Jean-Marc Fortin: “A lot of people are excited for the 2016 Silk Way Rally”
Winner of the event in 2011 alongside Poland’s Krzysztof Holowczyc, Jean-Marc Fortin is excited about the return of the Silk Way Rally in 2016. According to Fortin this rally is “a breath of fresh air” for the sport. Now Team Manager of the Overdrive squad, in charge of preparing the factory supported Toyotas, he tells us that at least five of his cars will be at the start in Red Square in July, with one that will most likely be entrusted to this year’s Dakar revelation, South African Leeroy Poulter.
Jean-Marc how did you react when you heard about the return of the Silk Way Rally?
“With great pleasure! Personally, I have a particular fondness for this rally-raid because I won it, but more importantly the profile revealed by the organisers is quite attractive. Firstly, because this is a rally of such a large scope that employs the highest standards of the sport and proposes a new and very large mid-season challenge, which the sport really needs! And then, for our customers, proposing two exceptional venues like Red Square and the Great Wall of China is fantastic! The simple mention of these two new names fill one’s imagination with legendary images that even newcomers straight away understand what an extraordinary adventure it will be. So it makes sense that a lot of people are excited!”
How is having a second major rally-raid at mid-season good for the discipline?
“Well, I think it is beginning to peter out a little in South America and there is a real demand among customers to explore new destinations. Everything must be analysed after the event but to have two long rallies during the year could bring a balance to the season while also returning some direction to a sport based on adventure that has been lost. For example, on the shorter raids in the World Cup; like Abu Dhabi or Qatar, the routes have remained nearly unchanged since their debut and are now a bit monotonous, if not laborious. And without any real navigation, which is nevertheless one of rally-raid’s most important fundamentals. Based on my experience, I know that on this point, it should be totally different on the Silk Way Rally where navigation has always been underscored. To sum up, this race brings a breath of fresh air to the sport with a return to its fundamentals and, as a car preparer, we can offer our customers another adventure with new territories. It is a really good idea!”
Greatly anticipated new territories and especially the route through China
“To participate in one of the first major international rallies to be contested in China is highly motivating for many of our customers, and even the technical teams because, at the race shop, nearly everyone has put in their request to make the trip in July. But, more seriously, we are also expecting a lot in Kazakhstan, which is home to some of our loyal customers and for whom the Silk Way Rally will be the opportunity to show-off the wealth of their country. But for sure, the Chinese portion of the rally is what excites everyone, as much for its newness as for its mythology. This carries a lot of weight when the time to decide who will race comes. Several customers have told me they don’t want to miss this one!”
Specifically, how many vehicles will you have at the start on July 8 at Red Square?
“I think I can openly say there will be around 5 and 6 cars, …We are working to establish a strong line-up, and not just with customers. In fact, I can announce that we have a project with the involvement of one or two factory drivers. The revelation of this year’s Dakar as far as I am concerned, Leeroy Poulter, will very likely make the trip. He is the first name that I can announce. For the other, we have to wait a little longer…”
Drivers in a position to aim for the win…**
“Honestly, I think we have a chance on this rally, because the organisers understand that a petrol engine, like what the Toyota has, must be able to compete with the diesels and so an interesting balance of performance has been put in place. And the terrain will be very different from South America and could thus offer a totally different scenario. It will be an adventurous rally for everyone, but it will also be an adventure for us to manage tactics in order to get as big an advantage as we can from our knowledge of the terrain, which is bigger than some of our rivals expect. In my opinion, it will be wide-open!”