Courtesy of KTM Racing
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Sam Sunderland currently heads the overall standings as the 2019 Silk Way Rally arrives in China. Stage seven of the event has been a liaison only, with no timed special. Racing against the clock will resume on Sunday when stage eight heads to the dunes of the Gobi Desert.
Enjoying an advantage of over 21 minutes, Sam Sunderland tops the motorcycle class rankings with just three Chinese stages of the rally left to go. So far, the British rider has earned three stage wins – one of which while opening the stage. With the rally now heading into the dunes of the Chinese desert Sam, a known sand specialist, is confident of a strong finish.
Sam Sunderland:“We’ve just completed the liaison section into China now and it’s been quite a long route. You really felt the temperature change along the way – it’s quite hot here now. It’s great to see so many changes in terrain in just one race. We started in the Russian forests by the lake where the weather was a lot cooler, then into the open plains of Mongolia and now we have arrived in China where there’s another obvious change, not just in terrain but in the food, the climate, the culture. We’ve still got a long way to go on the bike, but I’m looking forward to these last three stages. I’m leading the overall now, so my plan is to keep strong and hopefully make it through these last few days without any problems.”
Junior class rider Luciano Benavides has once again shown he can mix it with the world’s best, claiming several top-three finishes and maintaining his position near the top of the rankings. The young Argentinian currently lies third overall, just over 23 minutes down on teammate Sunderland.
Luciano Benavides:“It’s good to be in China now for the last three days of the event. Up until now I am happy with how my race has gone, both my rhythm and speed have been good. For the next few days we will encounter a big change in terrain and I think they will be some of the toughest stages of the rally. I am motivated though and will of course try my best, I hope to finish the race strong and healthy.”
Despite the lack of time onboard her KTM 450 RALLY before the event, Laia Sanz has approached the Silk Way Rally with great skill and conviction, steadily building her pace as the event has progressed. Following her excellent seventh-place finish on stage six, the multiple Women’s Enduro Champion lies eighth overall and is ready to take on the final few days of racing.
Laia Sanz:“So far I have really been enjoying the race, but I think the hardest part will start now. These three days in China will be very tough with hotter conditions in the desert, and at a slower pace. I think navigation will be more important, too. There is still a lot to do, but at the moment I am really happy with everything – myself and the bike – and hope to keep this going right up to the last part of the race.”
Jordi Viladoms (KTM Rally Team Manager):“We knew the Silk Way Rally was going to be tough and it has lived up to our expectations. However, the organisation has been very good and it has been an incredible experience travelling through the countries from bivouac to bivouac. We have experienced many different terrains and weather conditions. So far the rally has been excellent. From a racing point of view, it has been a challenge to adapt to these different types of terrain but all the riders, and the rest of the team, have done a really great job. Sam is obviously leading and has adapted to the new terrain very well, but is also doing an amazing job of the navigation. He has won three stages – one of them while opening, which is an impressive achievement in these conditions. Now heading into the dunes, the sandy conditions should really suit him. Luciano has also had a great race, fighting for the podium and showing good speed. In the last two stages he made a couple of mistakes with his navigation, but this is all part of the learning process. He has made some good steps forward in terms of his rhythm and is now able to really fight with the top guys. We are very happy with his performance. Laia came into the rally without having done much training, but she is doing really good here. Her pace is very good and she’s fighting with the top 10 Dakar guys. Overall, the event is going very well and I’m extremely happy with all three riders and the team.”
Sunday’s stage eight of the 2019 Silk Way Rally is the longest of the event at 785.11 kilometres. The 326.6 timed special will cover a variety of terrain including the characteristic tall dunes of the desert, but also dry river beds, ravines, canyons and open plains.
Provisional Standings (after Stage seven) – 2019 Silk Way Rally
1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 15:02:50
2. Oriol Mena (ESP), Hero, 15:24:00 +21:10
3. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 15:26:07 +23:17
4. Andrew Short (USA), Husqvarna, 15:29:49 +26:59
5. Franco Caimi (ARG), Yamaha, 15:33:09 +30:19
8. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 16:02:18 +59:28