Serradori Racing’s Guerlain Chicherit came out on top on a shortened 12th running of the Silk Way Rally, taking his Century CR6 buggy to victory over X-raid Mini’s Denis Krotov by just over nine minutes.
Vladimir Vasilyev had been at the front of an epic three-car scrap for the win heading into the penultimate stage but suffered four flat tires which forced the Mini driver out of contention.
That allowed Chicherit and co-driver Alex Winocq, contesting their first Silk Way for five years, to claim the win, with Jérôme Pélichet completing the podium in third aboard his Optimus Lynx T1 machine.
The rally was supposed to cover over 5000km [3106 miles] across 10 days, starting in the Siberian city of Omsk and finishing in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia but a severe rise in COVID-19 cases in Mongolia forced organizers to cut the itinerary by five days.
Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Michael Orr opened the road on the first stage, a 54-mile test from Omsk to Novosibirsk – the shortest special stage section of the rally but elected to cede 50 seconds to Krotov’s Mini John Works Cooper Rally so as not to be first on the road two days in a row.
That strategy, in part, paid off as Al-Rajhi took over a minute-and-a-half out of Krotov despite losing a position in the overall classification to third as Chicherit and Vladimir Vasilyev vaulted past the Saudi driver.
Just 33 seconds separated the top three crews at the end of stage two (the 82-mile journey from Novosibirsk to Gorno-Altaisk), but then came the announcement from the event organizers that the route would be shortened due to the rising cases of COVID-19 in Mongolia.
A modified route was then unveiled by the rally director Vladimir Chagin, with the event eventually concluding in Gorno-Altaisk after five stages. Bulat Yanborisov, the chairman of the rally, said that the decision to alter the route in the interests of public health was not a hard one to make.
“Human lives and health are an ultimate priority,” he said in a statement. “Today I have communicated a lot with the competitors and gained their understanding and support of our decision. I am absolutely sure that we are doing the right thing.
“We still have several days of racing ahead of us. The pandemic will end. Sometime later we will recall these hard times, but now that is what we have to do so that we do not feel ashamed of our actions later.”
As expected, the racing did continue but not with the same fervour, as a number of competing crews, including Overdrive Racing and leading SSV team South Racing, pulled their entries.
The team made an announcement on Sunday afternoon stating that it was to withdraw Al-Rajhi’s car due to not being able to score maximum FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies points given the reduced distance. However, the FIA has yet to confirm whether or not the shortened rally will hand out half points or full points.
The leading four therefore became three as Vasilyev maintained his lead by finishing second on the Marathon Stage between Gorno-Altaisk and Kosh Agach to Krotov. Chicherit had led the early part of the stage but suffered something of a nightmare stage thereafter: the Frenchman lost time finding a waypoint and then got stuck behind a truck before hitting a rock and damaging the steering on his Century CR6.
With the fourth stage now the last but one, the lead battle was heating up nicely with Vasilyev and Chicherit split by a mere 23 seconds. But disaster struck Vasilyev during the stage – which had been lengthened by 18.6-miles – as the Russian suffered four punctures, ruling him out of the victory fight.
Chicherit, who also suffered a puncture at the start of the stage, subsequently held a four-minute advantage over Krotov heading into the final day, which would not be beaten as the rally arrived in Gorno-Altaisk for the final time.
Lightweight Prototype and SSVs
PH Sport’s Jean-Luc Pisson won the T3 Lightweight Prototype class alongside co-driver Jean Brucy in their Zephyr, nearly an hour ahead of the impressive Anastasiia Nifontova and Ekaterina Zhadanova (BRP Can-Am Maverick).
Nifontova and Zhadanova briefly held the class lead by four-and-a-half minutes from Pisson and Brucy after stage two but a sterling effort from the latter delivered a first stage win on day three.
From then on, Pisson and Brucy never looked back and extended their advantage in the Marathon Stage to an unassailable margin after Nifontova shipped half an hour with a puncture.
In the SSVs, BRP Can-Am’s Matthieu Margaillan and Axelle Roux-Decima took the win ahead of SNAG Racing Team’s Sergei Kariakan.
Final result – Silk Way Rally
1 Guerlain Chicherit/Alex Winocq (Serradori Racing Century CR6) 7h03m09s
2 Denis Krotov/Konstantin Zhiltsov (Mini John Cooper Works Rally) +9m12s
3 Jérôme Pélichet/Pascal Larroque (Optimus Lynx) +22m12s
4 Aleksei Ignatov/Evgeny Pavlov (Gaz A22R3) +13h43m03s
5 Marco Piana/Giovanetti (Toyota Land Cruiser) 15h56m14s