Tatarstan land is not help to KAMAZ

How Airat Mardeyev&Co failed the leg of Silk Way Rally Raid at home

Tatarstan land is not help to KAMAZ Photo: Maksim Platonov

The 10,000 km rally raid in Russia, Kazakhstan and China began in the Red Square in Moscow on 7 July. One of the coolest races of the world will cross the finishing line in the cradle of the Chinese civilisation – in ancient Xi'an on 22 July. The marathon could not help but avoid such a sports area as Tatarstan, and famous TV commentator and permanent author of Realnoe Vremya Aleksandr Norden visited the second race in Shali settlement.

''More than a race, brighter than an adventure''

''We welcome rapprochement with China and don't doubt that this year Silk Way rally will become more than a race, brighter than an adventure,'' director of the partner general of the marathon, Gazprom PJSC, expressed these words at the beginning of the rally raid. One can't say better – the participants of the race will have to go through all the variety of Eurasian landscapes, natural zones, temperature regimes and time zones.

The first Silk Way on ancient trade roads and caravan paths of the Eurasian space was founded in 2009, then Middle Asia became the final target. The rally raid organisers have not changed the route, the number of special stages, technical requirements for participants and their cars since then. The race was not held in 2014 and 2015 for financial reasons. But Silk Way returned to the international schedule last year and is not only a big and prestigious event in the world of auto sport but the last rehearsal before legendary Dakar.

90 crews from 35 countries touched the starting line of the 7 th Silk Way to cover 9,599 km of roads and rough ground including 4,094 km of special stages. Three friendly countries, 14 cities, the Gobi Desert, start in the heart of the Third Roma, the only day off and finish in the heart of ancient China – the plot is more interesting than any adventure series.

Gerard de Rooy was only fifth in the first special stage

Car race on off-roads and under rain

The rainy weather, which is unique for a warm summer month, that settled down in the central part of Russia made amendments to the race. In the first 60 km section, the road looked like an ice rink. All the participants told about it at the beginning of the second section that was on 9 July in Tatarstan and started near Shali.

The crew of ''Michael Schumacher'' — Sébastien Loeb on Peugeot was the fastest in the special stage among off-road vehicles. No less famous compatriots of the great Frenchman — Stéphane Peterhansel and reigning champion of Silk Way Cyril Despres — were second and third. Loeb was concentrated before starting the Shali-Mamadysh leg. But he said the beginning of the raid was successful for him.

Among trucks, neither two-time winner of Silk Way Airat Mardeyev from KAMAZ-
Master nor Dutch athlete Martin van den Brink from the Renault team managed to step onto the podium after the first leg. Anton Shibalov's KAMAZ was one of the best Russian crews (8 th position), Eduard Nikolaev was the last of the top 10. Martin Kolomý from the Czech Republic on Tatra who was ahead of his famous compatriot Aleš Loprais and Dutchman Ton van Genugten.

Weather on order

How well Tatarstan knows how to forecast weather for important sports events! Frequent rains during the Confederations Cup were followed by ideal conditions during the matches. And when the pool of journalists was hiding in the tent with a notorious name ''Head Office'' waiting for the start of the participants of the second leg of the rally raid, nobody doubted that everything would be in apple-pie order.

So was it. The clouds dissipated at 10 a.m. as it had been ordered, the sun appeared, and crews of trucks and off-roaders started to compete. The second special stage Shali-Mamadysh 157 km of length was in the schedule of the second race day when the Silk Way participants had to cover 785 km between Cheboksary and Ufa.

Cars of different colours left the starting line by making their motors roar, performed a circle in the field and hid in a thick pine forest after a sudden turn. The crew of Zamaletdinov-Semyonov were first from KAMAZ-Master team (there are four KAMAZ teams in the competition in total). And another racer of the team Dmitry Sotnikov became our interlocutor who chairs the crew Sotnikov-Ruslan Akhmadiev. Sotnikov won Silk Way in 2013. Last year he lost only to his teammate Airat Mardeyev.

Dmitry, why did not the KAMAZ trucks win in the first leg?

It is not easy – both weather conditions and strong rivals. We will try to win.

