For the last couple of days thunderous Russian skies have been on the news but this morning it was thunder in the frozen forests as prologue winner Vladimir Vasiliev blasted away in his awesome sounding 7l V8…
In Russia the clocks don’t go back in winter so at 9.30 as crews took their furry boots off and headed off into the trees the skies were still dull from a gloomy dawn… Three runs through the same 100km long stage was what was in store, a route of fast and sweeping roads that suddenly dive off into tight and rough tracks threading through the endless forest. And every twist and turn is lined by unforgiving snow banks waiting to catch out any who slip wide…
An hour and 18 minutes later it was Vasiliev first at the finish, but after loosing 2 minutes changing a tyre he punctured on a sharp tree root he wasn’t first on the time sheets. Leading the field was Jouni Matti Ampuja, a driver perhaps overshadowed in the pre-event build up by his well-known team mate Harri Rovenpera. “We only did 10km of testing before the race so we didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. His name might be new to most people but he has 15 years of rallying experience in his native Finland so is certainly not new to driving fast on snow and ice. RE Auto Klub team mate Rovenpera had a rather less successful 1st stage in the sister Mitsubishi after a roll cost some 25 minutes. “The road is harder than I thought,” he smiled and the 2nd loop wasn’t any easier as he lost power steering…
In 3rd place after the 1st stage was Evgeni Firsov in his in his Nissan, just 2 minutes behind Vasiliev. But trying too hard to win the stage had a spin, which made him determined to push even harder…
With a clear run through Stage 2 Vasiliev took 3 minutes out of a rather shocked Ampuja, although the Finn was slowed by struggling with a failing 3rd gear. “I have to hold the gear stick in so it’s quite hard to drive,” he explained. “And 3rd is the gear I use the most.” But any hope of pushing for a win on the last stage was lost when he also lost 2nd and 4th.
Moving up to 3rd was the 2nd G-Force of Victor Volikov, co-driven by his son Anatoly. “The 1st stage was really slippery because of the fresh snow as the studs in the tyres couldn’t get down to the hard ice underneath, but the 2nd stage went much better for us although the gap to the car behind us is not so big.” Firsov was just 35 seconds behind and wanted the last place on the podium… but pushed too hard again, caught a tree and rolled over a snow bank dropping down to a eventual 6th.
In my time I have seen many Land Rovers at the end of a tow-rope but never one behind a G-Force. But as is often the case in Russia, things weren’t quite as they seemed. “Something went wrong on the car and we went straight into the trees,” explains Ukraine’s Bogdan Novitsky. “Many crews stopped to try and help but no one could get us out but then Mikhael Lisyak came in his Land Rover. He managed to get us out but it cost him the radiator… which is why we towed him to the finish.”
A Mitsubishi without a full compliment of gears wasn’t going to be able to challenge Vasiliev and he took it easy through the last stage, although his time was 1 ½ minutes faster than the 2nd pass. The highest placed rookie in the deserts of the Dakar came home to the frozen forests and adds another trophy to his growing collection. Ampuja was relieved that he could get around the last stage and took 2nd 6 minutes behind. “I never raced in Russia before but the atmosphere here is great and I’d like to thank my team, RE Auto Klub. I think that I’ll be doing some more rally-raids with them in the future.”
It also seems that we’ll also be seeing more of Rovanpera in the World Cup as he was impressed with his first experience in Russia. “The organisation here is great and the next idea is definitely to go to Italy and then maybe some more races as well, but we’ll need to sit down and talk with the team.”
The immediate rally-raid future is the Italian Baja on the 14th – 17th March, where Vladimir Vasiliev is the reigning champion.
1. Vladimir Vasiliev / Vitaly Yevtyekhov G-Force Proto 3.50.22
2. Jouni Matti Ampuj / Tapio Suominen Mitsubishi 3:56:16
3. Viktor Volikov / Anatoly Volikov G-Force Proto 4:05:45
4. Evgeniy Firsov / Vadim Filatov Nissan 4:13:44
5. Dmitriy Ievlev / Aleksey Shaposhinikov Nissan 4:29:20