Total distance: 501,20 km
Selective section: 290,30 km
30% dunes / 10% sand / 60% earth
Life in sand
The ninth stage started from the finish point of the previous day. It was a fast and beautiful route, mostly set along sandy roads. This was the moment when one got to admire the amazing fixed dunes of the Gobi Desert. The next part on your way to finish was slower, as bumps and dunettes were mixed here with dry river beds, but the last kilometers were very fast.
@ OF NOTE
# Bikes: Short wins first special
# Cars: Nasser Al-Attiyah the upstoppable force
# Trucks: Shibalov surfs the sand!
# Tomorrow: Chasing the white tiger
Bikes: Short wins first special
After Oriol Mena earlier on in the race, today it was the turn of the ex-moto crosser Andrew Short (Rockstar Husqvarna) to win his first ever FIM World Championship special. The stage undoubtedly suited his riding style, but a win is a win and the American was modestly pleased with result. Behind him, another good result for Paulo Gonclaves (Hero Motorsport) who must be regretting the broken engine that pushed him out of the running overall. Also happy with his day was Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha Rally Team), 3rd (at 1:45). Ill at ease on the muddy enduro style specials in Siberia and handicapped by his engine’s lack of 6th gear in the ultra-fast Mongolian stages – the 6 speed box is coming in September – the three-times winner of the famous Le Touquet beach race has come into his own in the sands of the Gobi desert.
Overall Sam Sunderland maintains his lead coming into the final stage tomorrow, with a steady fourth place (+4:19) today. More relaxed here in Jiayuguan at the finish line than after his crash yesterday, the British rider has regained his focus with the end of the rally now in sight. Way too experienced to be tempted into making any predictions, he nevertheless knows he managed his race well on this 9th stage, which will no doubt help him through tomorrow’s last kilometres. Behind him, by his own admission, Short might struggle to open tomorrow and safeguard his 2nd place, with Van Beveren and both the Benavides brothers breathing down his neck. The battle for podium places is still as wide open as the immense dunes of the Gobi Desert.
Cars: Al-Attiyah, the unstoppable force
At the finish line of this 8th stage Nasser Al-Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing Overdrive) took his time. Looking tired, the Qatari driver was feeling the strain. But the three times Dakar winner is still fighting fit. Because if Nasser is looking tired, Han Wei (Buggy Geely SMG) and Eric Van Loon (Toyota Hilux Overdrive) are looking even more so. The Chinese driver takes full advantage of his second place on the stage to move up to second place overall. We were expecting a fierce fight with the Buggy Optimus of Jérôme Pélichet but it never materialised. Giving away more than half an hour, the Frenchman finished 8th but nevertheless conserves his third place on the podium. Still chasing after a stage win, Mathieu Serradori (Buggy CR6 SRT) perhaps pushed too hard. In his battle for today’s second place, the driver from the South of France hit a rock and tore off a wheel 50 kilometres from the finish.
Trucks: Shibalov shows his teeth!
Winning the SILK WAY RALLY is something of a must for a Kamaz-Master driver’s CV. By taking the lead yesterday, following the MAZ of Viazovich’s roll in dunes, Shibalov was determined to show everyone that his first place was no one-off. Starting first this morning for what was one of the most difficult stages of this 2019 edition, the young Kamaz-Master driver regulated his teammates Karginov (the title holder) and Mardeev (two-times winner) to 24:48 and 37:29 overall on the penultimate stage.
STAT OF THE DAY
By installing their bivouac at Jiayuguan for this last bivouac before the finish, le SILK WAY RALLY almost touches the western extremity of the Great Wall of China, with its ‘Fort of the Fertile Valley’. The Great Wall has been measured several times. In 2012 the Chinese authorities announced an official length of 21.196,18 mètres, equivalent to 5 times the width of the USA from east to west or, if you prefer, 175.000 football fields in a line! It should be noted however that this figure takes into account all the different walls, sometimes superimposed at certain points, that have been built over the centuries by different dynasties. In reality it is reckoned that the 8th Wonder of the World measures more or less 5.000 kilometres. Which tallies nicely with the wall’s alternative name, ‘the wall 10,000 li long’. A ‘li’ being the equivalent of 500 metres…
Andrew Short (US/Rockstar Husqvarna) 1st: “Today it was more like moto-x, not those fast roads, I was able to move on the bike, I had a good start position, so overall a really good day for me. Nice to win my first FIM special even if it has taken me a lot longer than I thought to get to this point - and I’ve still got a long way to go. These guys have been doing it so long. They have so much knowledge and expertise and also speed. There’s some truth in the fact that this being a level playing field helps (first time for bikes on the Silk Way Rally) but for the most part its just because they’re fast.”
Adrien Van Beveren (Fr/Yamaha Rally Team) 3rd: “There was a super section of off-piste at the start but when you start early it is less fun. I pushed hard to catch Kevin (Benavides) and reached him about km 100. We rode a while together and then I went past. I hope it is a little bit technical tomorrow with lots of navigation so I can take back some time.”
Sam Sunderland (GB/Red Bull KTM Factory) 4th: “After what happened yesterday – a crash like that can be ‘game over’ – I had a little word with myself and today I just tried to manage my gap. With 25 minutes I could afford to take that extra time anywhere I was unsure. Today was really tough, very physically demanding. Happy to get another day done. They saved the toughest to last that’s for sure.”
TOMORROW - STAGE 10: JIAYUGUAN – DUNHUANG
Total distance: 556,66 km
Selective section: 255 km
10% sand / 20% stony / 70% earth
Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qat/Toyota Gazoo Racing Overdrive) 1st: “It was a very difficult stage today. I have raced many Dakars but I have never know such an exhausting special. Like yesterday it was very interesting, but the body, already tired, was really tested today. There’s only one stage left now to finish this SILK WAY RALLY in style.”
Eric Van Loon (P-B/Toyota Hilux Overdrive) 3rd: “Today was punishment. A very slow special with very soft small dunes. Personally, I didn’t like it much. It was complicated to make progress in those conditions. I think there will be a few retirements today.”
Jérôme Pélichet (Fra/Optimus Raid Lynx) 8th: “We started off with the idea of fighting with Han Wei and defending our 2nd place overall. In the soft sand the engine made a strange noise and I had to keep changing down to keep power. Suddenly we had no more drive. We’d broken the left rear shaft drive, but we managed to replace it in half an hour. After that the engine seemed to be still down on power. We had to go round a few dunes rather than over them. At the end on the rolling tracks it was better. At the finish we realised that the engine was only running on 6 of the 8 cylinders because the spark plug cables had burnt out. Tomorrow we will restart with full power because we really want to keep that place on the podium!”
Anton Shibalov (Rus/Kamaz-Master) 1st: “We drove this special at a good pace but I never had the impression of taking any risks. The goal was to drive carefully and get over the obstacles as efficiently as possible. Something we clearly achieved, as the first cars didn’t take much time off us.”
Chasing the White Tiger
The last racing stage starts in the foothills and becomes harder and more technical with every kilometer, going through the canyons, across plateaux, along twisting roads and dry river beds. After covering the first half of the section, racers will reach a valley. The last kilometers are set along a smooth and fast dirt track, which will define the rally champion.