2021 Silk Way Rally News Recap
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2021 Silk Way Rally News Recap

Feb 25, 2024

Posted in Events

As the world of rally racing resumes after pausing for a year, our managing editors Justin W. Coffey and Kyra Sacdalan were invited to Russia for the 10th running of the Silk Way Rally and graciously have shared their daily reports and photos from the event.

It’s about 90-degrees and humid in Gorno-Altaysk. There’s no reprieve from the sun, the dust or the insects. Even the native spectators seemed to stir a bit in discomfort, not accustomed to the global heat wave in the northern hemisphere. A significant portion of adult men stripped down to the buff, generously covering their bits with tattered cloth believed to be their underwear. Any sane human is asking themselves why they’re here. Why put up with harsh conditions, oppressive flights [read: Charles de Gaulle airport], lengthy liaisons, sleepless nights? The list goes on. The common denominator tying together all these people, beckoning them to suffer in unison, can’t be masochism alone. It’s more like lust, adoration, or obsession even. If love makes you do stupid things, then rally raid is the high-maintenance mistress who makes you carry loads of luggage, lie in a puddle so her Louboutins won’t get dirty, and stay up all night dealing with mood swings. Her glory is not your glory, yet you’re revitalized when you bathe in her radiation, no matter how much it hurts. Waking up with mystery abrasions is a familiar symptom of a romance with risk. And even with an abridged roster, there were still plenty of infatuated idiots ready to grapple for her, the Silk Way’s, affection. But the answer is too complex for a single sentence response. It’s a culmination of several instances and emotions. Summed up, this time, in six days.

They said it would be dangerous. Whooped out, rutted, and pulverized by the KAMAZ during Stage Two. And, of course, within a heavily wooded forest in Siberia, mud by the bucket loads should be expected. But when the three fastest men pulled up to Timing & Scoring the story was a little different. And depending on who told the tale, the surprise was a blessing... Or a curse. As usual, Bikes rolled out, then rolled in first. When Matthias Walker (#52, Red Bull KTM Factory) came to a stop in front of the big red tent to exchange papers, a swarm of a locusts in the shape of DSLR cameras clicked in harmony as they snapped all the same quintessential Finish photos and shot all the necessary "so, how'd it go?" videos. Walker's response was the positive version: it was fast, and the road was smooth, it was gas the whole time (or something like that). The organization put so much emphasis on the dangers in this section; they shortened the course for the motos to “reduce the risk.” But an uncharacteristically hot summer kept the ground bone dry. And something, whether intentionally or not, filled in all of the ruts and blemishes marked by “!!” in the roadbooks.

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Walkner’s demeanor displayed relief – mostly to be bathing and hiding from the sun soon – and a feeling that he already knew he'd won. At the base of the podium that evening, Matthias accepted his heavy, bronze tiger with a Cheshire smile, knowing he wouldn’t leave the ceremony without roasting his back tire in a smoky exhibition. With points leader in the FIM and winner of the second stage, Ross Branch, forced to retire the following day due to engine failure, Matthias took advantage of the first available seat and sat firmly on his throne that day. This is where the scale began to tip towards Austrian. KTM’s titan would have had to make a major mistake not to leave victorious, or those behind him would have needed to have the performance of a lifetime to make up five and six minutes or more. Second to reach the interviews was Skyler Howes (#10, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) who had a similar outlook but a little less hopeful. Like his KTM cousin, he found the stage ironically safe, noting it was in better condition when they first rode through a few days ago.

"I wish we had another ten days ahead of us still and could have gone to Mongolia. This last stage was so good, it’s crazy, but the trucks actually made it better. So, I can’t wait till next year! We had five good days of racing. I’m really proud of my result. The road was really good, the bike felt great, I had no mistakes at all. I got to thank my team so much, they put in such a huge effort. I wouldn’t be able to come here without them, but they put in so much work. I’m really happy to be here at the finish line." – Skyler Howes #10, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory

Inversely, Howes was not quite as confident as Walkner in his own results – knowing his buddy Andrew Short (#29, Monster Energy Yamaha Rally) ended in 2nd in 2019. Coming into the final stage from the second position, he seemed like a shoo-in for at least the second step and a minor miracle away from the first one. Not that he isn't worthy of the title, fate had arrived early in this race, and issues don't resolve themselves quickly in competitions of this nature. So, even by the time he hit Control, Skyler didn't know if he'd secured second place or if Franco Caimi (#2, Hero Motosport Rally Team) – finishing 55 seconds short of Skyler – put in a good enough effort to overtake the only American with a chance at the podium. Despite a solid ride from Daniel "Chucky" Sanders (#11, GasGas Factory), which made him eligible for the podium, his point of view was a little grimmer. The stage had absolutely no obstacles to slow down the top athletes, so Sanders had no real opportunity to make up time and catch up to his adversaries. An enduro star like him is the only sort of pro who would prefer a technical race to wide open. It's where he shines. But it just wasn't enough and ultimately the 1st, 2nd and 3rd places were nabbed by Matthias, Howes and Caimi, in that order.

"Finally, the day was really good. It was again the same loop, like in the Day Two, but today it was much nicer. The track was smooth. The stage was quite short, but so much fun to ride. Thanks to Russia. The tracks are quite fast, so you need to find a little bit harder setup, but in the end the bike reacts really well and [does] a really good job. I’m happy to be on the podium." – Matthias Walkner #52, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

By SS4, there were plenty of "sure things" for the Winner's Circle. Quad champion, Aleksandr Maksimov (#102, Mari Team), was decided the day Rafal Sonik (#101, SONIK TEAM) endured some mechanical issues. A figurehead in the category, Sonik had lost too much time early on in the race to catch up to his Russian rival – no matter how strong his results were thereafter. But of the groups, it was the Quads which exhibited their king most clearly from the start. A feat achieved only once before by Nassir Al Attiyah in 2019, Maksimov dominated the Silk Way Rally as Genghis Khan had, invading a then unclaimed Siberia centuries ago, with a sweeping command over his enemies. In Maksimov’s case, he had only a single nemesis, but the accomplishment of securing every stage win is no less historic. With only two remaining in their class as well, Russians Sergei Kariakin and Anton Vlasiuk (#404, Snag Racing) gained an advantage of about 40 minutes over their French (friendly) foes in SSV #407 by the Penultimate day’s end. After today, despite a stage win from the Frenchmen, Matthieu Margaillan and Axelle Roux Decima were only able to gain one minute #404. Coming back after a five-year hiatus from rally, Guerlain Chicherit rejoined navigator Alexandre Winocq (#202, Serradorri) to confront a strong lineup of T1 warriors. It wasn’t a simple open-and-shut case. They had to work for their four-minute-plus SS5 triumph and, subsequently, besting locals Denis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov (#203, MSK Rally Team) by nine-plus. Coming in at Third, 00:22:24 behind the best, were Jerome Pelichet and co-pilot Pascal Larroque (#205, Raid Lynx).

