|Baja White Hills: Winter storm made the first battles harder then expected.|
By Robb Pritchard: Thursday the crews had to deal with the bitter winter storm that raged over the prologue in the Virage motorsport centre. Friday they had to deal with it's aftermath. Drifts blocked the stage in several places and so the snow ploughs were called out...
Problem solved? Well, some countries start to have problems with infrastructure when it starts to get cold but Russia has them when it gets warm! Last night the thermometer hovered at an unseasonal 0 degrees which meant that the snow was too wet and heavy for the ploughs to move.
At first the start was delayed for 2 hours, then when everyone was at the frozen, wind-swept field that was the service park it was put back another hour and suddenly it seemed that things were hanging in the balance.
There were people stationed out around the course and they weren't too happy to be kept waiting... not the marshals of course, no one ever cares about the marshals, but the grumpy Russian traffic police manning the points where the stage crossed the public road.
The atmosphere was a bit despondent, but the FIA Observer Fred Gallagher and I cheered ourselves up by wondering into the Yoh Mobile tent where a feast was laid out for us. A bottle of whiskey was broken out and a young marshal was sacrificed and barbequed just for us...
But start it did and next to Boris Gadasin in his Range Rover Sport we sped off to find a place we thought would look interesting. He wanted to find a stretch of road where the cars would move about a lot so he could give his drivers some more advice about how to handle their G-Force Protos.
After winning yesterday's short super-special Victor Volikov was first off but by the time he came past us he'd been caught by hard charging team mate Vladimir Vasiliev, who was smiling at the finish.
“It was a long wait to get going,” he said. “We didn't push today as the track was like porridge and was also very narrow, so we were just seeing how the car handled. But if there's not too much snow tonight then we'll push tomorrow.”
Volikov was 2nd over the line but the car didn't sound well and he struggled to line it up for the mechanics, the revs racing and then nearly dying. “The gear stick was getting stuck a bit and one time I pushed it too hard and it broke while we were in 4th gear, so we had to drive for 30km in 4th,” he explained.
“We were lucky to only lose a minute to Vasiliev for that. Actually I will be happy not to be first away tomorrow. Sometimes the track was just as wide as the car and trying to fit a car down a tunnel at 150km/h was not so much fun. It was a bit like a billiard ball!”
A surprise second overall was the brand new Yoh Mobile, Russia's newest car. The mechanics who built it seem to have done a better job than those who named it.
Half of the field are running under the strict FIA rules, but the Soviet designed UAZs and Lada Nivas run in the National class and seeing as the Yoh Mobile is so new the team decided to run it in a the less strict class... so perhaps the fact that it is powered by a 3 litre twin turbo BMW engine, the same as run by the X-Raid team that just won the Dakar would go some way to explaining the fast time.
Also, the engine runs without a restrictor which gives it a massive advantage over the FIA spec vehicles... “We had a couple of little things with it,” explained Vladimir, one of the mechanics. “But nothing serious. Just a problem wit the wipers and a few bolts on the suspension came a little loose so there was some play. But the driver, Alexender Heludov said that it is almost perfect!”
Heading the T2 category in their Izuzu D-Max are the friendly Kazaksthani crew of Andrey Cherednikov and Alexander Moroz. "I didn't get a chance to drive on snow for some years so the first half of the stage was just to see how the car was, how it felt. There wasn't much grip after the cars in front had chewed the track up but once we got used to the conditions we started to push in the second half and actually I'm not surprised that the time is good enough for first," said Andrey.
Someone who didn't have such a perfect run was Sergei Savenko in his buggy. It looks a bit like a squashed Jeep with a few details of a submarine and is powered by a Honda NSX engine. “There was a tight corner in a field where 3 or 4 other cars had gone off and we went to join them,” shrugged co-driver Denis Maltsev. “It took 20 minutes to dig ourselves out of the snow and then we carried on again...”
So in the overall FIA classification the G-Forces hold a 1-2 with Volikov 3'23 behind Vasiliev and Dakar driver Anton Melnikov a further 6 minutes back in his Mitsubishi, although that will become 5 as it seems Volikov has a minute penalty for booking into a time control late. “We could have made it with a couple of seconds to spare, but we came so fast with mud flying everywhere that we scared the marshal so much he ran away...”
Everyone has their fingers crossed that no snow falls tonight. It's an early start to fit two runs of the stage in and another super-special back at the Virage centre before the prize-giving ceremony. Only 230km of slushy snow stand between the drivers and the champagne...
2012/02/25 | 03:28 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/PRITCHARD