Dakar 2019 winners, Nasser Al Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel, got their quest to win the world’s second-longest automotive race off to a perfect start. The pair steered their South African-built Toyota Hilux to a convincing victory on the short opening stage of the 2019 Silk Way Rally setting up a lead of 2min32 over Jerome Pelichet and Pascal Larroque in their Optimus buggy after just 50km of racing.
The opening stage of the mammoth event saw the teams start near Lake Baikal – the largest freshwater lake in the world – in southern Russia. The short stage comprised mixed surfaces, featuring hard pack, forest roads, river crossing and dusty Siberian hills, and also included a dash through the Taiga Forest.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crew set about their task with professional determination, grabbing an early lead and showing their intent for the Silk Way Rally.
‘It’s a big one’
Al Attiyah said before the race: “This is an event that I really want to win. It is almost as long as the Dakar, and easily as challenging in terms of distance, terrain and navigation. So, it is a big one, and I would love to add the Silk Way Rally to my list of wins. But it is a long race, and we know from experience that things happen along the way.”
Two other crews are also fielding the latest version of Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s South African-built Toyota Hilux. Yazeed Al Rajhi, who is no stranger to the team, is partnered for this event by Dirk von Zitzewitz, and the pair had a solid start to their assault on the Silk Way Rally. Their time was just 3min09 slower than the winning time posted by Al Attiyah/Baumel – despite suffering a puncture and losing time as a result.
The second non-works Toyota Hilux is in the hands of experienced campaigner Erik van Loon and navigator Sebastien Delaunay. The Dutch driver had to stop twice to change punctures right in the muddiest section of the Taiga Forest. This cost the Toyota Hilux crew eight minutes, but with nearly 5 000km to go, the crew remains confident that they’ll be able to make up the lost time.
More action follows on Monday, July 8th, when the crews take on Stage 2 of the ten-stage race. Stage 2 consists of a 212km racing stage, with a total leg distance of 414km. The bivouac also moves from the shores of Lake Baikal to Ulan-Ude in southern Russia. The race will draw to a close on July 16th, when the crews arrive in the Chinese city of Dunhuang.