Frenchman Mathieu Serradori and Botswana’s Ross Branch set the fastest times and led the car and motorcycle categories outright after the first competitive selective section of Rally Kazakhstan between Senek and Aktau on Wednesday.
Thirty-four vehicles, 12 bikes and four quads featured on the final start list. Branch’s super special stage victory enabled the Yamaha factory rider to start the opening selective section of 280.22km from 11th position in the FIM section.
The unenviable task of opening the road fell to Argentina’s Luciano Benavides and Germany’s Sebastien Bühler. But Branch used his starting position wisely to follow the tracks of his rivals and win the stage by 2min 08sec from KTM’s Matthias Walkner.
The African duly reached the overnight halt with an advantage of 2min 11sec. Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) and the Yamahas of Adrien van Beveren and Andrew Short rounded off the top five. Argentina’s Manuel Andujar extended his advantage over Russia’s Alexsandr Maksimov and Poland’s Rafal Sonik in the quad section, but Guatemala’s Rodolfo Guilliolo was badly delayed.
Branch said: « Today was a fast stage and I really enjoyed it. The speeds were really high. It was good fun. It was a long stage with a lot of notes in the road book. Now we look forward to another four days of racing. »
Second-placed Walkner added: « It was a pretty nice stage but it was very fast. It was a cool first day and now I look forward to a good rally. »
The FIA entrants followed the bikes and quads through the stage and Serradori was, perhaps, the surprise winner of the day in his South African-built Century CR6 Buggy alongside co-driver Loic Minaudier. The Frenchman carded a time of 3hr 23min 38sec to beat Argentina’s Lucio Alvarez by 1min 55sec.
« This is my first stage with my co-driver and I am very happy to win the stage, » said Serradori. « I had a good feeling with the car. The navigation was difficult today with small dunes and fast track. I am optimistic for the other stages. »
Alvarez’s Overdrive Toyota team-mates, Ronan Chabot and Yazeed Al-Rajhi, were third and fourth quickest and Sweden’s Matthias Ekström rounded off the top five in the leading X-raid MINI John Cooper Works Buggy.
Al-Rajhi admitted that one navigational error cost him dearly. The Saudi said: « We lost in one junction, the drawing was not clear. So we lost around 15 minutes. But tomorrow is a different day. »
The performance of the late morning undoubtedly came from the flying American Austin Jones, who powered his Monster Energy Can-Am to the sixth fastest time and a useful 33min 39sec lead in the FIA T4 section. His nearest rival in the unofficial classification was Germany’s Annett Fischer in her South Racing Can-Am.
The increasingly-impressive Cristina Gutierrez delivered another polished drive in her OT3 by Overdrive to set the eighth quickest time behind Denis Krotov’s MINI. The Spaniard moved into a lead of 4min 40sec over Russia’s Pavel Lebedev in the FIA T3 category after Belgian rival Guillaume de Mevius dropped over 80 minutes with technical issues in the stage.
Gutierrez said: « The stage was very difficult for navigation with a lot of tracks and sometimes it was very hard to find the way. We have a puncture too, but the car is here in one piece. »
Turbo-related issues cost former FIA World Cup champion Vladimir Vasilyev any chance of taking victory and he incurred massive time penalties for failing to finish the special.
Tomorrow, competitors head from Aktau City on a difficult selective section that guides them into a night halt at the Kenderly resort on the Caspian Sea. The day’s stage begins 20.04km from the bivouac, runs for 279.48km and ends 2.27km from Kenderly.
This will be the first part of a Marathon stage with no service assistance and team personnel remaining in Aktau, while the competitors fend for themselves at the resort.
2021 Rally Kazakhstan – Positions after leg 1:
1. Mathieu Serradori (FRA)/Loic Minaudier (FRA) Century CR6 Buggy, 3hr 23min 38sec
2. Lucio Alvarez (ARG)/Armand Monleón (ESP) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 3hr 25min 33sec
3. Ronan Chabot (FRA)/Gilles Pillot (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 3hr 30min 52sec
4. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Dirk von Zitzewitz (DEU) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 3hr 35min 55sec
5. Mattias Ekström (SWE)/Emil Bergkvist (SWE) MINI John Cooper Works Buggy, 3hr 38min 11sec
6. Austin Jones (USA)/Gustavo Gugelmin (BRA) Can-Am Maverick X3 (FIA T4), 3hr 38min 32sec
7. Denis Krotov (RUS)/ Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) MINI John Cooper Works Rally, 3hr 44min 20sec
8. Cristina Gutierrez (ESP)/François Cazalet (FRA) OT3 by Overdrive (FIA T3), 3hr 46min 23sec
9. Pavel Lebedev (RUS)/Kirill Shubin (RUS) Can-Am Maverick X3 (FIA T3), 3hr 51min 03sec
10. Juan Cruz Yacopini (ARG)/Alejandro Yacopini (ARG) Toyota Hilux Overdrive, 3hr 56min 58sec
11. Anvar Ergashev (UZB)/Andrei Rudnitski (RUS) Can-Am Maverick X3 (FIA T3), 4hr 00min 30sec
12. José-Luis Pena Campo (ESP)/Rafael Tornabell (ESP) Polaris RZR Pro XP (FIA T3), 4hr 03min 55sec…
1. Ross Branch (BWA) Yamaha WRF 450, 3hr 19min 53sec
2. Matthias Walkner (AUT) KTM 450 Rally, 3hr 22min 04sec
3. Skyler Howes (USA) Husqvarna HQV 450 Rally Replica, 3hr 23min 36sec
4. Adrien van Beveren (FRA) Yamaha WRF 450, 3hr 27min 20sec
5. Andrew Short (USA) Yamaha WRF 450, 3hr 27min 38sec
6. Joaquim Rodrigues (PRT) Hero 450 Rally, 3hr 30min 13sec
7. Sam Sunderland (ARE) KTM 450 Rally, 3hr 30min 44sec
8. Franco Caimi (ARG) Hero 450 Rally, 3hr 34min 13sec
9. Daniel Sanders (AUS) KTM 450 Rally, 3hr 37min 18sec
10. Sebastien Bühler (DEU) Hero 450 Rally, 3hr 39min 21sec
11. Luciano Benavides (ARG) Husqvarna HQV 450 Rally Replica, 3hr 42min 12sec
12. Augusto Cabini (ITA) Honda CRF 450 RS, 5hr 43min 23sec
1. Manuel Andujar (ARG) Yamaha Raptor 700, 4hr 26min 11sec
2. Aleksandr Maksimov (RUS) Yamaha YMF 700R SE, 4hr 31min 31sec
3. Rafal Sonik (POL) Yamaha Raptor 700, 4hr 44min 07sec