The 2018 Rally Kazakhstan, round five of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, gets underway with a timed selective section of 280.35km between Aktau City and the Caspian Sea resort of Kenderly tomorrow (Monday).
Ahead of 27 FIA entrants and four teams running in a National rally, will be around 1,900 competitive kilometres on the longest FIA event of the season in terms of total stage distance. Teams will face a further five days of timed action through the deserts, grasslands and gravel tracks of western Kazakhstan before the ceremonial finish in Aktau City on Saturday, June 2. A radically revised and challenging route has been devised by Sergey Talantsev and his team.
The FIA opening car is crewed by the former FIA Group N World Champion Grégoire de Mevius and his fellow Belgian Jean-Marie Lurquin. They began their passages through the stages in advance of the competitors on Friday morning. The crew will report back to officials at the Automotorsport Federation of the Republic of Kazakhstan (AMFK) and any necessary route changes will be made before top seed and FIA World Cup leader Jakub Przygonski leads the FIA entrants into the timed action in his X-raid MINI John Cooper Works Rally on Monday.
The Pole, who leads the drivers’ standings by 31 points from Martin Prokop of the Czech Republic, said:
“This is my second time here. Last year was a really nice race and I get the feeling that this year’s event will be even better. It is different to the other longer rallies. The desert here is full of grass. It’s quite amazing. There were a few places last year with hard dunes and camel grass. We did not expect that Kazakhstan had such a different kind of terrain. We will have a good fight. The strategy is to have a good race, try to keep our rhythm and then we will see.”
Prokop has made a successful switch from the WRC to take part in cross-country rallies and has taken the development of Miroslav Zapletal’s Ford F-150 Evo to the next level with his results, which culminated in the Czech winning the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in March. He only arrived in Aktau City on Saturday evening and had little time to prepare for the week’s racing ahead.
Competition to the championship leaders will come from several fronts: Przygonski’s MINI team-mates Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Victor Khoroshavtev will be aiming for the top five and 2006 Dakar Rally winner Luc Alphand will be hoping to continue the progression of X–raid’s new MINI Buggy.
Vladimir Vasilyev will also be looking to close the gap on the series leaders in his MINI Cooper Countryman, while defending FIA World Cup champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah knows the importance of repeating last year’s victory in Kazakhstan if he is to stand any chance of retaining his FIA World Cup title. The Qatari will be supported by Frenchman Ronan Chabot, but Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Seaidan will not start the event in a third Overdrive Racing car after withdrawing a few days before the start.
Vasilyev’s co-driver Konstantin Zhiltsov said:
“Last year we did not participate here because of Vladimir’s injury. I have been here two times for the Silk Way and I know there are some really interesting places for racing. We like this region and think it could be a great battle between the drivers who are fighting for the World Cup.”
The series regulars will also need to watch out for Russia’s Boris Gadasin and England’s Harry Hunt at the wheel of a PH Sport Peugeot 3008 DKR. Other T1 runners include Yuriy Sazonov and Yerden Shagirov in Mobilex Rally Team cars, Russia’s Andrey Rudskoy and Andrey Novikov and Spaniard Fernando Alvarez and Germany’s Jürgen Schröder in a pair of South Racing-run cars.
OFF-ROAD Kazakhstan’s Marat Abykayev holds local hopes in the T2 category, where Saudi Arabia’s Ahmed Al-Shegawi currently has a commanding lead over Qatar’s Adel Abdulla following the Doha driver’s late retirement from the lead of his home event last month. Kirill Chernenkov and Konstantin Ivanov are also taking part in T2.
Abykayev, who is also the President of the AMFK, said:
“Last year’s rally was very successful and all the participants were satisfied. We also received good feedback from the FIA. This year we intend to continue the tradition on our round of the FIA World Cup. The number of competitors has increased and we have changed more than 90% of the route, so that there are even more challenges for the drivers. I have also been preparing for the race. We had planned not to pass all the stages because of being involved in other rally activities. But we will take part in the rally. We have received great support from the Ministry of Culture and Sport in Kazakhstan and the regional authorities to make this event possible.”
Spaniard José Pena Campo, Russia’s Ravil Maginov, Spain’s Santiago Navarro, Frenchman Patrice Garrouste and Kazakh Dmitry Pitulov are entered in T3.
A pair of Team Kamaz Masters trucks and two Russian-built GAZelle NEXT trucks will take part in the National Rally.
2018 Rally Kazakhstan – leading starters
1. Jakub Przygonski (POL)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) MINI John Cooper Works Rally
2. Martin Prokop (CZE)/Jan Tomanek (CZE) Ford F-150 Evo
3. Vladimir Vasilyev (RUS)/Konstantin Zhiltsov (RUS) MINI Cooper Countryman
4. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive
5. Harry Hunt (GBR)/Sebastien Delaunay (FRA) Peugeot 3008 DKR
6. Luc Alphand (FRA)/Andreas Schulz (DEU) MINI John Cooper Works Buggy
7. Boris Gadasin (RUS)/Igor Petenko (RUS) G-Force Bars
8. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) MINI John Cooper Works Rally
9. Andrey Novikov (RUS)/Vladimir Novikov (RUS) G-Force Bars
10. Victor Khoroshavtsev (RUS)/Dmitry Pavlov (RUS) MINI John Cooper Works Rally
11. Ronan Chabot (FRA)/Gilles Pillot (FRA) Toyota Hilux Overdrive
12. Andrey Rudskoy (RUS)/Evgenii Zagorodniuk (RUS) G-Force Bars
13. Fernando Alvarez (ESP)/Sergio Lafuente (UGY) Volkswagen Amarok
14. Yuriy Sazonov (RUS)/Vitaliy Yevtyekhov (KAZ) H3 Evo VIII