The Silkway Rally 2016 part 4: China (continued)

September 3, 2016

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Day 13 Jiayunguan to Alashan: yesterday was a long day, about 800 km on the road but no off road because of the sand storm; so we were eager to get back into the action, and arrived at the beginning of the stage feeling good about oursleves and ranked just below the top 20, which is very high (for amateurs).

But, this is rally racing… always expect the worst!  and in only 6 km into the special, we hear a BANG, followed by an ugly nasty grinding sound… in a few minutes we discovered we just broke the front differential, the mechanical part that transfer power to the front wheels and allow them to spin at different speeds, basically what allows a car to turn.  without it, we cannot cross todays dunes.  we call Vilder’s crew over the satellite phone, and very slowing turn back to try to meet them at the nearest town.  after 2 hours of slow progress, in which we completely ruined the already broken diff, we arrive in the town and meet our crew.  In additional 5 hours of heroic effort the job is done, and we are good to go, but since it was almost dark, decided to skip today’s stage (already officially closed) and drive on road to camp in Alashan.

Day 14, Alashan to Wuhai in inner Mongolia.  Really beautiful sand dunes, very different than the prior days; they are also very high, but somehow gather rain water between them, so every once in a while you see a blue pond, even small lake, between the dunes.

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Today was really a good day for us, no major problems, and a beautiful smooth stage among huge dunes and blue ponds.  SWR_484SWR_559SWR_497

Day 15, Wuhai to Hothot, we can start to smell the end of the race.  But the organizers surprised everyone, and picked a really long, difficult section of sand tracks and gravel, with a 100 km soft dunes section at the very end as the cherry at the top.  we are all exhausted, mostly dehydrated, the cars are held together with chicken wire and duct tape, but somehow made it to the end.  what a race!!!

Next day, Day 16, its 500 km on road to Beijing in a convoy; the Chinese authorities closed the highway to all other traffic, and we see hundreds or thousands of Chinese trucks stand idle by the road side waiting for the convey to pass… at last, we are at the Bird’s Nest, the Beijing Olympic stadium, we drive over the podium, and just like that 16 days and 7,000 miles (11,000 km) come to and end….

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The Silkway Rally 2016 part 3: China

September 3, 2016

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Late on Day 8 we crossed the border to China and arrived to Bortala. Those of you who know my partner Aviv, will remember that he is a bit picky in food choices.  actually he mostly eats bread or pasta.  but after a long day on the road, when we stopped at a Chinese road side restaurant,  even Aviv had to make a brave face and try this Western Chinese delicacy:

Day 9 from Bortala to Urumqi.  First glimpse at the Chinese desert.  it is vast, it is hot, it has nothing to be ashamed at as compared to the Sahara.  This day had a “road” between and over very soft sand dunes with some vegetation. we started the special around noon, and the temperatures were over 45 C (115 F); it was brutal and we had to stop many times to cool off the engine, running it at barely the boiling temperature.  it was frustrating to see car with bigger engines overtake us but we knew our limitation and preferred to take it slowly but to somehow make it out of that inferno.  many hours into the race we ran into our friends Raz and Hillel in car #127.  their engine, BMW diesle same as ours, seemed to have over heated and stopped working. we staying with them for almost an hour trying to restart the engine by towing the car.  Hillel is a master mechanic and he built the “Yellow” from scratch, so no point in telling him what to do.  we gave them most of our water (too cool off the engine), managed to start their car with a tow, and went on.  they did manage to get out of the desert and into camp later that night, which will be the first of many long nights for them as their engine never really came back to itself after that day.

Day 1o Urumqi to Hami, greeted us after another 300 km on the road, with magnificent “African” style dunes of the next 400 km; standing at 300 feet and higher, bright orange, soft because of the heat, the dunes gave the competitors a real run for their money… all in all we did really well as Aviv turned out to be just fantastic in the dunes and we never really get stuck.  here are some pictures of us, as well as of the leading competitors taken by professional photographers:

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The next stay at Dunhuang suprised us with a strong sand storm; no helicopters could fly, and the viability of the ground was zero, so after a long wait, we continued by road to Jiayunguang

 

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The Silkway Rally 2016 part 2: Kazakhstan

September 3, 2016

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As you can see we received a warm Kazakh welcome on the 4th day, as we raced from Kostanay to Astana. What is it about racing, anyway, that attracts beautiful young women to portly middle aged guys in tights??

