Canadian David Bensadoun, driver of the ALDO Racing Toyota Tacoma, and his navigator Patrick Beaulé arrived in Almaty on Thursday evening following the first six days of the 2016 Silk Way Rally. The team enjoyed a short, one-day rest period in the former Capital City of Kazakhstan, which marks the (almost) halfway point of the transcontinental 10,734 km rally that includes 4,105 km of timed off-road special stages between Moscow and Beijing. The rally-raid left Moscow on July 8 and is scheduled to arrive in Beijing on July 24.
After six days of rallying, the ALDO Team sits 18th overall in the T1 Class Standings. ALDO is also ninth in the T1 privateer entry class, only 23 minutes out of fifth place. Bensadoun was driving at a fast pace with the leaders in the early days of the event but encountered a mechanical problem on Day 5 in the Special Stage (SS) between Astana and Balkhash in Kazakhstan. The team lost one hour to repairs before finding its way back on course. For most teams, the long liaison routes between the very short timed speed stages, along with high cabin temperature are the major annoyances in the early part of the rally.
“It turns out Moscow is VERY far from Beijing!!” said driver David Bensadoun. “The mileage we’re doing each day is incredible. Because of a few cancelled race sections the liaison mileage is much too long. What’s interesting is that the off-road terrain in Kazakhstan is so fast that our average speeds are faster off-road than on road! As long as the special stage is pointed in the right direction, we sometimes end up back on the paved assistance route before our service trucks come by!
“The race terrain so far has been straightforward favouring the 2 WD cars and their long suspension,” continued Bensadoun. We’re looking forward to more technical rocky terrain where the 4 WD will have an advantage. After six days, we’re happy with our current position as we head into the second half of the race, which in fact holds 2/3 of the race mileage. The car and team are in great shape and ready for a serious challenge.”
Bad Weather Causes Cancellation of Speed Stages
Continued severe weather conditions forced the organizers to cancel and then modify the course in three of the first six scheduled special stages. The first cancellation came on Day 2 between the cities of Kazan and Ufa, Russia after a steady 72-hour downpour flooded and muddied the tracks. After two days of rallying and travelling close to 1,500 kilometres, only 2 km of timed sectors were in the books. At that point, Team ALDO was 27th overall in the General T1 Standings and 14th in Private Entry Class.
Stage 4 was reduced in length from 366 km to 223 due to a broken bridge and an impassable river in the second section of the SS.
The third disruption came on Thursday (Day 6) between Balkhash and Almaty, as the drivers were ready to start the second portion of the SS. After completing the first 111 kilometres, the organizers were once again forced to cancel the next 224 km because strong winds prevented emergency helicopters from flying. It was impossible to ensure the safety of the participants. They joined the caravan on the highway to Almaty.
Time Zone Changes and Sleepless Nights for Beaulé
Time interval discrepancy, sleepless nights and huge trucks that leave deep ruts in the mud roads are part of what is on Patrick Beaulé’s mind during the early part of his trip to Central Asia.
“Time zone changes are affecting both of us. The total daily mileage is too long and the nights too short, once I have gone through the next day rally road book,” mentioned Beaulé. “On the third day of the rally after we reached Kazakhstan, we wrote off three hours because we had just entered a new time zone. Three hours less to get the Toyota ready for the next day and three hours deprived of sleep. On the fourth night, I went to bed at 11:45 pm, and two hours later I was awaken by a torrential rain that flooded the interior of my tent. Because it was a very hot night, I left the windows and doors open and everything, including my sleeping bag was soaking wet. Wake-up time was brutal at 4:30 am as we were about to embark on the longest special stage of the rally, a 568 kilometres ride at top speed. Fortunately, the day of rest in Almaty should be enough to get me back in true form.
“The wheelbase width of the big competing transport trucks and the one on our Toyota is not the same, so it is not an easy task to try and pass them on muddy roads or on very soft soil,” continued Beaulé. “If only a few trucks manage to get in front of us, they change the whole complexity of the road conditions and make life miserable for everyone in the T1 car class. But, that’s the rallying-raid way.”
Starting Saturday, things will get serious once again as the teams will leave the 2,600-metre high plateaux of Kazakhstan to enter China at the end of the day. They will then enter long deserts, climb high mountains and drive down deep valleys before reaching the golden dunes of the Goby desert that will eventually lead them to Beijing. A long journey of close to 6,000 kilometres is ahead, 2,500 of which will be at high speed and in timed sectors.