"It’s amazing to come back to racing again, I’ve been waiting for it for four or five years. To be back, especially at the Silk Way, was one of my dreams. It’s a little bit too bad that we can’t go to Mongolia, but it’s like this. At least, we kept racing, and the organizers managed to add two more stages to the race. For me it was good to get the speed, be back on the course, get the confidence and work again together with Alex. We made two mistakes – quite a lot, I have to say, but it’s good. Dakar is the main goal to fight. I was really impressed yesterday with a really rough section, full of the rocks, how fast the trucks can go. It’s a bit frustrating to be behind them, but it’s a sport, you have to wait your time to overtake them. Today we started and after 20 km we caught up to a truck and we did 40-50 km in the dust. It’s upsetting, because it’s easy to make a mistake, when you drive in the dust. But we finished the race, so I’m pretty happy. The landscapes and the people were really amazing." – Guerlain Chicherit #202, Serradorri

The battle wasn't over for everyone today. To include the motorbikes, where contention was more for the bottom two steps. However, there was still plenty of fight between the KAMAZ and the… KAMAZ. Oh, and let’s not forget the Maz SportAuto boys from Belarus – the only beast on-course giving hell to the “Blue Armada.” To take on a team famously conditioned by Mother Russia to execute each event with flawless precision (or someone might disappear), requires such a sizable set of balls, the Spanish dump trunk could’ve used an extra axle to carry the weight. Although #502 driven by Siarhei Viazovich with cohorts Pavel Haranin and Anton Zaparoshchanka took the golden ticket over KAMAZ in the finale, this result still placed them as runner-up in the General Standings, which is in fact the best outcome “Big Red” has ever acquired at the SWR.

"Today we took risks and showed our maximum at 100%. We pushed hard. Before that, we saved ourselves for all 10 stages, and when at the 3rd one we learned that there will be five of them, it turned out to be too late with this pace that exists today between the rivals of MAZ and KAMAZ, this number of stages is not enough. We won the third stage against Dmitry Sotnikov in 40 seconds, most likely, we won a little bit today, but in the end the result of the “Kagan’s Gold” was repeated, the same podium. It’s great that we drive after each other, we run away from each other, we go faster than the Car category. I enjoy such races when everything is in seconds." – Siarhei Viazovich #502, Maz-SportAuto

This special was fast for everyone. A joyride-meets-footrace, Earth spun under burning rubber as the only task at hand was to not be run over by one of the purpose-built garbage trucks. Or, if they were one of the said garbage trucks, their only focus was to clean off all the road kill at the washing station. All joking aside, if there was any question as to who would fill a seat in this game of musical chairs, those victors would be the fastest and most ruthless today. Thirty-six-year-old Dmitry Sotnikov, plus Ruslan Akhmadeev (RUS); Ilgiz Akhmetzianov (#501, KAMAZ-Master Team) maintained their killer instinct all the way to the end, finally confirming what they already knew: they're champions. What’s most intriguing is that their brand new, updated Kamaz 43509 edition – a response to the coming spec changes in the FIM – only finished its preparations the day before shipping to Omsk. Not bad for its first test run! It was most exciting to watch how #502 would fare against this edition’s 3rd overall KAMAZ #500. In the struggle for power, KAMAZ captain Anton Shibalov and first men Dmitrii Nikitin and Ivan Tatarinov (#500) conceded to third, still happy to bring another medal back to headquarters.

The Lightweight Prototype class was the only other group to remain shrouded in a bit of mystery – at least regarding the pecking order. Until the finish line, it wasn't clear who would place where. Punctures were unlikely on the smooth, hard-packed roadways. Space was narrow and lined with trees, so passing was also a hurdle of its own. Jean-Luc Pisson Ceccaldi and Jean Brucy (#225, PH Sport Zephy) had a heaping spoonful of glory as their timecard decided a landslide triumphant over “the Pavel’s” in T3 SSVs #223 and #232 who trailed behind between 11 and 34 minutes. But making good time today just wasn’t enough to tear the overall win away from #225. Some of the more exciting moments to witness, however, came from the fairer of competitors. Each day the women in this class were steadily climbing the proverbial ladder, and today they shined with three female-controlled vehicles that broke through the Top Ten. Number 222, Anastasiya Nifontova, concluded in 5th, Maria Oparina (#226) in 7th and Tatiana Sycheva (#231) in 8th. Notably, Belarusian Anastasiya Lianiova finished her first major rally raid, in spite of many arduous challenges like flooding her KTM 450 EXC-F in a river-crossing or avoiding the rolling rubber stamps under the “musorovozy.” From riding three different motorbikes around the world (a Honda Transalp 650, a KTM 690, and a WR 250 R), trading that sort of exploit for enduro, and now a rally, Lianiova has officially realized what many only dream of: being awarded the finisher’s medal in an FIM event.

“At the finish of the 5th SS, Ekaterina and I arrived 5th overall and 2nd in the T3 class – lagging only 10 seconds from the first SSV and from the Russian crews (except for KAMAZ). The second-place finish in our class was not accidental, and I think we figured out our pace.” – Anastasiya Nifontova #222, Nifontova Anastasiya

Our Lady Rally had been relatively drama free all week, with its few setbacks as inconsequential issues. But no serious damage or injuries, no heartbreak or huge emotional barriers to cross (well at least caught on-camera) burdened tournament. Perhaps that's the result of a magnificent competition cut short. Or maybe, unlike others of its kind, the Silk Way Rally isn't just meant to punish all involved. Instead, it's intended to make their competitors think, feel and understand these places they explore so deeply. To have as many experiences and adventures as they have trials, tribulations and life-lessons. They did as rallies unofficially aim to do – bridge social gaps, test the sense of self, find balance between the natural and artificial, create harmony with the combustion engine, and, often at the finale of one’s Hero Journey, find enlightenment. Facing unforeseen factors which intervened with the Silk Way’s “perfectly made plans,” the organization sprung to action in response to Mongolia’s sudden border closures, which inevitably meant the stages would be abbreviated, but the contest would carry on. And so, what could have been a major blow for everyone involved became a welcome alternative, ending in burnouts, champagne showers and the clinking of plastic cups filled with Siberian moonshine (made by the resident Media drivers, no less). Tens of Nationalities and cultures came together to share passions, hardships and tradition. So, before we say our Goodbyes… Sit, be merry, and sip homemade whisky. Then when you’re finally inspired to speak your mind about the last two weeks, do it in classic Russian fashion: stand up, raise your makeshift glass and cheers to good health and great friends. “Za zdorov'ye!”



