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.
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:
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.
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!