2nd Rd. Rally 2019 – Silk Way Rally (Russia, Mongolia, China)
Sam Sunderland - KTM 450 RALLY

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Celebrating its ninth edition in 2019, this will be the first time two-wheel competitors have been able to compete. As such the Silk Way Rally is a completely new fixture to both the championship and for the riders. Offering a wide variety of terrain, the rally starts in the Russian city of Irkutsk where stages will be held on fast, hard-packed tracks and mountain passes. Navigation will prove key as the race climbs into Mongolia. The route, although beautiful, hides many challenging features and rises to an altitude of over 1,500 metres. Stage seven will see riders cross into China and the dunes of the Gobi Desert. At the finish, 2593.15 kilometres of timed special stages will have been raced, with competitors covering a total of over 5,000 kilometres.

Winner of the opening round in Abu Dhabi, Sam Sunderland comes into the Silk Way Rally eager to perform well at the new event while also defending his championship lead. The 2017 Dakar Rally winner has been concentrating on his training over the past few months as well as helping to develop the KTM 450 RALLY machine used by the whole team. With The Silk Way being classed as a Marathon Rally, the usual points awarded at the finish are multiplied by 1.5. That, combined with participation points awarded per stage, means a strong result at round two is extremely important for the Brit’s title hopes.

Sam Sunderland: “We got the season off to the perfect start in Abu Dhabi with a win, but obviously there’s been quite a long gap since then. We’ve been doing some testing in the break and I think we have made a few good improvements – we’re always looking for something a bit extra and the work on the bike never stops. It looks like the Silk Way Rally will be a good test for us as it’s long and we travel through different terrains. We start in the mountains on hard pack in Russia, through the open plains of Mongolia and then finish in the dunes of China. It looks like it's going to be a tough old race and really long. It’s difficult to know what to expect as it’s the first year for bikes there, so everyone is kind of thrown in at the deep end. But I certainly feel we are prepared. It’s nice to take on a new challenge like this, it’s one of the things that I love the most about our sport.”

Making his FIM Cross-Country Rallies podium debut at round one with a runner-up finish, Luciano Benavides has shown his extensive training and hard work has paid off. Although still racing in the Junior category, the young Argentinian will also be aiming for a strong finish in the overall results and feels confident going into the Silk Way Rally.

Luciano Benavides: “Physically and mentally I feel really good right now. I have been training a lot in the gym and also with my psychologist. After my second position at the opening round in Abu Dhabi, my confidence is high and I’m really looking forward to the Silk Way Rally. The race is new for everyone, but for me it’s my first full season in the world championship so the goal is to finish the season strong. I think Silk Way will be a real challenge as it’s so long and covers so many different types of terrain. I have been training for longer distances though and feel I’m ready for a long 10 days. Strategy will be tricky as always and there are many fast riders. With this round awarding more points, it’s going to be very important to get a strong finish.”

Despite being stricken with a virus during the 2018 season, Laia Sanz bounced back to put in another incredible performance at the Dakar Rally. Taking some time to recover from a small injury after the event, the multiple Women’s Trial World Champion then focused on extreme enduro training for her entry to this year’s Erzbergrodeo Red Bull Hare Scramble. Now, having returned to her rally bike, Laia goes into the Silk Way Rally looking to clock up the kilometres, claim a good finish and continue training for the 2020 Dakar.

Laia Sanz: “I am feeling good right now, not quite 100% but definitely better than a few months ago. I had a small injury after Dakar, which took a little time to recover from, then I started training hard for Erzberg. Following the Hare Scramble, I went back to the rally bike, but I haven’t been able to spend that much time on it. I’m looking forward to getting some kilometres done at the Silk Way. The new race looks exciting and I’m really looking forward to it. 10 days racing will be tough, and the goal is to make it safely to the finish and get some good training for Dakar. I’m also looking forward to being back with the rally guys and the whole team, I really enjoy racing with them all.”

Jordi Viladoms (KTM Rally Team Manager): “The Silk Way Rally will be a big challenge for all the team, the riders and the assistants, because we have never been there and with the points bonuses it’s also extremely important for the championship. We arrive at the event with Sam and Luciano first and second in the championship, but we know the race will be tough – Russia especially has some big river crossings and the deserts in Mongolia and China will pose some very difficult navigation. It’s also a big race, 10 days is like the last Dakar and we know that proved to be very physically exhausting for all competitors. The plan is to go there and do our best, as always.”

The 2019 Silk Way Rally, round two of the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, commences July 6 in Russia and concludes in China on July 16.

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