Early morning light strikes the Siberian tundra in a way which highlights all of its most handsome features. Color had never looked so brilliant. Who knew there were so many varieties of green? Along the innumerable waterways lay sleepy villages, some recognizable for the hundreds of bright, vivid blue, teal, amber, crimson metal rooftops which create a staggering contrast to the vast sheets of viridescent velvets and silks of the countryside. It’s not unfamiliar – the race only ventured here yesterday, yet the time of day, the angle, the weather all offers its guests a multifaceted perspective. There are lessons to be learned from a redo. Repetition is how you achieve mastery, so maybe retracing tracks from Special Stage Three was just what some of the drivers and riders needed. Not to mention that with a relatively unchanged roadbook, navigation would be more of a memory game than deciphering an encoded scavenger hunt. Some may see this as leveling the playing field. Others believe we've handed the title over to whomever has the biggest proverbial balls and stickiest throttle hand. In four-wheeled categories, willpower and velocity may not be adequate to alter predestination in a single impending special. And although the rally puts a thick wedge between the talent of the grassroots racers and the pros, among the elite group, speed and courage seem to be evenly shared. However, this means the instruments and fortune could eventually be the real determining factors.

For some, like mini-truck #209 in the Car class captained by Aleksei Ignatov and Evgeny Pavlov (XTREME Plus), the machine gives way under pressure, leaving them stranded for hours on the course, which happened to be in the fesh fesh parallel to a river, giving other competitors few options to maneuver around. Clouds of light khaki powder polluted the air while cars, UTVs and KAMAZ found their way past the obstruction. While most just added to the thick veil of shimmery dust blinding onlookers and filling every orifice in fifteen-meter radius. The rebel, as one might guess, was #513 who, when faced with the obstacle, made a hard left without any hesitation (full send) and waded through the water swiftly and unbothered like an African elephant gracefully crushing everything in sight. In true KAMAZ fashion, the f*cks were set to zero. The team pioneered a path which, considering the overall attitude towards the swift currents and slippery stones of the Altai Region, only two followed suit. It might have been a broken axle, but whatever turned the Gaz A22R23 into a makeshift roadblock was fixed with a little bit of left time to cross the finish and stay on the board. They aren’t even dead last. At 7th place, they still have a spot on the upper tier of results, however with only one special remaining, it’s unlikely they could make up the time needed to break the first five spots. Only four minutes apart, the final day really goes to the top two T1 vehicles: #202 and #203. Russia versus France, a common trait among the different classes. So much of the outcome here appears to determine the podium already, but as is said, this is rally and anything can happen!

"Great! We had a really good speed on the stage. Full attack!" – Guerlain Chicherit #202, Serradorri

That same metal monster who (sort of) crossed the river the car-made barricade rolled over the finish line in 5th with Bogdan Karimov at the wheel and Aleksandr Filiakin by his side – the only two-man KAMAZ team. Their Red Bull brethren #501, with Dmitry Sotnikov, Ruslan Akhmadeev and Ilgiz Akhmetzianov in the cockpit of the brand new T5 vessel, took the number one seed. Fans and OEM alike are excited to see this innovative update to the fleet possibly claim victory during its first trial at the Silk Way Rally. All the while Anton Shibalov, Dmitrii Nikitin and Ivan Tatarinov (#500) managed to move up two spots to the second rung by the end in an epic battle against brothers, foreigners, nature and self. KAMAZ-Master promises to clean house. But there’s one band of Belarussian brothers determined to upset those plans. Although flanked on both sides by Russia’s blue giants, Siarhei Viazovich accompanied by colleagues Pavel Haranin and Anton Zaparoshchanka (#502) are holding their ground at Second Overall, giving MAZ-SportAuto a sincere chance of, if nothing else, keeping the “Masters” from standing on every step at the award celebration.

“We had a good stage. I drove faster than yesterday, because I know the Russian roads now. It’s difficult to fight with KAMAZ in Russia, but we did a good job. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.” – Maarten Van Den Brink #503, Mammoet Rally Sport

Cars once again put on a good show, although there's only #202 and #203 really left in the running. Today it was the former, driven by Guerlain Chicherit and Alexandre Winocq (SERRADORRI), who beat out the latter with Denis Krotov at the helm (MSL Rally Team) by only 00:03:44. Unfortunately, the favored duo who have been in the running supremacy all week for suffered – as fate would have it - Considering the circumstances of revisiting a route in such a short time, with every turn and jump and speed zone memorized still, the French hieroglyphs were likely set aside altogether, scrolling just to keep tabs. But that's up to the competitors to admit. This heat – SS4, a day after we celebrated freedom as Americans – was the tangible experience of liberty. Letting go and giving it all the gas you have in the tank and in your gut. We saw this feeling with a lot of contenders on-course, but it seemed like the Bikes appreciated it the most.

"It was really nice, honestly. It was cool to ride with not so much navigation, because you can see all the tracks and just push a lot. But the river crossings were tricky, because the cars and the trucks moved some stones, and every river was a big challenge. Finally, I had a good day, I felt confident, and the landscape was again super-super nice. The stage feels really different, than yesterday." – Matthias Walkner #52, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Moving so fast their lightweight machines floated off the ground taking all power away from the gravel roads and sharp rocks which lie waiting to ruin your day. The rivers and creeks were the only cause to cut power (a little) and help balance the advantages of faster bikes and greater skill to the slower versions and less proficient pilots. Daniel Chucky” Sanders (#11, GasGas Factory Racing) surprised no one when he hopped onto the 400-plus kilometer liaison, a sure-fire winner. Even his friends from opposing teams put their bets on Sanders, who is known for his sticky throttle hand and inhibition on a racecourse. The only thing slowing him down was the navigation, and with it being of no consequence, he was able to twist the throttle and gas(gas) it like he’s a convict escaping prison to gain 11-minutes on his previous results. But, even with a performance like that, Sanders is still eight minutes behind the overall front-runner, Matthias Walkner (#52, Red Bull Factory KTM). And with only one more stage left in this abbreviated event, Walkner’s only two rivals, Skyler Howes (#10, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) and Franco Caimi (#2, Hero Motosport Rally Team) better pull out all the stops if they’re going to keep him off the tallest step at the ceremony June 6th.

As the gaps are just four and five minutes apart, the possibilities are slim unless the KTM golden child makes a huge mistake, or kismet steps in to take control. Maybe it'll be Howes, who's second overall and in SS4. Wearing his black, white and gold colors proudly, we've seen little wavering from him in that position in the latter half of the event. And if consistency is the secret ingredient to a successful stage, then Howes might just find the right opening to sneak into the Winner’s Circle. However, Franco Caimi, the third fastest motorcycle in Stage Four, wasn't so far behind the leaders, but similarly to Skyler, has a lot of work to put in if he wants to climb the corporate ladder. And if he's bothered much by the thought of being the bottom of the best, we may just see Caimi spring into action and attack over the ultimate round, if nothing else, confirming his place on the podium. Where was Andrew Short (#29, Monster Energy Yamaha Rally) in this race? Despite a pretty flawless ride all week, it was machine which beat man this time, keeping Shorty far from the throne. Even so, the brawl on Tuesday will surely produce several glorious moments of racing.