In off road racing driving and navigating amounts for less than half of success (but it gets all the glory..). Having a well prepared car, and a kick-ass team of mechanics who will work day and night to fix the car after the day’s abuses, is the real key.  we were so lucky to have Vilder, Levinson, and Bengal accompany us.  they braved the terrible Russian and Kazakh roads in this old rickety truck with broken shocks, worked all night and drove all day without much sleep for two weeks, to get us going….

Day 5: Astana to Balkhash; long 500+ km off-road section and another 300 km on road… we did really well and finished in the top 20, which is awesome for an amateur team like us.  After km 300, we noticed the leading car of the race, driven by Stephane Peterhansel (6 times Dakar motorcycle champion, 6 time Dakar car champion in short the world best rally driver), rolled over and crashed.  Even the world best driver and co-pilot can miss a turn… the beautiful thing was to see them frantically working with minimal tools to fix their car, just like we “commoners” have to do all the time.  it was heartwarming to see Stephane and Jean-Paul Cottert limp into camp at night, bruised but still in the race… the next morning, of course, their car was as good as new, thanks to a sleepless night of their dozens of mechanics and endless spare parts of the Peugeot team.

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Day 6 Balkhash to Almaty was supposed to be a long day, with two off road sections.  and indeed the first section was brutal: deep, soft, hot sandy tracks that literally sucked the cars in, resulting in over heating engines and blown tires:

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As we finished this punishing section and got ready for the next, the race was suspended because of high winds (which prevented the safety helicopters from flying).  oh, well, we had to stop over in this kazakh road stop and try the local BBQ… just in case, they have a bathroom in the back;

Day 7, we got to Almaty and get to spend the day resting and fixing the cars.  while we did rest, it was nothing  but rest for Vilder and his crew, who proactively replaced both axels and the transfer box.  they worked all night trying to give us the best chance possible to complete the next 10 days in China’s desert.

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Day 8,fresh off the rest day, we started early trying to reach a high mountain pass between Kazakhstan and China. but only 4 km from the start, we started to smell an awful smell and grinding noises from the front wheel. To our horror, we saw that there was a main nut missing from he front wheel, probably forgotten by the over worked and tired mechanics in the early pre morning hours as they were finishing their work… but the car is kaput, locked and cannot move… what to do?  well, we found Dmitry! a young enterprising kazakh who happens to have a tow truck speaks English, and knows exactly where the race is because he himself rides a motorcycles in weekends over there! so Dmitry pulled the car on his flat bed truck and off we go.  A lucky call over the satellite phone (lucky is most of the times it doesn’t work) found our team “just” 100 km ahead; they turned back, we met them at the start of the off road section, they performed their usual magic, and 10 minutes before the section was officially closed, we managed to sneak in and complete the section in reasonable time.  Now off the China!

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The Silkway Rally 2016 part 1: Russia

September 3, 2016

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This summer we embarked on a GRAND adventure, an off road rally from Moscow to Beijing, 7,000 miles of forest, prairie, and serious desert across Russia, Kazakhstan, and China.  Among the 110 teams that started the race, 90 cars and 20 trucks, were two Israeli teams: Raz Heimann and Hillel Segal in their “Yellow” #127, and our team, in the #155 desert Warrior: Aviv Kadshai and me, supported by three awesome mechanics Vilder, Levinson, and Bengal.

A spectacular start in Moscow Red Square under cloudy skies started it all…

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Next day was “just” a road day of 800 km, with a very short Prolog in Kazan, at the heart of Russia Tatarland, to determine the starting order for the race.

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More rain cancelled the next stage so again a long 500+ km road section from Kazan to Ufa.

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Only in the 3rd day of the race the sky cleared enough and we had our first real off-road section, a fun and fast section in flat Russian valley with a couple of river crossing.  Here’s the thing about crowds in a race: the people are often attracted to problem spots where cars may get stuck, rollover, etc, for the action of course; you get there and they cheer you on… if you’re inexperienced, you will accelerate into the river to make a big splash and make them happy… with our experience, though, we slide slowly into the water, to the spectators disappointment but to our safety.. it was a great day, fun to be in a real race again, and over the early evening we crossed the border to Kostanay in Kazakhstan.

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