What novelties do the vehicles have? Do you have the same car you had in Dakar or were there any improvements? Did anything happen to the engine?

It is a completely new car. Its engine capacity is smaller. Everything was made according to the regulation of next Dakar, and we will be testing it here.

Did you test the new model in Naberezhnye Chelny? Were there any trips besides Silk Way?

We tested in Chelny. We managed to go for a ride in the district, load the car, the engine, test in different regimes.

Many participants consider it as a rest before Dakar. Does anybody consider Silk Way as an independent event in the world of auto sport? Realnoe Vremya's reporter asked.

Of course, we are testing some key parts and components. But everyone has a serious attitude to the rally raid. All the major rivals are here. Everybody improved their cars, everybody is ready for a serious fight.

Crews of trucks and off-roaders started to compete

Vladimir Chagin: ''The strongest will reach the finishing line, real champions will win''

Race director, former famous pilot of the Tatarstan team Vladimir Chagin commented on 2017 Silk Way a couple of minutes before the start of his native KAMAZ vehicles.

The first question is about the current route. Will its difficulty be different from the previous one?

This year we changed 70% of the route. We added new districts in Russia, Kazakhstan, China, so that more people will be able to see these vehicles, this power, leading pilots, stars. I am very happy that this year the weather allowed to stage the special stage in Tatarstan. Yes, the season is rainy. But the weather is on our side, it supports us as well as the whole republic, you see. Here we have a sports festival. And I am sure the Tatarstan stage will enable the crews to join the race, show their mastery on slippery roads. It is very difficult, not easier than in dunes of China. I wish the hospitable Tatarstan land gave power and spirit to all the rally participants, so they will reach the finish on 22 July.

As for the finish. Was it the ultimate dream to hold the finish in Xi'an, which is considered the cradle of the ancient Chinese civilisation?

Endless spaces of Russia, Kazakhstan, China allow to stage very big competitions. Very God wished to stage rally raids across these countries. The landscape is different. The race begins in the most beautiful spaces of Russia – fields, forests, washes, ravines, rivers. Then Kazakhstani steppes, foothills and the Gobi Desert, dunes begin. Here the competitors compete at 10-15 degrees above zero, while the temperature in the Gobi Desert now is about 55 degrees. There is such a difference! In addition, there is a change of terrains and time zones – 5 hours between Moscow and Beijing. The time between Kazakhstan and China will change twice. They will have to go through it within two weeks. The strongest will reach the finishing line, real champions will win!

''Endless spaces of Russia, Kazakhstan, China allow to stage very big competitions. Very God wished to stage rally raids across these countries,'' Chagin is sure

Peterhansel takes the lead

Squishy ground joined the fight of the racers in Tatarstan's Shali-Mamadysh special stage. Nine-time world champion of the rally Sébastien Loeb who wanted to cement this leadership lost speed next to the finishing line of the leg in difficult sections and let not only Stéphane Peterhansel go ahead who won the race but also Cyril Despres. In the end, Peterhansel chairs the off-road vehicles being 1 minute and 19 seconds ahead of Loeb and 3:32 of Despres. American Bryce Menzies who is competing for the first time in Silk Way was fourth.

If the fight on Jeeps seems to become a French get-together, the situation with trucks is quite complicated. The home roads were not lucky for KAMAZ – Anton Shibalov was again the best Russian but finished only fourth. And Airat Mardeyev's crew that was a leader in the past stopped at all, lost much time and finished sixth having given the fifth position to Dmitry Sotnikov. Winner of the first special section Martin Kolomý came seventh, and Martin van den Brink on Renault celebrated the success. The fighting mood and self-confidence did not let Gerard de Rooy – the Holland pilot on new Iveco was second.

Silk Way is gaining speed. We can only envy those spectators of Russia, Kazakhstan and China who will just discover this wonderful world of a furious male fight on tuned ''iron horses'' that are ready to go through any obstacles.

  • Maksim Platonov
  • Maksim Platonov
  • Maksim Platonov
  • Maksim Platonov
By Aleksandr Norden. Photo: Maksim Platonov. Video: Kamil Ismailov