"The stage was a lot of fun. I expected it to be worse after the trucks. The most difficult part was the rivers, that are really deep, yesterday I had a problem. I’m happy to go back and keep the bike moving forward. The problem with the last waypoint was the same for everybody, I just went. At this point I’m pretty far out of the race, it doesn’t matter so much, I just make it to the end." – Andrew Short #29, Monster Energy Yamaha Rally

The T4 UTVs are a sure thing. With only two side-by-sides left and now, a forty-minute disparity between front-men Sergei Kariakin accompanied by Anton Vlasiuk (#404, SNAG RACING) and Matthieu Margaillan with Axelle Roux Decima (#407), only a DNF could alter the future. Things look a bit better for the Lightweight Prototype class where more men and women are still going strong, constantly rearranging themselves in the pecking order all competition long. This category is the only to see not just one female-driven team, but three, in the Top Ten, with #222 Anastasiia Nifontova and Ekaterina Zhadanova primed to conclude among the first five. But there’s really no contest for the Holy Grail, because Frenchman Jean-Luc Pisson Ceccaldi and navigator Jean Brucy (#225, PH Sport Zephy) have already put eleven minutes and two seconds of dust behind him. The first team to eat said dirt coming in after them is from the MSK Rally Team, #223 carried by Pavel Lebdev and Kirill Shubin.

We’ve all been there before, a memory you didn’t know you had of somewhere you didn’t know you’ve been – triggered by insignificant moments yet striking a strong chord. Today was a little different because everyone had been there before. And those vague recollections are from reliving, which only adds to the familiarity which lets the pilots put their guard down. They’d expected the roads to be so much worse, having fifteen or so garbage trucks going all-out across the terra. But what was found, instead, was smooth, silty and fast. And although the waterways were a nervous point for even the cream of the crop, knowing they were part of the challenge helped many of the teams, riders especially, forge alternate routes using fresh strategies. It’s a relief sometimes to see your heroes crack a little under pressure. Or show even the smallest amount of fear. It humanizes them. It gives the little guy hope for a glorious future. And admitting shortcomings among any community can bring the people closer together. Yes, the obstacles were overcome; no, there is not much time for trailing teams to catch up to the head of the pack. But it’s not always about placement or points, and when those points are removed from the equation; the real prize comes from self-fulfillment. By outdoing yourself and learning hard lessons. In rally raid, it’s also about connecting with people and cultures, finding compassion in their circumstances, and witnessing vistas which could bring a tear to your eye. Today and tomorrow might be reoccurring, and as tough as it is to be going home six stages short of the true finish, just when the teams, organizers and even the media find their groove, the music stops. And yet the tone of the participants isn’t bitter, but sweet. Grateful and humble and worried and, had they been given the opportunity, would put in a request for the same song over and over again, if it meant that the Silk Way Rally would play on repeat.


The 411-kilometer morning liaison offered some of the most picturesque landscapes most of the foreign participants have or will ever witness in their lifetime. Even some of the Russian and Mongolian locals haven’t had the chance to travel along reportedly one of the prettiest drives in the world. The low-lying mountains are a velvety green with multi-sized patches of trees in various locations on the cliffsides. The texture and appearance harkened to the felted materials handcrafted in Siberia and Mongolia for centuries. Gazing up, outcroppings of rocks make an appearance through the fuzzy grass pelt on the earth’s surface. Before climbing through the alpine, watery fingertips slid into the valleys making up the hundreds of visible rivers, brooks or creeks near which up to tens of tents edged the waterways at any given interval. This week alone the perfect place to camp. Temperate, beautiful, plenty to do and see. Go far enough away and find regal factions of farm animals breaking the mold on how to free-range. Horses, cows and the occasional goat tribe all fat and indifferent about their luxury lifestyle. Contemporary meets classic as farmers and shepherds gathers their flocks and round the herds with small-displacement motorcycles in place of horses. It's certainly a cheaper option. But it’s an effective tool in modern-day ranching. Deeper still were glamping sites meant to resemble space pods and traditional Mongolian Gers. Unlike the fabled yellow brick road, infested with monkey birds, dare the Tin Man not to grow a heart after one pass down this two-lane tarmac, divided by, of course, by a bright yellow line.

The more remote the village, the quainter – with traditional homesteads which are well-maintained and well-loved by the locals who are lucky enough to live here, let alone visit this place. And then the roadway begins to climb. A fillet knife seems to have carved this intricate winding path through the Altai sierras, so smooth and precise and detailed in its curves. Now, perched above the valley, looking down – if you dare – only shows an alternate breathtaking view of the region. An outdoorsman’s paradise. No. A rally racer’s paradise. It’s so abundant in features, activity that it was easy to forget the event should have been crossing the border today. But instead, in response to the country shutting its gates to in-going and out-going travel – an arguably necessary means to try and control a resurgence of COVID-19 cases – the Silk Way Rally opted for a back-up plan which involved moving up the two marathon stages a few days and keeping the competitors on known (to them) routes for a clean, easy, very last-minute transition, which could keep everyone in awe.

Today, the organizers moved the marathon stage forward in order to give the racers a bit of what they would be missing in Mongolia and an opportunity to continue without skipping a beat. Many were grateful for the opportunity to race even just one more special (let alone have four more to look forward to), which at the Silk Way Rally, is where the landscapes, challenges and competitions really "start to get good." And while all of the participants showed grace while facing these changing circumstances, and even insisted to the organization that they take action to aid the Mongolian people in some way – in light of the difficulties this country is continuing to suffer and their lack of available resources. Already established as a sponsor to their neighbors, the Silk Way organization is working on a plan to raise more money to help them with their fight against COVID-19. Although just about everybody agreed about how to act fast in this time of need, not everyone agrees about what's a justifiable use of their time now that the race is officially too short to collect FIM & FIA points.

Several teams chose to conserve their energy, parts and time and depart the competition early. Promising American UTV driver Austin Jones, Gustavo Souza Gugelmin (#400, Monster Energy Can-Am) and the South Racing Can-Am team felt it was more advantageous to go relax after two arduous events in a row – the Kazakhstan Rally and now SWR, be with their families a bit before continuing their never-ending schedule of training and testing. Others like Italians Michele Cinotto and Maurizio Dominella (#403, XTREME PLUS), Yazeed Al Rajhi and Michael Orr (#200, Overdrive Helix Toyota) and Evgeny Sukhovenko and Kirill Chapaev (#208, GAZ Raid Sport) also departed early trimming the roster to a few less contenders. However, that's not to say the brawl will be any less significant.

