Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Skyler Howes has made an excellent FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship debut for the team by placing third on stage one of the 2021 Rally Kazakhstan. Fifth-fastest on the event's opening Prologue, Howes impressed further on his FR 450 Rally with a strong performance on the 280km timed special of day one. He now sits third overall in the provisional overall rally standings. Teammate Luciano Benavides completed the day in 11th place after opening much of the stage.
Making his first competitive appearance for the team outside of his native United States, Skyler Howes immediately showed he was comfortable on his bike at the Kazakhstan Rally. Aiming to open the event safely and with a solid stage result, Howes was able to maintain a good pace through the changing terrain to complete the stage in third place. Now, with four demanding days to go, the American is feeling confident and looking forward to carrying his positive momentum to the finish.
Opening stage one, thanks to his 10th place result in the Prologue, Luciano Benavides was able to hold off his rivals for the first half of the special. A small navigation error cost him dearly however, with the young Argentinian losing several minutes before being forced to complete the remainder of the stage behind a number of riders ahead. With a strong start position for Thursday’s stage two, Benavides hopes to claw back time on the event leaders.
Skyler Howes: “Today went really well for me. I started off eighth, so I had a lot of bikes to chase down, but actually the colour of the dirt here in Kazakhstan makes it really difficult to see the tracks, so you have to stay on your navigation really well. I made a couple of really small mistakes early on – I didn’t get lost, just blowing corners. The terrain was quite fun, even though it was open, the tracks were really twisty and with a lot of sand, you could really rail the corners, so that felt good. I had a lot of fun. The dunes today were a little weird because they had a wet layer on top, but you blew through that to the dusty layer underneath and that made it hard to keep a steady rhythm. With some big camel grass as well, it was tough to maintain a good pace there and I did lose a few minutes after getting lost. Overall, I had a really good day, had a lot of fun, and I’m excited for the rest of the week.”
Luciano Benavides: “It was a really fast day today. There were lots of tracks and some tricky dunes later on. After my result in the Prologue, I started off opening the stage, which is always a challenge. I led out for the first 125km but then made a mistake and was caught by the guys behind. Annoyingly I lost some minutes there, but after that the rest of the stage was ok, even though most of it was riding in the dust from the guys in front. I decided to just finish the stage safely and look ahead to tomorrow.”
Thursday’s stage two of the 2021 Rally Kazakhstan marks the first half of the event’s marathon stage. Riders will head out from the bivouac at Aktau and cover a total distance of 310km, 280km of which are special stage. Staying in a temporary bivouac, the riders are allowed no outside assistance overnight.
2021 Rally Kazakhstan – Stage 1 Provisional Classification
1. Ross Branch (Yamaha) 3:14:07
2. Matthias Walkner (KTM) 3:16:15
3. Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) 3:17:44
4. Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha) 3:21:23
5. Andrew Short (Yamaha) 3:21:46
6. Joaquim Rodrigues (Hero) 3:24:19
11. Luciano Benavides (Husqvarna) 3:35:50
2021 Rally Kazakhstan – Overall Provisional Classification (after stage 1)
1. Ross Branch (Yamaha) 3:19:53
2. Matthias Walkner (KTM) 3:22:04
3. Skyler Howes (Husqvarna) 3:23:36
4. Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha) 3:27:20
5. Andrew Short (Yamaha) 3:27:38
6. Joaquim Rodrigues (Hero) 3:30:13
11. Luciano Benavides (Husqvarna) 3:42:12