Overdrive Racing begins its quest to win the gruelling Silk Way Rally for the first time with the event starting in the eastern Siberian city of Irkutsk on Sunday (July 7).
The 5,000km cross-country rally offers 10 special stages and will pass through some of the most demanding terrain that Russia, Mongolia and China has to offer before the finish in Dunhuang on Tuesday, July 16.
The Belgian team will run three Toyota Hiluxes for Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Dutchman Erik van Loon.
Al-Attiyah and his French co-driver Matthieu Baumel finished second in the event last season – the best ever finish on the event for a Toyota and Overdrive Racing – but have never won the Silk Way Rally. Al-Attiyah also finished second overall back in 2010 with German navigator Timo Gottschalk.
The three-time winner of the Dakar Rally in South America has been in impressive form so far this season and leads the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies following wins in Qatar and Kazakhstan. He faces 52 rivals in the car category in central Asia.
Al-Attiyah is running under the Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa banner at the Silk Way Rally. He said: « This is one event that I really want to win and, hopefully, this will be my year. I have taken part in six rallies so far this season and won all six, including the win at Rally Kazakhstan at the start of June. This is a long and demanding rally and the stages will be a challenge for everyone. »
Saudi Arabian driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi was second overall in 2016 and the winner of the event in 2018 before joining Overdrive Racing. On that occasion the Riyadh driver teamed up with German navigator Timo Gottschalk when the event started in Astrakhan and finished in Moscow. This year he is working with Dirk von Zitzewitz with whom he finished second in Qatar and eighth overall in Kazakhstan earlier in the season.
The experienced Dutchman Erik van Loon drives the third Toyota Hilux and teams up with Frenchman Sebastien Delaunay, a veteran of nine Dakars and a podium finisher in both the T2 and T3 classes.
Van Loon has worked with Overdrive Racing for several seasons and will be hoping that the new partnership with Delaunay brings success against his two Overdrive team-mates and other rivals, including American Bryce Menzies, the Russian duo of Denis Krotov and Andrey Rudskoy and French drivers Jérôme Pelichet and Matthieu Serradori.
Van Loon said: « Sebastien already has a lot of experience in various cars and with different drivers. I hope we click quickly in the car. It will take some getting used to because, after years with Dutch navigators, the official language will now be English.
« I am looking forward to this rally. Every time before it came into the schedule at the wrong tone, always in the middle of the summer vacations for the children. Now this rally takes a little less time and is a fraction earlier, so I can finally do it once. I hear from various drivers that the dunes in China are huge. »
The year’s Silk Way Rally is being observed by the FIA for possible future inclusion in the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies. The ninth edition of the event will start from Speransky Square in Irkutsk, Siberia, on July 6 at 18.00hrs (local time).
Competitive action, totalling 2,593.15km, kicks off with the short opening stage through the Russian ‘Taiga’ forest between Irkutsk and Baykalsk on July 7. The route then heads towards the Mongolian wilderness with a second stage between Baykalsk and Ulan Ude on July 8.
Crews then move on towards the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator on July 9 and the route features a loop stage to the east of the city on July 10. From there, crews head through the Mongolian steppes towards Mandalgovi on July 11 and on to Dalanzadgad on July 12.
The rally caravan then takes a winding trail towards China with a seventh stage between Dalanzadgad and Bayinbaolige in Inner Mongolia on July 13 and a timed test to Alashan in northern China on July 14.
The penultimate section crosses into Jiayuguan on July 15 and the final competitive action takes teams to the finish near the high dunes of the Gobi Desert and the finish in Dunhuang on July 16.