"Everything is good, the wheels are not damaged – this is the most important thing. There is a lot of stones, we went very slowly at the beginning. As I understand, trucks will overtake us, they are moving without problems there. Tomorrow will be the second time on the same surface. We drove into one ford very quickly, set a wave on the hood, stopped there, but in general everything is fine. We are happy with the number of fans, this is an achievement of the Silk Way Rally, I saw the same only in Argentina at the Dakar." – Denis Krotov, #203, MSK Rally Team

With Yazeed Al Rajhi out of the way, it seems like either Denis Krotov and Konstantin Zhiltsov (#203, MSK RALLY TEAM) who sits in First today or Vladimir Vasilyev and Aleksei Kuzmich (#201, MINI COOPER COUNTRYMAN VRT) at second seed could be a sure bet for a victory, haven taken every daily win so far. But their opponents are still talented and driven, and perhaps having cleared the way of Al Rajhi instead gives teams a smoother path to pull up to the dominant Russian duo, rather than widen the gap. Three more heats – another marathon in the same location plus additional kilometers and new obstacles, a loop and a point to point – means three more opportunities to change the standing order. The T3 and T4 classes still have a lot of skin in the game. In the lightweight category, Anastasia Nifontova and co-driver Ekaterina Zhadanova (#222, Anastasia Nifontova) conceded their top step on the proverbial podium to a few of their colleagues with Frenchman Jean-Luc Pisson Ceccaldi with navigator Jean Brucy (#225, PH Sport Team) at the front. Of the SSVs, Sergei Kariakin and Anton Vlasiuk (#404, Snag Racing) have finally let go their firm grip of the title and let, reluctantly, Matthieu Margaillan and Axelle Roux Decima (#407, Matthieu Margaillan) slip onto the throne, at least for 24 hours. Another sad reminder that Jones could have been kind in Ss3 as the official Can-Am team seemed to get into their groove in the previous round. The thought, of course, is bittersweet.

The Autos seem to be an all-out war between the French and Russians, while among the Trucks, it's so far less about a battle of regions than a massacre by KAMAZ. Whoever’s name is announced last at the award ceremony, a gambling man would wager the recipients will be wearing Red Bull blue. Today, it was Andrey Karginov (#507, KAMAZ-MASTER Team) who took the win. He and his comrades Andrew Mokeev and Ivan Malkov left with less than 30 seconds separating them from teammates Eduard Nikolaev, Evgenii Iakovlev and Iskander Romanov (#504). Siarhei Viazovich, Pavel Haranin and Anton Zaparoshchanka (#502, MAZ-SportAuto) are the only men in opposing colors not letting the Russian juggernauts command the rally.

In Bikes, it's still anybody's guess who might emerge in the winner's circle. No one man or woman has controlled the board for the entire week – with a new champion each day. And that now that the favorite to win, South African with Monster Energy Yamaha Ross Branch (#16), has suffered a mechanical issue which ultimately ended his efforts is "out of the way," no one can really say which rider is the strongest right here and now in Russia. Red Bull KTM Factory giant Matthias Walkner practical flew to the finish line clearly finding the fast, rolling hills near Mongolia his element. And while USA's next hopeful for historic triumphs in the rally raid circuit, Skyler Howes (#10, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna), admitted he rode a bit conservatively today, he still followed his KTM cousin closely in the pecking order. Yet fishing Second in two rounds still doesn't place him Second overall. That spot is taken by Franco Caimi (#2, HERO Motosport Rally Team). Surprisingly, the true American hero we'd wanted to come back to Silk Way and triumph is Andrew Short (#29, Monster Energy Yamaha). On a new bike wearing new colors this time around at SWR, Short has been staying consistently in the top ten, albeit towards the back. And that's not for lack of effort. In fact, he's been riding extremely well, with hardly any issues with the roadbook and zero incidents with the ride itself. However, we're not sure if in this instance what's keeping success at bay is the man, or the machine.

" It was a really nice stage, because it was completely different, but a lot of water crossings and the deepest one, when I go down and my bike would stop, and my Road Book is no longer, it’s just difficult. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. Today it was bad for me. I’ll try my best tomorrow." – Andrew Short #29, Monster Energy Yamaha

Special Stage Three made it all worthwhile. Roadways and scenery which could render the most prolific poets speechless. The long journey gave the athletes time to think, reflect on a short but already full event and why they stayed for a now point-less (but not pointless) event. If any good came from this terrible occurrence happening in Mongolia, would be that the participants of the rally have the opportunity to learn, see and understand more of the Russian Siberia. More on its food, traditions, attitudes and ancestors. The terrain alone gives reason to pack up your skis and take up residence. It’s no wonder why almost every statement quoted praised the organization for introducing them not to just one epic backdrop, but three: Low-lying marshlands, a densely wooded forest and this, a massive stretch of mountainous tundra echoing engines sounds for miles. If there’s no other message but this, you can find even at fate’s cruelest tricks. As the Russian old adage goes: “When life gives you lemons, make a vodka martini with a twist.” (Or something like that.)


The event ventured further into the Altai Region down incredible, winding, tree-lined roads. While the previous stage had us exploring an empty nothingness, untainted by civilization; today took us to a type of nothingness where you discover other cultures in tiny villages and residents affected most by what's around them each day. Mostly unbothered by the world outside of their bubble. Here, we found a mix of unique, DIY structures – the ones built when strict permits and paperwork are ignored or non-existent. And cows wandering about like stray dogs. Here we uncovered the greatest treasure of all… Something hardly anyone has seen a lot of over the last year: spectators. There was even a stage with performances of everything from cultural song and dance to pom-pom squad… things. And of course, in good ol’ oppressive fashion, a loudspeaker with someone constantly jabbering inaudibly at ear piercing volumes.

The start of Special Stage Two was something spectacular. A sanctuary none of us knew we needed. But for those who spent any significant time within this tunnel of cheers and selfies, especially the racers, quickly realized how energy's infectious effect spreads from smile to smile, from wave to handshake to a warm embrace. Humans are truly connected by some electric bond and when you bring a group like this together, to be joyful and supportive and simply happy to stand shoulder to shoulder again, it can replace adrenaline as your body's natural turbo boost. It doesn't switch off when the episode is over. The love from fans is the most sustainable form of power for competitors. Complete strangers can provide that sense of ease which helps with overcoming adversity, even if all hope seems lost. And when athletes fly halfway across the world without their loved ones, the extra lift of confidence can be crucial to reaching the finish line if nerves or loneliness start to be a burden.

