By a Correspondent/ Aktau City, Kazakhstan
Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed al-Rajhi continued to hunt down Frenchman Mathieu Serradori on the second half of Rally Kazakhstan’s marathon stage between Kenderly and Senek yesterday.
The former winner of the event guided his Toyota Hilux to a second successive stage win to reduce Serradori’s overall advantage to 22 seconds heading into the final two days of the second round of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies.
Al-Rajhi was the class of the field on a stage where Argentina’s Sebastien Halpern was third quickest in a MINI John Cooper Works Buggy and Denis Krotov was fourth in another X-raid machine. The Russian duly displaced Ronan Chabot and moved up to fifth overall behind Sweden’s Matthias Ekström. Juan Cruz Yacopini lost his place in the top 10 after rolling his Overdrive Toyota in the stage.
“We’ve completed the two Marathon days and it was a very challenging part of the race,” said al-Rajhi’s co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz. “We won the stage yesterday, but had some trouble inside the car with alarms for fuel pressure. There was nothing we could do against it. We tried to do a small service at the Marathon, change the wheels and check all the stuff. “Today, the car was running nicely, no real problems. We had to open today. Navigation was tricky in places and we are very happy to win the stage and get very close to the leader in the overall classification. Yazeed pushed hard and then had a smooth pace towards the end.”
Despite finishing the stage and the long liaison with no rear tyre, Ross Branch regained the advantage in the motorcycle category on a stage where Dubai-based Briton Sam Sunderland set the fastest time of 3hr 38min 13sec to beat France’s Adrien van Beveren by 2min 08sec and climb to fourth place. The third quickest time enabled Branch to guide his Yamaha to an overall advantage of 6min 27sec over Van Beveren, after overnight leader Matthias Walkner suffered tyre mousse issues and slipped to third.
Branch said: “What a day! The tyre went a while back, 50km before the finish of the racing stage, so I had to make the best of a bad situation. I guess you close your eyes and hope for the best! I am just happy to be here after a crazy couple of hours….”
Walkner added: “15km before the end (tyre woes), but when I passed Skyler (Howes), after km220, I already knew I would have to slow down a bit or I would not arrive. Finally, I tried to manage it. It feels super scary because you never know what is going to happen. The goal was to arrive to the finish.”
After winning stage two, Skyler Howes also suffered serious tyre mousse issues and incurred a fistful of time penalties that pushed him to the rear of the two-wheel field behind the Hero Motorsports Team Rally trio of Franco Caimi, Sebastien Bühler and Joaquim Rodrigues, who all suffered tyre and rim issues on day two.
As Rodrigues explained: “The team made a bad choice with the tyre. This is part of racing. We were able to fix the problem but we were penalized, of course, but we arrived at the finish line. Now we got six hours penalized, so it is kind of pointless to be pushing hard. We are just trying to make it to the finish now.”
Argentine Manuel Andujar inherited a massive lead of 27min 45sec in the quad category after serious problems for his closest rival Alexsandr Maksimov. An electric cable became entangled around the Russia’s wheel and tyre in the stage and, as a result, the Yamaha rider also ceded second position to the Polish former World Champion Rafal Sonik.
Pavel Lebedev deprived Guillaume de Mevius of a second successive stage win in the FIA T3 section.
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