb’s overall lead for Team Peugeot.

Second on the day’s special, the Chinese driver Yangui Liu, gives the Chinese manufacturer Baïcmotor their best result on the Silk Way rally.

Bryce Menzies (Mini John Cooper Works n°105) finishes third ahead of Lu Binglong (Baïcmotor n°130) who was 17 minutes down on Despres.

Once again starting first, Sébastien Loeb (Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi n°104), finished fifth at 17m40s, a time explained both by the difficulty in opening the piste in the high grass and the desire to manage his substantial lead over Despres (2nd at 50m16s).

Menzies got back onto the overall podium at the expense of Frenchman Lavieille. Starting 11th this morning, after a long night for his mechanics repairing his car, Peterhansel once again ran into problems. Forced to stop around CP3 (km 385) he lost another 50 minutes overall…

Miura in a hole

For the Japanese driver Akira Miura and his French team mate Laurent Lichtleuchter (Toyota Land Cruiser n°133) this 5th stage was nearly game over. After falling into a hole 50 km from the finish, they seriously damaged the front of their car, yet nevertheless managed to make it to the end of the special.

An excursion that cost them 40 minutes and gives their main rival and class leader, the Australian Adrian Di Lallo (Isuzu MU-X n°135), an almost comfortable margin.

Trucks: Good run for Sotnikov, disaster for De Rooy

Playing a low profile since the start in Moscow, last Saturday, the Kamaz choose this first long special to get on the gas. A decision that saw Naberezhnie Tchelny’s blue monsters take the first three places on the day. Winning ahead of Shibalov and Nikolaev, Dmitry Sotnikov (Kamaz-Master n°303) also takes the overall lead 48 seconds in front of Anton Shibalov (Kamaz-Master n°312) and 15m27s ahead of the Czech driver Kolomy (Tatra Phoenix 311), who lost more than 50 minutes after getting stuck on the going.

The day after their fellow countrymen’s disastrous run of bad luck that saw all three Team Mammoet / Riwald trucks out, it was the turn of Team De Rooy Iveco to suffer. Starting second today, Gerard De Rooy (Iveco Powerstar n°302) was forced to leave the special at CP2 (Km 260) when his cabin chassis broke.

Team mate, the Kazakh driver Artur Ardavicius (Iveco Powerstar n°310), managed to finish the stage but only after giving away nearly an hour to Sotnikov after getting stuck.

Tomorrow: “On the way to Turksib”

The 6nd stage heads south-east over the vast Kazakh plains towards the Chinese border. With 387,86 km of special on the menu and a total stage distance of 597,13 km, it promises to be a very full day. The main challenges are the numerous changes of direction at the beginning of the special and some tricky sections of off-piste. Competitors will also need to be careful on the rapid sections. A fast special but most certainly not a straightforward one.

Loeb pulls clear

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Sébastien Loeb (Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi n°104) in the cars and Martin Kolomy (Tatra Phoenix n°311) in the trucks dominated this 4th stage of the 2017 Silk Way Rally between Kostanay and Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. The rally’s longest day (908 km) saw a number of upsets out on the piste, including Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret running out of road and in the process losing all chance of final victory for the second time in a row…

Cars: Peter slips off, Loeb pulls away…

Particularly superstitious, Stéphane Peterhansel must be starting to think that Kazakhstan is his ‘unlucky’ country. One year to the day after his 2016 edition crash, the Peugeot driver once again rolled his car, just 43 kms into the first special, as he was chasing after piste opener and team mate Sébastien Loeb, aboard his 3008DKR Maxi. Fortunately neither Peterhansel nor his co-driver were hurt in the accident but they were unable to restart without the intervention of their assistance truck, an operation that cost them more than 2h30 overall.

A ranking that Loeb, once again untouchable today, now completely dominates, leading the second placed car of Cyril Despres by 1h07m55s. A gap in part explained by the third member of the Peugeot Sport team once again slipping off the track and finishing the special over 50 minutes down.

Another front runner to run out of road was the American Bryce Menzies (Mini John Cooper Works n°105) who had to be pulled out by a friendly Kamaz before finishing more than 41 minutes behind the 9 times King of WRC.

Even without major incident, second placed man over the two specials, Yazeed Al Rajhi (Mini John Cooper Works n°101) gave away more than 20 minutes to the leader, while the front runners’ various problems allowed Frenchmen Eugenio Amos (Buggy 2 Wheels Drive n°115) to complete the day’s podium. Fourth on the special, Christian Laveille (Baicmotor n°108), is now third overall, 1h12m35s behind the leader.

Di Lallo back in the lead

“Today's specials were treacherous and true rally raid stages in every sense of the word - the conditions were tough. I couldn't be happier with the way the car and my co-driver Harry Suzuki, performed today.”

All smiles at the finish, Adrian Di Lallo was clearly delighted with his third T2 stage victory. The Australian is now almost 11 minutes ahead of the Japanese driver Akira Miura (Toyota Land Cruiser n°133).