“In this rally, as in every rally, we fight not only with the distance, difficulties on the route, but also with our weaknesses – the fans help a lot in this. Vigorous cheering, lots of people gathered on the stage. The sight of them comforts you, and these moments lift your spirits. Today, even a few kilometers from the finish line, I had to remove an obstacle…on the road. [Ultimately,] I reached the finish line less than 14 minutes behind Aleksander Maksimov. Keeping fingers crossed! Tomorrow, the third stage is ahead of us.” – Rafal Sonik, #101 SONIK TEAM

Daniel Sanders (#11, GasGas Factory Team) was nothing short of ecstatic about the lineup of locals on either side of DSS. Traffic as early as 7am slowed the liaison but conditioned as many elite rally racers are to the quiet streets and ceremonies since the pandemic unleashed isolation on the world, seeing real, live fans was a sincerely welcome surprise, to everyone. Little did Sanders know he’d have more to look forward to with a solid stage win. Had he not suffered an issue with his Iritrack early on, he’d have likely bested FIM points leader Ross Branch (#16, Monster Energy Yamaha Team) by more than a mere six seconds. Skyler Howes (#10, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory) put in good time as well and slid himself into the third position just under a minute from his “rookie” colleague in First. Aleksandr Maksimov‘s (#102, MARI TEAM) victory wasn’t so sweet. Even if he was the better man on-course today, his only opponent, Rafal Sonik (#101 SONIK TEAM) conceded 14 minutes to him after having to remove some unclarified objects from his way. It’s a blow to both men as it couldn’t feel like a truly fair battle. With only each other to face, every incident can appear a bit exaggerated. But that’s rally raid. And Sonik found solace in the roars coming from enthusiasts all around, keeping his head, and his spirits, up. He didn’t have to waste that precious energy necessary to perform at your best by coaching himself through setbacks.

At the foothills of the Altai Mountains, the racers took the event to the next level, some literally leaving their adversaries in the dust. When Cars leader Vladimir Vasilyev and co-pilot Aleksei Kuzmich (#201, Mini Cooper Countryman VRT) hit even a moderately deep patches of silt, a wave would splash over the front of their Mini Cooper, as if they jumped into a puddle with rubber boots on. The color of the earth here is so dark, when sent airborne, it appears to be soaking wet. But you can imagine whatever pile they plowed through they were doing so at the sort of speeds we lie about when we brag to our friends. Before the Cars could even make it significantly into the alpines, #201 firmly sat in the Overall winning seat. That’s not to say Saudi Arabian Yazeed Al Rajhi and British navigator Michael Orr (#200, OVERDRIVE HILUX TOYOTA) aren’t giving the Russians hell. But if you can’t blame #201’s success on heart or skill, blame it on familiarity. Perhaps all three are what put the all-women Ruskie T3 team on the top step. Piloted by Anastasia Nifontova and Ekaterina Zhadanova, the lightweight CAN-AM Maverick XRS has put in work, and it paid off at the end of SS2.

It’s no surprise Sergei Kariakin and Anton Vlasiuk (#404, SNAG RACING) nabbed another stage title, but the #400 SSV is making its way up the ranks, finishing just behind the pair in an hour-forty. Austin Jones and Gustavo Gugelmin (MONSTER ENERGY CAN-AM) weren’t coming here to lose. In fact, they’ve been to the Silk Way Rally before and were strong contenders before mechanical issues ended their efforts with massive displeasure. But Jones says that it was a learning period then, as it is now. And the incredible terrain, people and traditions of Russia are what keep him coming ‘round. Lucky for him, he’ll be seeing more of the Siberian countryside than anyone had expected, because the organization has decided that instead of crossing into Mongolia, the teams will run the two marathon stages as planned (ish), double back and do it yet again.

The drastic, last minute modification – announced at the 8pm briefing in the bivouac – was a contingency in case any large-scale issues arose during the rally which called for such action. And while the organization often considers alternatives for the unforeseen occurrence, this time, COVID-19 was always looming over their heavily burdened shoulders. By the afternoon July 2nd, a nationwide order was put into place restricting all travel to and from Mongolia. And while we will miss that unique and beautiful place, it was no question the organization would comply immediately to the mandate, while also trying to maintain value and a fair playing field for the teams, especially participating in the FIM & FIA World Championships. It may be a disappointment for some, but most have accepted the change without question. Others are even glad to be back-tracking – reliving their experiences over the last few days. Possibly revealing more of these new and interesting (and a little bit similar) things.

"Upon the decision of rally organizers, all bivouacs and infrastructure, prepared for the Mongolian stages, will be provided to state and local authorities to set anti-COVID-19 stations and to help the locals to fight the pandemic. Mongolia will also receive humanitarian supplies, delivered on behalf of the Rally Directorate." – Vladimir Chagin, Rally Director

Everything is everything. It is human nature to liken things to each other, find familiarity in the foreign. This technique, even unconsciously, is meant to keep us safe, alert, aware of how our new surroundings remind us of past experiences to ensure if we see a swamp, we don’t wander aimlessly into the jaws of a crocodile (or something). But in this instance, traveling through the center of Siberia, déjà vu offered comfort, warmth and a connection to a people and place the media wants us to fear. There’s more to talk about when we’re afraid or frustrated. More reason to glue ourselves to the little black mirror trying to hyper consume sensationalism sandwiches, a hunger which is never truly satiated. But, if we took the time to detox once in a while, maybe look up long enough to make new friends, we’d see that the drama usually dwells among the rich and powerful, but hardly represents the masses they command. The second night in Omsk, a passion for JDM drift cars led to a late-night encounter with a local Drift Pro who chose an Ikea parking lot to burn figure-eight’s into the tarmac, then high-tail it before the “militsiya” could fine us for reckless such-n-such. Sound familiar? If life comes with six degrees of separation, engine folks have something like two. Had we not seen that something recognizable to connect us, sincerely, especially if we’d been too afraid of what our electronic babysitters drill into our psyche, we may never have known how the same balance of kind, curious and screwed up we all are.

"Our countries say a lot of bad things about each other. But when we come together, we realize that we are quite the same." [A profound statement made entirely on Google Translate.] – Pro Drifter, Omsk Local Gleb Saab [Глеб Шааб]


Being back at the helm of a purpose-built mechanism, ready to dance the rally tango, after a year-long hiatus from racing, socializing, hell, touching, is just the post-pandemic therapy we all needed (participants and spectators alike). And rekindling this romance with motorsports began with a caravan ride through the Altai Republic, a region rich with altitude, tundra and marshy meadows. Protected for its diverse flora and fauna, the thousands of rivers and lakes create a fairy tale atmosphere perfect for a healthy relationship between man, machine and Mother Nature. As with many of the Silk Way events, traveling through Russia can be burdensome when rain showers follow you and the open fields become bogged and buggy swamps. The mud grabs hold of you or your tires and attempts to drag you down to hell with the desperation of lost souls trying to trade places with the living. But this Siberian sinkhole is only awakened in the wet and it’s hidden beneath beautiful pastures, marshlands and groves of pearly white trunks growing together just enough apart to allow the sun to make them glow. Underneath all that green foliage, the earth is dark, almost volcanic and due to an abnormally hot summer, dry to the point of weightlessness. Thankfully, a strong breeze made the opaque timber-colored dust cloud predictable, therefore avoidable – to a point. No one left the racecourse without a new terra-skin cake on by multiple thin layers of dirt and sweat.

