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Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 17 – Shymkent to Kyzylorda – 510km

Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 17 – Shymkent to Kyzylorda – 510km

Day 17 already, incredible. Tomorrow we will hit the halfway point of this adventure, this journey. In some ways it feels like only yesterday that we departed Beijing, all of us a bundle of nerves and excitement about what was to come. It also feels like we’ve been on the road for months, travel is like that I guess, particularly when it continues at the pace we have been going. We’re halfway across Kazakhstan already, but that has come at the cost of some excitement, you can’t travel the distance without some tedium, there has to be some balance.

Today followed a similar pattern to the previous day, but with less overall distance. A run out into the flatlands was followed by some competition and then a push to the days end, through Kazakhstan’s vast vacuous steppe, the largest on earth. We have another day of that tomorrow, on a transit to our first Kazakh camp, but from there on in it is desert driving all the way to the Caspian, good things come to those who.

Transit aside, the days competitive section was a bit of a corker, a 29km STC, split by four controls, off-road through the sand and earth on tracks with a real mixture of structural integrity. After yesterday’s sub-optimal performance, Richard Walker and Faith Douglas were focused on getting straight back into the fray, and they did so with aplomb, cleaning the TC section, a perfect score and a perfect response. Big deal, you might say, but to put that into perspective they were one of only ten crews in the entire field to complete such a feat, and the only Vintageant.

Those around them were not fairing as well. Pierre Gerber and Alice Leuenberger, top of the class and up to third yesterday, suffered a mechanical issue midway through the STC section, that would ultimately cause them to gain ten minutes in penalties. Patrick Debussere and Lorenzo Bas were also in trouble, when steering issues caused them to drop a minute and a half at the last control on the section, whilst enacting a repair. The scorn of the rally Gods had been redirected, and now the Red Chevy was back into second place, anything really can happen in this game.

Even after 17 days, the times at the sharp end of the field are separated by seconds, it doesn’t take much for the balance to swing for or against you and the big losers in the Classic category today were Katarina Kyvalova and Jon Minshaw, in the Prodrive built Mustang, as they dropped thirty seconds in the STC, whilst those around them all hit zeros. They’re now back down to sixth overall and second in their class, whilst Kevin and Cole Bradburn have joined Lars and Annette Rolner and Matt Bryson and Mike Pink in the top three. Not bad for the Father and Son team who swear they’re not here for the competition.

This was a long STC section, and those that hit their marks did very well indeed. It’s not easy maintaining the balance between pace and car preservation, and ultimately some lost time is better than a broken car. Hopefully for those that were forced to tend to their cars during the section, had their attention drawn away from the dangerous critters that we were sharing the desert with, such as the Halys Pit Viper and Scorpions, as well as some prehistoric sized Woodlice!

The long transit section to follow gave plenty of time for contemplation, of success and of failure, but if I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, there is a long way to go and after tomorrow’s transit day the final two days in Kazakhstan promise to be some of the toughest so far. Emerge unscathed from those and you can perhaps begin to think about an end game, perhaps. It doesn’t do well to think too much though, especially on days when all you have to do is eat up the motorway miles. The Devil makes work for idle hands, and those run of the mill rattles and niggles with the car can soon turn into nightmares in your head. The psychological battle of a long day of transit, such as that which we will be completing tomorrow, should not be underestimated, that is just as much a part of the game as anything else.


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