Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa’s Nasser Al Attiyah and navigator Mathieu Baumel won their third successive stage of the 2019 Silk Way Rally, between UIan-Ude in Russia and Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. The pair brought their SA-built Toyota Hilux home in a time of 2hrs 23min 56sec over the timed section of 243km.
This puts them more than 20 minutes ahead of their nearest competitors.
After parking his Toyota Hilux in the bivouac at Ulaanbaatar, Al Attiyah said: “It is the first time I have driven in Mongolia, and it is really magnificent. Everything is green! We drove well today, and the pace was spot on.”
With that said, the pair initially struggled with navigation, as they had to open the stage. Their progress was also hampered by a slow puncture 20km from the finish, but despite these challenges, the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA crew managed to increase their lead.
Al Attiyah continued: “This is important for us, as tomorrow is the first really long stage of the rally, and I’d rather start it with time in hand, than having to push over unknown terrain.”
Forced to retire
At the same time, fellow-Toyota Hilux driver Erik van Loon came home in fifth place on Stage 3, having started the day way down the order thanks to his troubles on Stage 2. The Dutch driver, together with French navigator Sebastien Delaunay, struggled to pass many of the slower competitors on Stage 3 due to heavy dust and narrow roads, but will start Stage 4 as the fifth car on the road, which is sure to count in their favour.
Unfortunately for Yazeed Al Rajhi and Dirk von Zitzewitz, also in a Toyota Hilux, they had to abandon the race after Stage 2. A broken belt on the engine saw them cause irreparable damage before stopping, and they had no choice but to throw in the towel – especially disappointing for Al Rajhi, who won the race in 2018.
The remaining crews will compete in a looped stage for Stage 4, starting and finishing near the bivouac at Ulaanbaatar. At 470km in length, this is the first long stage of the 2019 edition of the Silk Way Rally, and may well prove to be a turning point in the race. The terrain will include dry creek beds, low hills and endless steppe roads through the Mongolian landscape. Al Attiyah/Baumel will again be the first car on the stage, after their victory on Stage 3.
The race will finish in the Chinese city of Dunhuang on July 16th, after more than 5 000km, ten stages and visiting three countries.