Since the Space Race, Russians (with alternate calling cards throughout history) have developed a reputation for putting up a good fight – if not always fair. But here on their home turf, the Silk Way Rally is being dominated by their brethren from day one. By the time the last KAMAZ crossed the finish line of the first special stage – let’s be real, no KAMAZ crosses in the back of the pack unless it was an unseasonably shitty day… When the last race-equipped vehicle rolled past Timing & Scoring, it was obvious the Cosmonauts beat everyone at launch in this battle. There are Russian leaders in every class save for Bikes, which was taken by Argentinian Franco Caimi (#2) giving Hero Motosports their best of three promising results. Even Aleksandr Maksimov (#102, MARI TEAM) conquered the Quads over Sonik Team namesake, Rafal Sonik (#101)!

“I was really confident with opening the stage but quickly found out that the route and roadbook here are a bit different than we are used to. I made a few mistakes second guessing some things that weren’t clear and it cost me a bit of time. But it’s good to learn things early on. Otherwise the tracks and terrain are really fun, and I’m excited for the days ahead.” – Skyler Howes, #10 Rockstar Energy Husqvarna

But today’s roadbook wasn’t for the faint of heart. And perhaps, too many came into the race with the mindset that the event’s shortest special at roughly 87 kilometers would be easy. This, clearly, was a mistake for many, even the more consistent and competent navigators. Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Skyler Howes (#10) felt his finish was bittersweet. With a few unrecognizable notes on his paper scroll – something a few regulars on the rally circuit commented on as well – Howes became a little turned around. A missed waypoint or two later, he made up enough time to land the eighth spot, which was welcomed if it meant he didn’t have to open another stage. However, the amount of talent – and pressure from Mother Russia – a contender at this race needs every drop of advantage he or she can squeeze out of a round. A sizable six-plus-minute gap between Howes and Caimi came to a surprise to spectators as the former man seemed to be leading the distance game halfway through the course. Barely 40 kilometers into the race, the reach between each of the top riders was staggering. Fellow American and second place SWR titleholder, Andrew Short (#29, Monster Energy Yamaha) didn’t find much more success, stopping at number seven with only 00:03:28 separating him and the win.

Short’s teammate and FIM points leader, Ross Branch (#16) was a minor error away from rolling past with all the praise. Motos were the only category where (RUS) wasn’t the designation for a single pilot on the elite ladder, but in all fairness, there isn’t a Russian competing in this class at all. It didn’t hurt either that Siberia’s Altai is the backyard playground for many of the local drivers. KAMAZ-MASTER is a prime example of a well-polished powerhouse intent on keeping this region their realm to rule. Dmitry Sotnikov, with co-pilots Ruslan Akhmadeev and Ligiz Akhmetzianov (#501) fought the hardest for their domain today, even if they only beat out MAZ-SPORTAUTO by 10 seconds. Captaining the #506 truck Aliaksei Vishneuski, accompanied by Maksim Novikau and Siarhei Sachuk, sent their MAZ 6440RR sideways through the tight twists of powdery earth carving an ash-colored path through the groves of birch trees which scattered in pods across the vast emerald-chartreuse countryside. They never shoot to miss, but the Belarusians fell a bit short – by a strand of hair – in this initial brawl. No need to dwell, of course. Even the Cars faced defeat at the skilled hands of Denis Krotov and navigator Konstantin Zhiltsov (#203, MSK RALLY TEAM) who managed to put almost a minute on Yazeed Al Rajhi and partner Michael Orr (#200, OVERDRIVE HILUX TOYOTA).

"We were careful because we are not used to the new truck yet, we have to get used to its handling. The main objective today was to finish. The stage was short and dusty, it was impossible to stop, because that would have made us fall in the ranking. We understood the navigation quickly, we lost a minimum of time. We needed a balance between speed and precision. The special stage was an excellent test of the suspensions. So everything went well." – Dimitry Sotnivoc, #501 KAMAZ-MASTER Team

If you’re going to have setbacks, the competitors agree now is the time. Early issues have time on their side to find resolutions, learn lessons, polish skills. So Side-by-Side favorites like Austin Jones guided by Gustavo Gugelmin (#400) taking this opportunity to do just that – carry on better than ever. Many are hoping he’ll bounce back from today to represent the US of A as he had surely hoped: from the Winner’s Circle. That said, it’s undeniable the stage goes (again) to the Ruskies, Sergei Kariakin and Anton Vlasiuk (#404, SNAG RACING) whose closest adversaries – Eugenio Amos and Paolo Ceci (#402, SOUTH RACING CAN-AM) – were a whopping 5-minutes-27 behind. While #405 UTV driven by Evgeny Frezorger and Alexey Shpuk (SIBIRSDE) were trailing by an additional 79 seconds.

"Just finished Stage One out here at Silk Way Rally. A little bit of a tough day, with really hard navigation – everybody was a bit turned around. We opened up the road and struggled a bit with the roadbook, but we got it done. …It was a short stage, long liaison. We’re getting ready for tomorrow and to try and gain some time and have a better day. Overall, navigation was really hard, and we were turned around a couple times, but other than that, a really strong day, so [the team is] super happy." – Austin Jones, #400 Monster Energy Can-Am

The Napoleon of special stages, the Silk Way Rally’s send-off delivered a quick, brutal punch to the jaw and lingered over the 560-kilometer drive to the next bivouac in Novosibirsk. If this challenge offered any insight as to what’s in store for competitors, then their 267 km transit to DSS in the morning is going to be spent plotting an airtight game plan. And we can’t wait to see who might spring a leak first. Oh, rally.


It’s May 2020. Tension is building as a sudden outbreak is causing worldwide shutdowns, ultimately cancelling every single event scheduled within the foreseeable future. The Silk Way Rally (SWR) organization held onto hope for as long as possible, unaware that the pandemic would result in far more devastation than missing their ten-year jubilee. Hardly anyone was left dry after COVID’s first few waves, but now as the water recedes a bit, some are able to towel off and carry on. And perhaps this modest yet substantial race can finally celebrate its birthday in style – but maybe with fewer friends at the party, less countries to hop and much more caution than is usually expected at a bash meant for motorsports’ finest adventure-seekers.

Fast-forward to July 1st, 2021, and a crowd – sporadically veiled by the now customary face curtains – stood closer to each other in Sobornaya Square to watch the starting ceremony than most have stood near anyone else in over a year. 2020 was supposed to honor the rally’s 10th anniversary with plenty of pomp and circumstance, stealing a page from Jules Vernes’ “Around the World in 80 Day’s” in an extravagant cross-continental chase from Moscow to Beijing by way of Kazakhstan, Mongolia and, of course, China. However, with quarantine barely in-conclusion, Deputy Race Director Luc Alphand had to concoct an alternate plan-of-action. Departing from Omsk, Siberia’s former Capitol, the competition will spend two days battling its way through Russia hooking southeast into Mongolia for the remaining eight stages – of which two are marathons. Ten days in total, no breaks and plenty of trials to contend with outside of the Silk Way bubble, this is about to be one hell of soirée. One which, according to the organization, will be the most televised Silk Way Rally to date, receiving extended international TV coverage with the signing of distribution deals in more than 180 markets across Europe, Asia, MENA, Africa and the Americas.

