Several top 20 finishes for Overdrive Racing in punishing Silk Way Rally

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One of the busiest ever periods for Overdrive Racing drew to a close in the Chinese capital of Beijing on Sunday, when the Belgian car preparations company steered all but one of its official Toyota Hiluxes and all but one of its customer cars to the finish of the punishing 15-day Silk Way Rally.

With the team running several cars and supporting other international customer teams, the results proved the importance of excellent team organisation and precise logistics for an event that started in Moscow’s Red Square and passed through the remotest parts of Eastern Russia and Kazakhstan en route to China and the mighty dunes that faced teams on the trail to Beijing.

Jerôme Pelichet and Eugenie Decre topped the classification for the official Overdrive Racing team and steered their Toyota Hilux to the finish in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in a fine eighth overall, on an event won by fellow Frenchman Cyril Despres.

The Russian duo of Andrey Dmitriev and Dmitry Pavlov also represented the Overdrive Racing team and finished an excellent 11th in their Toyota Hilux. Fellow Russians, Ivan Shikhotarov and Oleg Uperenko, were 13th.

The first of two Chinese Boundless Young Team Toyotas, crewed by Zhou Yong and French navigator Xavier Panseri, reached the finish in 17th position.

Overdrive Racing supported the Mobilex Racing Team in running the Kazakh duo of Yuriy Sazonov and Dmytro Tsyro and they set several top-10 stage times before finishing in 35th position after late delays. The Russian pairing of Evgeny Firsov and Vadim Filatov were 36th in another Toyota receiving Overdrive support.

Visa issues dictated that Jes Munk’s rally adventure ended before the event crossed into Kazakhstan and a high speed crash damaged Jean-Pascal Besson’s customer Toyota Hilux and he was not able to continue after the rest day in Almaty. Zhitao He and Kai Zhao were running well in the second of the Boundless Young Team cars run by Overdrive Racing until they met late problems and eventually finished in 57th position.

“This was a long and difficult rally with beautiful landscapes and some long road sections in between the special stages,” said Overdrive Racing’s CEO Jean-Marc Fortin. “For us, we are delighted to have brought all but one of the Overdrive cars to the finish and overseen our customer cars reach the finish in Beijing.

“The rally was a learning experience for everyone concerned and I am sure that, when people look back and digest everything, it will become a major event in the future.”

After a ceremonial send-off in Moscow and a long liaison section, the event got underway with a 2km super special stage in the city of Kazan. The route then passed through Ufa en route to the longer and more demanding selective sections, starting with a stage between Ufa in eastern Russia and Kostanay in Kazakhstan.

Sazonov was 14th, Besson was a solid 21st and Shikhotorov held 27th, but a niggling issue with his visa meant that Denmark’s Jes Munk was not able to continue into Kazakhstan.

Punishing heat welcomed teams into the Kazakh capital of Astana, but the next special stage of 293.48km took place in muddy conditions after recent heavy rains and the action was shortened to 223km because of an impassable bridge on the route. Besson set the 19th quickest time in his Toyota Hilux and held a similar position in the overall standings. Sazonov finished the special a place behind the Frenchman and held 13th overall.

The fifth section between Astana and Balkash was even more demanding and ran for 568.24km. It ruined multiple Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel’s chance of winning the event, but Sazonov was in impressive form and the Kazakh revelled in racing on home ground to record the eighth quickest time and move up to a similar position in the general classification. Besson crashed heavily, but Shikhotorov was 22nd quickest and moved up to 18th.

The sixth stage into Almaty on July 14th was shortened, because of storm warnings in the area, but Sazonov retained eighth position and Shikhotorov stayed in 18th at the rest day halt.

Stage seven took teams out of Almaty towards Bortala, but the damage sustained to Besson’s car was too much and the Frenchman did not restart. Sazonov dropped a little time on the special and maintained eighth position, while Shikhotorov climbed to 17th.

The 256.93km special between Bortala and Urumqi on July 17th was another strong one for Overdrive Racing. Sazonov retained eighth in the Mobilex Racing Team car, Shikhotorov climbed another two places to 15th and Yong’s 19th fastest time catapulted the Chinese into 13th overall. Dmitriev was 14th and held 12th and Zhitao He was 44th.

Punishing heat and temperatures in excess of 45 degrees Centigrade in the Turpan-Hami depression and the area around the dry Lake Ayding – one of the lowest places on earth – tested man and machine to the limit, as the ninth stage of 384.40km passed between Urumqi and Hami and the first major dunes on the event.

Dmitriev moved into the top 10 with an impressive dune passage, Shikhotorov continued his rise up the leader board to 13th, but Yong got stuck in the dunes and the 30th fastest time dropped the Chinese back to 16th. Zhitao He was also badly delayed in the second of the Boundless Young Team cars overseen by Overdrive Racing.

There was no respite on the 10th stage of 340km between Hami and Dunhuang, although Yong was ninth fastest and climbed back up to 14th, Firsov held 11th in the customer car, Dmitriev was 10th and Sazonov set the 15th quickest time and moved back up to 39th after delays earlier in the week.

A violent sandstorm forced race officials to abandon the special stage between Dunhuang and Jiayuguan and that enabled everyone connected with Overdrive Racing to regroup and prepare for the final few days and the run across China and into Beijing.

The 425km section between Jiayuguan and Alashan was another strong one for Overdrive cars. Sazonov, Dmitriev, Shikhotorov and Yong were eighth, 12th, 18th and 71st on the special and held 37th, ninth, 14th and 39th in the overall classification. Firsov and Zhitao He were 38th and 53rd.

Stage 13 between Alashan and Wuhai proved unlucky for some competitors, but Sazonov recorded the 10th fastest time across the 367.44km and Yong, Shikhotorov, Firsov and Zhitao He were 12th, 22nd, 28th and 38th.

The final stage on July 23rd ran between Wuhai and Hohhot, before the non-competitive run in to Beijing and on to the ceremonial finish the following day. Yong, Sazonov, Shikhotorov and Dmitriev completed the special stage in 11th, 12th, 15th and 17th overall to ensure they would make the final road section into the Chinese capital. Firsov was 22nd on the special.

The result meant that in the official results, Pelichet, Dmitriev, Shikhotorov, Yong, Sazonov and Firsov finished the event in eighth, 11th, 13th, 17th, 35th and 36th overall. Zhitao He was classified in 57th.

Silk Way Rally