Trucks: Kolomy and de Rooy tooth and nail

The longest stage of the rally also saw some major upsets in the truck class, while up at the front of the race Gerard De Rooy (Iveco Powertsar n°302) and Martin Kolomy (Tatra Phoenix n°311) fought it out tooth and nail.

In the beginning it looked like it was the Dutchman who was going to come out on top, but in the end it was the Czech who took both specials to finish just 21 seconds ahead. Overall Kolomy increases his lead on De Rooy to more than 11 minutes. On home ground, the Kazakh Artur Ardavicius (Iveco Powerstar n°310) took third place, both on the stage and overall.

Without stopping to help out Despres and his Peugeot and Menzies’ Mini, the Kamaz of Dmitry Sotnikov (Kamaz-Master n°303) and Anton Shibalov (Kamaz-Master n°312) would have no doubt finished higher up the rankings - almost as if the Blue Armada were in no hurry to move into attack mode…

Among those running into problems on the special were van den Brink (Renault ‘Sherpa’ n°301), whose truck briefly caught fire, yesterday’s winner Siarhei Viazovich (MAZ n°304), who put his truck on its side at km 378 and Pascal De Baar (Renault n° 308), victim of more mechanical woes. All three slide down the rankings as a result…

Tomorrow: “Heading towards Semipalatinsk”

Heading east into the vast plains that run all the way to the Chinese border and Semei, the frontier town in the Oblys region, this 5th stage (849.54 km) also features the longest special (484.47 km) of the first half of the rally. Comprising of long fast sections across the steppes, drivers will have to be careful not to get carried away. Navigation will play a key role, as the route runs between numerous lakes, providing a sumptuous background to the race.

Loeb and Viazovich on the charge

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While Sébastien Loeb (Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi n°104) takes control of the car category at the end of the 3rd stage, in the trucks the Belorussian Siarhei Viazovich won his first special stage in rally-raid aboard his factory MAZ.

Cars: Loeb goes into attack mode!

Opening the piste for his team mates yesterday, Sébastien Loeb (Peugeot 3008DKR n°104) attacked from beginning to end on this third, 324 kilometre long special. Early in the day the terrain was once again treacherous, with numerous water crossings, but the conditions didn’t appear to slow down the nine times World Rally Champion, who charged after his team mates, before overtaking them mid-way through the special.

Second today, Peterhansel (Peugeot 3008DKR 106) ended up giving away 4m34s to Loeb and is this evening 3m15s behind overall.

The big surprise of the day came from the Chinese driver Zhou Yong (Toyota Hilux Overdrive n°116), who started way back in 39th place this morning, but worked his way through the field to finish in an almost incredible 3rd place, knocking Cyril Despres (Peugeot 3008DKR n°100) off the day’s podium in the process. Stuck for nearly 8 minutes, the Frenchman lost almost 15 minutes to the leader in total but nevertheless preserves his third place overall, comfortably ahead of Menzies, with the American’s team mate Al Rajhi (Mini John Cooper Works n°101), who started 11th this morning, completing the top 5.

Muira takes the overall

In the T2 category, after two stages dominated by the Australian Di Lallo (Isuzu n°135), it was the turn of the Japanese driver Akira Miura (Toyota Land Cruiser n°133) to shine. Winning the special by a comfortable margin, the Team Toyota Autobody entrant now leads Di Lallo by 10 minutes. Third on the stage and overall, the Kazakh driver Chernenkov (Nissan n°136) gives away more than 50 minutes.

Trucks: Viazovich breaks his duck

After having nearly taken victory on three previous occasion, thanks to their driver Siarhei Viazovich, the factory MAZ team from Minsk finally realised their dream of winning a rally-raid special on this 3rd stage of the 2017 Silk Way Rally.

Second, less than a minute behind, the Czech driver Kolomy (Tatra n°311), Saturday’ winner, takes the overall lead, ahead of a trio of Kamaz led by Anton Shibalov (n°312) ahead of his team mates Sotnikov (n°303) and Mardeev (n°300). Discreet up until now, the Kamaz look ready to pounce.

Not such a good day however for yesterday’s front runners. Starting first this morning, Martin van den Brink (Renault ‘Sherpa’ n°301) ran into mechanical problems at the end of the special, losing nearly 30 minutes, while Gerard De Rooy (Iveco Powerstar n°302) gave away 17 minutes opening the piste.

Tomorrow: Direction Akmola

This first 100% Kazakhstan stage, at 908 kms the longest of the rally, will also be the first of this edition to be divided into two parts, with a neutralisation between them.

At the end of an early morning 148,51 kms liaison, the 1st timed section (214 km) starts on a fast track, becomes more technical beside a big river, before finishing in farmland. Following a 44,18 km neutralisation the 2nd special (159,22 km) is fast between fields. The day finishes with a 342,89 km liaison to Astana, the futuristic capital of Kazakhstan.

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