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Posting the fourth fastest time yesterday, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Sam Sunderland has increased his overall lead standings with just one stage of the 2019 Silk Way Rally.

Luciano Benavides completed stage nine in eighth place, with Laia Sanz just outside the top 10 in 11th.

Racing through similar terrain to Sunday’s stage eight, the second timed special to be held within China once again tested all competitors to their limits. The tracks through the dunes of the Gobi Desert were not only rough and physically demanding to ride, but navigation was also a hugely important factor with many riders losing time.

One rider who was able to stay on track and make the very minimum of mistakes was Sam Sunderland. Enjoying a comfortable motorcycle class lead as the rally entered China due to his dominant performance through Russia and Mongolia, Sunderland knew he had to simply maintain a strong but steady pace to stay ahead. Keeping things safe, the British rider has controlled the race perfectly from the front, doing exactly what he had to do to defend his lead. Finishing fourth on today’s 290.3-kilometre timed special, Sam now leads the overall standings by close to 23 minutes.

Sam Sunderland: “I think they definitely saved the toughest till last because the two days in China so far have been super physical. The tracks have been really technical with a lot of broken rivers and washes coming through the piste. It makes it really difficult to find a good rhythm and of course the temperature here is much hotter. For me personally, after a good run through Russia and Mongolia these last few days were about just managing my pace. Obviously yesterday I got caught out which was frustrating, with a lead like I have the goal should be to take things easy and not take any risks, but I clipped a rock and got thrown off. Today I kept a cool head, in fact I saw Andrew just before the refuel and he was riding really well. I tagged onto him for a bit but in the end just decided to keep my own pace and bring it home at the end of the day.”

Continuing to build on his experience, Luciano Benavides rode a solid stage nine to post the eighth fastest time. A couple of small navigation errors ended up costing the young Argentinian a few valuable minutes, but by staying focused, Luciano was able to regroup and push on to the finish. Now lying fifth overall, with just a few minutes separating him from the riders in front, the Red Bull KTM Junior class rider will undoubtedly be aiming to push hard on tomorrows stage to claim a strong final result.

Luciano Benavides: “Today was a really hard day. We started off in the big dunes and at first, my pace was ok. After about 120 kilometres I got lost and it took me a little time to get back on track. From there I just focused on the finish line and getting back safely. I have dropped down in the standings a little but overall the event so far has been a good one for me and definitely good training.”

Laia Sanz, although not in favour of the rough, bumpy terrain of the area, continues to show good speed on the challenging tracks. Keeping to a consistent pace, the Spaniard made very few errors on the day’s tricky stage to ultimately post the 11th fastest time and move up to seventh place overall.

Laia Sanz: “It was another really tough day today – one of the hardest days in rally. Also, it wasn’t my favourite type of terrain – I like the big dunes with lots of soft sand, today the tracks were really bumpy and very physical. I am happy with how I rode, now I just want to hang on to my position and be safe until the end.”

Tuesday’s final stage of the 2019 Silk Way Rally will once again challenge competitors with fast, bumpy tracks on the way to the finish at Dunhuang. The stage will cover a total of 556.66 kilometres, 255 of which are timed special.

Provisional Results Stage Nine – 2019 Silk Way Rally

1. Andrew Short (USA), Husqvarna, 3:52:28
2. Paulo Goncalves (PRT), Hero, 3:53:11 +43 seconds
3. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 3:54:13 +1:45
4. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 3:56:47 +4:19
5. Jose Cornejo (CHL), Honda, 3:57:07 +4:39
Other KTM
8. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 4:04:46 +12:18
11. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 4:26:30 +34:02

Provisional Standings (After Stage Nine) – 2019 Silk Way Rally

1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 23:27:27
2. Andrew Short (USA), Husqvarna, 23:50:18 +22:51
3. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 23:51:09 +23:42
4. Kevin Benavides (ARG), Honda, 23:53:35 +26:08
5. Luciano Benavides (ARG), KTM, 24:01:45 +34:18
Other KTM
7. Laia Sanz (ESP), KTM, 25:09:54 +1:42:27