Cyril Despres finished second ahead of standings leader Sebastien Loeb, who ended up third. It was a double podium finish for Team Peugeot, again.
The stage saw competitors complete a competitive section that was characterized by soft and sandy gravel tracks, with vegetation by the side of the road, a few spectating animals, and plenty of dust. With tricky navigation on the 106.6 km timed section, Peugeot’s domination came to an end on stage 7 as Menzies in the JCW no.105 scored MINIs first win at this rally.
Starting 18th, the MINI drivers were able to take advantage of the opening skills of Despres, who started just ahead of them. Despres posted the second fastest time of the day, six seconds ahead of Loeb. The Frenchman then opened the special, but avoided the dust, to keep his team mate (Loeb) over an hour behind in the rankings. For his part Menzies sures up his 3rd place in the classification, ahead of the Chinese driver Han Wei in a Geeley SMG Buggy. “The stage was great for us. It was a short 106km so we knew we had to push from the beginning – and that is what we did. Navigation was on point and the throttle pedal was to the floor. We are very excited to get our first stage win together as rookies. The MINI John Cooper Works rally ran really good, flawless. It’s going to be a tough day tomorrow starting out from front. Pete’s got his work cut out but it’s going to be really good,” Menzies said.
Loeb, who continues to lead by an hour in the standings, commented, “I was at the front for a lot of the stage so I didn’t get any dust but on the other hand I had to find the way, so the two things probably balance each other out. In the end the stage went well for us: as it was so short the most important thing was to have a clean run and try not to make any mistakes.”
After stage 7, the rally now goes on a break and will conclude next week. Following the previous day’s win, third crew Stephane Peterhansel continue his march back up the leaderboard and now ranks ninth overall. Peterhansel chose to wait for Loeb, who started 2nd, in order to be able to assist through the stage. The veteran would end up eighth overall.
Despres, who was classified 2nd on the stage, only 1:31 behind the MINI, lies second in the overall classifications. He remains Loeb’s title contender for the remainder of the rally. “As you can imagine that’s a lot of dust, quite a dangerous situation, and the first time we’ve seen that on this rally. In terms of the terrain and the roads, it was actually a bit like the WRC stages in Sardinia I think: even though this was a short transition stage before we crossed the border into China, it had quite a European feel. I’m happy enough with our progress though: at least we had no major mistakes like yesterday, when both Seb and I got lost.”
The Silk Way Rally heads for a rest day until the rally assumes at Urumqi, next week. The next stage of the route is similar to stage 7, so expect more dust, but the stage is even more complex, especially towards the end where some in-depth navigation is required. There are several deep holes through drilling as well, which crews will have to look out for. Paying attention to the caution zones in the road book is going to be even more vital than usual.