OVERDRIVE RACING WITHDRAWS AL-RAJHI FROM THE SILK WAY RALLY
GORNO-ALTAISK (RUSSIA) – Sunday, July 4: Overdrive Racing decided to withdraw Yazeed Al-Rajhi’s Toyota Hilux from the Silk Way Rally when event officials issued a statement on Saturday to say that the event was not able to cross the border from Russia to Mongolia because of Covid-related safety concerns.
After reports of a spike in Covid-related cases in Mongolia, rally officials issued a statement that the third round of the 2021 FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies would be shortened and extensively modified to continue entirely in deepest Russia.
“Yesterday we were given the story that we could not pass the border because of the Covid situation and we were not sure that it wasn’t something else,” said Overdrive Racing’s team principal Jean-Marc Fortin.
“It is disappointing that teams and drivers come here at a considerable financial cost to experience an event just in Russia and not in Mongolia, where we knew the stages were going to be beautiful. We were obliged to stay in Russia but we would not be able to reach the necessary stage distance to make the event eligible for points for the championship. It meant that the maximum points that could be reached would be 25% for a victory. This is ridiculous. It would have meant eight points if Yazeed had won.
“We had this issue in Portalegre last year with Bernhard Ten Brinke, because of the very bad weather. But this is something different. We can’t accept making a lot of financial effort, man-hours and the moving of a lot of equipment to the middle of Russia to be put in this situation.
“The FIA and event organisers are not suffering so much from this situation. It is the competitors and the teams. It is us that make the show and we should not be placed in this position. We also need to know how organisers are going to react to refund entry fees and some costs to the teams.”
Michael Orr had returned from his back injury to partner Al-Rajhi for the challenge of the Silk Way Rally. The event had been scheduled to finish in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator on Sunday, July 11th before the organisers’ statement.
The on-stage action got underway from the Siberian start location of Omsk on July 2nd and featured a short stage of 87km on military ground in a day’s section of 670km to Novossibirsk. Teams then spent the night at a bivouac on the banks of the Ob River.
Russian driver Denis Krotov made an early move and edged into a 50-second lead over Al-Rajhi, with a returning Guerlain Chicherit in third and Vladimir Vasilyev in fourth. Al-Rajhi’s plan had not been to win the stage so that he could follow his rival’s tracks on the longer second timed section of 132.74km on a day’s route of 581.73km between Novossibirsk and Gorno-Altaisk and then attack in Mongolia.
This was the last stage in Russia before the event was scheduled to cross the border and featured wide tracks and demanding sections through the Siberian forests. Vasilyev beat Chicherit by 49 seconds to claim the stage win with Al-Rajhi in a close third. The result also gave the Russian an outright lead of 13 seconds over his French rival with Al-Rajhi 33 seconds adrift in third place.
But the rally never made it across the border into Mongolia as planned. After a reported spike in Covid-related cases, the decision was taken to reroute a shortened rally through Russian territory after a Russian Covid official issued a letter to rally organisers.
Overdrive Racing duly opted not to continue and the decision was taken to withdraw Al-Rajhi’s Toyota from the rally. South Racing and Xtreme+ also decided to withdraw their entries from the rally.