2021 Rally Kazakhstan
FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship Round 1
2021 has just seen the first inclusion of the Kazakhstan Rally in the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship as Round 1, run over five stages around Aktau City on the shores of the Caspian Sea, offering fast terrain, small dunes and plenty of challenges.
Aussie Daniel Sanders proved a front runner, after closing out the event after 15-hours of racing on board his GasGas RC 450F with two third places, pushing him up to fourth overall.
Navigation was not easy for any rider and the Marathon stage put a strain on tyre wear, with rain on the fourth day making the ground very slippery. Despite these difficulties, Botswanan rider Ross Branch (Yamaha) managed to deliver a brilliant win.
He even returned to the bivouac at the end of the second part of the Marathon stage on a wheel rim after his rear tyre disintegrated 50km before the end of the special stage.
The fifth and final stage was shortened to 158km because the gasoline truck was not on time at the refuelling point and it was impossible to organise a new start with everything managed automatically with the GPS.
Joachim Rodrigues (Hero) won the stage, finishing ahead of Branch, who arrived at the Aktau bivouac earlier than expected, delighted by his victory but worried about the state of the health of crashed rider Sam Sunderland. He had fallen heavily after 18km.
Ross Branch – P1
“All-in-all it’s been an amazing week here in Kazakhstan and I’m so happy to come away with the win. Before this race I really focused on working on my navigation and it certainly worked here. I opened stages and finished up front on each stage so I can’t ask for anything more. The goal today was to manage the lead that I had, and I feel like I was doing a good job up until the stage was cut short. Overall, I’ve really enjoyed the whole week. It’s great to be racing again and the team has done a fantastic job with the bike and it’s just been an awesome experience. I’m really happy to have won for myself and the team.”
Matthias Walkner (KTM) led for one stage but day three’s Marathon stage got the better of his tyre foam and then a navigation error relegated him to second place.
“Finally, we have arrived at the finish line at Rally Kazakhstan. I’ve really enjoyed it – the landscape here has been amazing, and the event has been good. It’s been a very fast rally and that took a little time to get used to, but overall, I’m extremely happy with my riding and the bike has been perfect. Second place overall is good, it’s a little frustrating to be just four minutes away from the win after close to 15 hours of racing, and I know I made a couple of mistakes earlier in the race that cost me that time, but this is the nature of rallying. I’m especially happy that on the days where I was opening the stage, I was able to maintain a good pace and not lose too much time to the guys behind, so that’s really encouraging. I’m feeling good and already looking forward to Silk Way.”
Despite much of the terrain not to the Frenchman’s liking, Van Beveren opted to focus intently on his navigation throughout the race – a strategy that has kickstarted his season in fine style.
Adrien Van Beveren – P3
“We’ve finally arrived at the finish and I’m super-happy to have finished third overall in the rally. It’s great for the team to have three riders in the top five and it’s nice to see Ross take the win, he deserved it. This rally isn’t really on my favoured terrain, I would have preferred more sand, so to finish third here is a great result for me. My navigation was strong and my consistency all week was really good, so I’m really happy with my result and I’m now looking forward to the Silk Way Rally.”
Finding his rhythm during the second half of Rally Kazakhstan, Sanders delivered a pair of back-to-back third-place finishes on stages four and five to rocket up the leaderboard and end the rally in fourth overall. Sanders will now line up for the Silk Way Rally next month safe in the knowledge that he can compete with the best rally riders in the world.
“Another good day for me today and I feel like I’m back to where I belong. My navigation was on point today. The stage was shortened but up until that point I didn’t make a single mistake and got into a good rhythm. It’s a shame as I felt awesome on the bike today. But anyway, that’s my first world championship race done, and I learned a lot this week. The focus now is to work on a few things before the next round so that I can start strong and be up the front from the beginning.”
Andrew Short placed fifth overall aboard his Yamaha WR450F Rally at Rally Kazakhstan. A few unfortunate mistakes during the week were minimised by consistent results from the American, who remained focused despite facing adversity on more than one occasion during the rally.
Andrew Short – P5
“I’m really happy to have completed the last day here at Rally Kazakhstan. It was cut short unfortunately but up until then it was a fun stage with plenty of wildlife to dodge, too. I really learned a lot this week and I’m happy to start the season with a strong result. The focus is now on the Silk Way Rally, and I can’t wait to line up and race again.”
Luciano Benavides – P6
“It feels great to finish the race, it was really important for me and my confidence on the bike. Today was a really fast stage and near the beginning I saw that Sam Sunderland had crashed and so I stayed with him until the helicopter arrived. Thankfully he was ok, but it meant I had to ride the rest of the stage in the dust of some of the quads that came past me. I think I did a good job, especially on such a fast stage, I just tried to keep a good rhythm and not make any mistakes. It’s a shame the day was shortened, but the most important thing is I’m here at the finish.”
Taking his second stage win of the event on Saturday’s penultimate day four, Skyler Howes earned himself the task of opening Sunday’s fifth and final stage, which turned out to be a relative sprint to the finish.
Skyler Howes – P14
“Stage five felt a bit short, which is a shame because I was having a good day leading out. Other than one small area early on where the road book didn’t quite match the cap heading, I didn’t make any mistakes and felt really good on the fast tracks with a really nice flow. On the whole I had a lot of fun here, the terrain was more exciting that I thought it was going to be. The result isn’t what I wanted, but I have to take the positives from the race – two stage wins and some good team building time is very important. I’m really looking forward to the next one.”
As the seventh rider to enter the day’s timed special, Sam Sunderland knew he would have to push right from the start in order to make up time on his rivals ahead. Unfortunately, a crash just over 20km into the special resulted in Sunderland being unable to continue the stage.
Taken to the local hospital, scans confirmed Sam suffered a fractured hip, and concussion. Thankfully, the British rider is able to walk, and was soon discharged and back with his team. Although disappointed not to have completed the event, Sam is thankful for the assistance he received, and will soon return home for further checks.
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