|Silk Way Rally: Incredible start at 3rd Silk Way Rally - Favorites looses time.|
What an incredible start of the 3rd Silk Way Rally in Russia. The "B-League" is dominating the field after the first stage on Sunday - and Stéphane Peterhansel looses mass of time after a big penalty for him and the X-raid Mini All4. The stage was marked by the mechanical problems suffered by the top favourite in the car category.
Russian Alexander Zheludov stole the show by winning the first special of the Rally, ahead of Polish driver Krzysztof Holowczyc and his X-raid BMW X3CC. The results in the truck category were less surprising, with the Kamazs hogging the top three in this stage. Nikolaev prevailed over Kabirov and Ardavichus. Nevertheless, one of the contenders for victory had a mishap. Dutchman Hans Stacey (De Rooy Team) lost almost one hour due to an incipient fire in his Iveco's left rear wheel.
Much to his chagrin, Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel, the first driver to set off on today's 260.23-kilometre-long special stage, was the source of much excitement during the first stage. After having to stop at km 43 due to electronic problems with his Mini All4, the nine-time Dakar champion already lies several hours back in the classification.
This is a godsend for his main challengers, particularly two-time Russian rally champion Alexander Zheludov. Team Prodrive's Russian driver and his Nissan Frontier took perfect advantage of the big favourite's woes, but also of his 17th position on the trail, which made it easier to navigate through high grass and allowed him to race on a somewhat less slippery surface. He managed to win the first special of the 2011 Silk Way Rally and take the lead of the race with a 3:13 minutes margin over Pole Krzysztof Holowczyc.
X-Raid's new driver, who found himself the first car on the trail from km 43 onwards thanks to the mechanical problems suffered by "Peter", had to deal with overheating issues because of high grass obstructing the air intakes of his X3's engine. Despite this, the Polish driver managed to withstand the onslaught of Ukrainian Bogdan Novitsky (Proto G-Force), who finally finished 3rd, 4:57 mins behind the winner.
But "Peter" was not the only one who fell afoul of Lady Luck during the first special stage. Many other drivers had to stop next to the trail to solve their mechanical or navigational problems.
This situation was one where drivers with experience could thrive, and Thierry Magnaldi was able to make the most of it. To mark his return to the world of rally raid after two years, the former motorcycle racer and his small Polaris RZR production series buggy posted the performance of the day by finishing 18th in the special stage, 31:11 minutes behind the winner. Overall, the top eight places in the general classification have been snapped up by eight East European drivers.
In the truck category, the defending champion driver and crew had a perfect start to the 2011 Silk Way. Russian Eduard Nikolaev took his 1st special with a margin of 1:46 over his teammate and fellow Russian Firdaus Kabirov, and 9:11 over Kazakh Artur Ardavichus, allowing the Kamazs to hog the top three.
The bad news of the day came from Team De Rooy's new driver, Hans Stacey. The 2007 Dakar champion fell prey to an incipient fire in his truck's left rear wheel, which caused him to lose over 50 minutes to the race leaders. This is just over 8 minutes more than the other big losers of the day, German Franz Echter and his MAN.
2011/07/10 | 20:39 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/SZÈKELY-NAGY