Ross Branch has claimed a deserving victory at the opening round of the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship, Rally Kazakhstan.
Finishing second, behind Joaquim Rodrigues, on the shortened final stage of the event, Branch maintained his position at the top of the overall leaderboard, which he’d held since the close of stage three. Joining Ross on the podium was Matthias Walkner and Adrien Van Beveren in third. Australian Daniel Sanders moved up the leader board to finish a credible forth overall with another third placed finish on the final stage
The decisive fifth stage of Rally Kazakhstan was cut short 158 kilometres into the special due to an issue with the event’s refuelling equipment, which effected all riders. Nevertheless, strong and consistent rides from Branch up until that point ensured their positions in the provisional overall standings were maintained.
With a four-minute lead entering the final day of racing Branch’s main objective was to deliver a consistent finish on stage five to claim the overall win. In placing second, Ross further extended his lead to just over five minutes to earn his first ever victory in the FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship.
“All-in-all it’s been an amazing week here in Kazakhstan and I’m so happy to come away with the win,” Branch said. “Before this race I really focused on working on my navigation and it certainly worked here. I opened stages and finished up front on each stage so I can’t ask for anything more. The goal today was to manage the lead that I had, and I feel like I was doing a good job up until the stage was cut short. Overall, I’ve really enjoyed the whole week. It’s great to be racing again and the team has done a fantastic job with the bike and it’s just been an awesome experience. I’m really happy to have won for myself and the team.”
Coming into stage five in second overall, four minutes down on the Brancj, Matthias Walkner faced a difficult task to make up the time needed due to being the second rider to attack the special. Despite putting in a mistake-free ride at the front of the pack, with the stage being shortened there was less time to make any impact on the deficit. Safely arriving at the finish in sixth, just over two minutes down on the eventual stage winner, Walkner secured his runner-up position in the overall standings.
“Finally, we have arrived at the finish line at Rally Kazakhstan. I’ve really enjoyed it – the landscape here has been amazing, and the event has been good,” Walkner said. “It’s been a very fast rally and that took a little time to get used to, but overall, I’m extremely happy with my riding and the bike has been perfect. Second place overall is good, it’s a little frustrating to be just four minutes away from the win after close to 15 hours of racing, and I know I made a couple of mistakes earlier in the race that cost me that time, but this is the nature of rallying. I’m especially happy that on the days where I was opening the stage, I was able to maintain a good pace and not lose too much time to the guys behind, so that’s really encouraging. I’m feeling good and already looking forward to Silk Way.”
Displaying incredible consistency throughout the rally, Adrien Van Beveren finished with a hard-earned third-place result overall after finsihing fifth on the final stage. Despite much of the terrain not to the Frenchman’s liking, Van Beveren opted to focus intently on his navigation throughout the race – a fruitful strategy that has kickstarted his season in fine style.
“We’ve finally arrived at the finish and I’m super-happy to have finished third overall in the rally,” Van Beveren said. “It’s great for the team to have three riders in the top five and it’s nice to see Ross take the win, he deserved it. This rally isn’t really on my favoured terrain, I would have preferred more sand, so to finish third here is a great result for me. My navigation was strong and my consistency all week was really good, so I’m really happy with my result and I’m now looking forward to the Silk Way Rally.”
Securing his second consecutive third-place finish, Daniel Sanders has elevated himself up to fourth in the event’s overall provisional classification. Clearly a quick learner, the young Aussie overcame a tough couple of days at the beginning of the rally to turn things around and finish just shy of an overall podium result.
“Another good day for me today and I feel like I’m back to where I belong,” Sanders said. “My navigation was on point today. The stage was shortened but up until that point I didn’t make a single mistake and got into a good rhythm. It’s a shame as I felt awesome on the bike today. But anyway, that’s my first world championship race done, and I learned a lot this week. The focus now is to work on a few things before the next round so that I can start strong and be up the front from the beginning.”
Andrew Short finished fourth overall ahead of Luciano Benavides.
The next round of the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship will be the Silk Way Rally in Russia from July 1-11.
Rally Kazakhstan 2021: Stage 5 Provisional Classification
1 Joaquim Rodrigues (Hero) 1:19:51
2 Ross Branch (Yamaha) 1:20:58 + 0:01:07
3 Daniel Sanders (GASGAS) 1:21:22 + 0:01:31
4 Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) 1:21:28 + 0:01:37
5 Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha) 1:22:17 + 0:01:59
6 Matthias Walkner (KTM) 1:22:17 + 0:02:09
Rally Kazakhstan 2021: Overall Provisional Classification (after stage 5)
1 Ross Branch (Yamaha) 14:39:02
2 Matthias Walkner (KTM) 14:44:09 + 0:05:07
3 Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha) 14:49:18 + 0:10:16
4 Daniel Sanders (GASGAS) 15:10:36 + 0:31:34
5 Andrew Short (Yamaha) 15:11:23 + 0:32:21
6 Luciano Benavides (Husqvarna) 15:21:30 + 0:42:28