“We are very pleased to note that the TV coverage of Silk Way Rally is growing all over the world. Silk Way Rally is not only a great sporting show, but also a powerful communication platform for leading brands, especially through extensive broadcast coverage. We are confident that this year’s season, will deliver another success story in terms of reach and exposure around the world, building on past successes.” – Natalia Yanborisova, Development Director of Silk Way Rally

Between TV, social media and, of course, editorial, the SWR will invade innumerable screens throughout the first half of July. And with recognition comes responsibility. As part of an eco-conscious initiative, the organizers were particularly attentive to the needs of competitors entering natural gas, methane, propane and hydrogen powered vessels – offering benefits to such entrants. They also gave free entry to all-women race teams or competitors under 30 in an effort to promote this format of competition to those communities. Other noteworthy updates come from the juggernaut KAMAZ-Master team, who came to Omsk ready to dominate – possibly in their remodeled K5 rally truck. The KAMAZ-435091 is a response to upcoming changes in FIA technical regulations being implemented in 2022. The Silk Way is the perfect place to test the rig and see if it outperforms its relatively antiquated cousins. The Russian powerhouse is also running their own “outreach” program, shaping and incubating a group of budding drivers and mechanics – one of the young men at the helm of the team’s newest machine. Whatever the age of the driver or generation of the camiones, these giants have a grace which defies the laws of physics, and they’re anything but gentle.

With the 2019 Silk Way Rally winner, Sam Sunderland, absent from the current edition, there’s a higher chance of seeing the event’s first American at the top of the podium. At Sunderland heels during the race’s last iteration, Andrew Short (#29, Monster Energy Yamaha) took Second Place effortlessly, relying on his famously consistent riding and navigation choices to achieve the accolade. Not too far into his rally career, transitioning from success in motocross and supercross in the US to success with roadbooks around the globe, Short has been a figure in the top ten among his factory colleagues since 2018 – winning a champion title at the 2019 Morocco Rally. But this year is his opportunity to use his expertise at high-speed, big air and mindful racing to create another historic moment for America on the SWR podium in Ulaanbaatar. It’s impossible to say, yet, if he’ll be able to outdo his adversaries, to include fellow countryman and newly signed Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory rider Skyler Howes (#10) – who is essentially wearing Short’s old black, white and gold hat. But he’ll definitely be a challenger of whom we should pay close attention.

“I’m really excited about Silk Way because the race is so professional and organized and is run really well. It’s a big adventure and a long route – a proper rally. Plus, it’s extremely competitive and really close in terms of distance to Dakar, so this is great preparation for the team, and me. In saying this, it’s part of the plan for Yamaha to use the race to try some different versions for reliability. I look forward to the challenge of the race and the different countries. I’ve had good success here before and really enjoyed the race. I look forward to what’s ahead and seeing where it will take us.“ – Andrew Short, #29 Monster Energy Yamaha

Speaking of Howes… After years of hustling the off-road circuit as a privateer – selling all of his most valuable belongings in a Hail Mary attempt to catch OEM attention at the 2021 Dakar Rally, he finally reached his lofty goal of signing with a factory team due to a spectacular performance in Saudi Arabia last January. It’ll be a while until we stop talking about his 5th Place finish as a grassroots pro, which led him to joining the Husky team in the spring. No doubt he’ll be bringing his A-game to Siberia because this Utah local has even more to prove. Although we won’t be seeing the likes of ’19 Dakar champ Ricky Brabec (actually, none of the Monster Energy Honda riders will be present), there was still a significant turnout of factory teams at the starting ceremony in Omsk. Red Bull KTM, Hero Motosport and GasGas will join Husqvarna and Yamaha in the Bike category, while the SONIK Team will take on only one opponent in the Quad class. Just twenty-five athletes will grab hold of handlebars on July 2nd, while the auto categories will also see an abbreviated list of entrants. But don’t be mistaken, there will be no shortage of excitement, surprises and that filthy race drama we can’t get enough of.

Between the T1, 3, 4 and 5 classes, the Cars still only count for 30 of the participating vehicles; however, under these circumstances, it’s a generous number as far as safety regulations are concerned. Likewise, the leader in Autos, Nasser Al-Attiyah, won’t be making an appearance this year, which leaves space for other contenders to take his place on the highest step. The Side-by-Sides will see their fair share of fighting with names like South Racing Can-Am, Xtreme Plus and Monster Energy Can-Am in the mix. Austin Jones, the promising young driver from Phoenix, is a favorite for a class win, but he doesn’t plan to let his guard down. Even if he races flawlessly, surpasses opponents in both speed and navigation, it could still all end with too many pinch flats, an electrical gremlin or a broken swingarm – luck has a bit too much to do with the outcome.

“Super stoked to be back here. I raced in 2019 and had a little bit of trouble in a couple of stages. We finished 5th, so I’m definitely excited to have some redemption and achieve a better position with this one. Really looking forward to getting into Mongolia in the really open, fast sections. Something I like a lot. It’s going to rad, and I’m excited for this race!“ – Austin Jones, #400 Monster Energy Can-Am

Omsk sweltered in that same heat wave sweeping much of the northern hemisphere. 95-degrees Fahrenheit seems like child’s play compared to a staggering 114-plus in the pacific northwest, but when you’re draped in full race regalia or exposed to direct sunlight or your hotel with a 4.5-star Google rating just happens to not have any air-conditioning (or even just a fan), these temps are debilitating. It adds another element to the complexity of rally raid, not just on-course but in the day-to-day. There’s no rest at night or reprieve at mid-morning. A breeze through the window carries a variety of winged organisms into the room only comparable in diversity to the inside of a yoga instructor’s intestinal tract. As if dusty face masks, fist bumps for handshakes and the constant threat of SARS-CoV-2 weren’t enough of a curveball, but yet when you stroll past the team canopies at Parque Firme or scan the audience surrounding the podium, what you see isn’t the agony you’d expect from auxiliary obstacles. Quite the contrary. People went about their business as usual, as if no number of hurdles placed in front of them could hinder their resolve to reach the finish line. And why not? The people at Silk Way want to be here. They’ve all dropped stacks of dollars, euros and rubles, signed up for at least six, possibly eight, invasive PCR throat stabs and dedicated a minimum of two weeks of their time to reach Day One.

So maybe the Silk Way Rally didn’t fill the proverbial venue or half the entertainment cancelled, but at least they know that the few guests who showed up really meant it. And the two countries who engaged the group – especially in this era of uncertainty – will be cherished for a lifetime.

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