Onward to Zoumod in the Southern Gobi On hearing someone say, “I want to go to Zoumod again” I felt a pulse of excitement like a mild electric shock. That’s right, when you think of Rally Mongolia, you think of Zoumod, the Mongolian oasis. Amid ever changing situations, we find ourselves in areas like this that kept themselves safe from trouble by way of a harsh land and long distances. However the hospitality they offer rally participants has gotten totally better in every way. Well now we want to take up the rally challenge one more time. This will be a route like crossing the open ocean. Then, SSER has completely reorganized the route again to allow seriously challenging among other things, the mysterious dry lake widening to the west of Zoumod in the “Valley of Dinosaurs” which is full of strange shaped rock formations. The climb along these tough roads will only end when find ourselves standing on the vast plains where the special gods reside.
This rally presented a “landscapes no one has ever seen” theme and the finding of new routes for it took over a year. The weather during the rally itself was extremely good however the heavy downpours in Hanggai just before the rally caused a huge rise in water levels in valleys and gullies leading to cancellation of the SS for Etap 5. Driving along paved roads in good weather was in one sense a fresh experience. The cancellation notice given the night before the SS allowed taking action such as moving up tire changing times. Anyway, the new trials and experiences encountered along the entire course were a huge success. The new course changes this year allowed us to enter areas that were difficult to include in the route up to now. During the drive, by the time we started thinking, “Okay, let’s go meet some moose and reindeer” and “back to dinosaur valley” the ZoonMod plan was already taking effect! The next rally may likely take a route in the form of a big circle joining the northernmost and southernmost areas. That feeling of “we’re going to find something we never saw before” is likely to continue. Finally, both the participants and rally officials felt the same thing, namely that the route this year helped us enjoy the real beauty our planet has to offer!
We are now in the final stage of our long battle. Last year on this day the Hino Team had to retire and you can guess that today will bring a lot of trouble. Teruhito Sugawara and the Hino Ranger racing truck who didn’t arrive from the Silk Way Rally from Russia in time for this year’s Rally Mongolia, came in today in a show of support. A low morning fog rolls over the sand dunes creating a unique almost mystical scene.
All vehicles rush toward the dunes in a headlong attack.
Finally they reach their goal which is the afternoon victory parade in Ulan Bator (Ulaanbaatar). The KTM450 Rally bikes rank 1, 2, 3, 4 at the goal standing. Many cars however have had to retire but the Yoshimasa Sugawara/Yoko Wakayashi team in their Yamaha YXZ1000R held on to win their place on the victory stand. They are the only Japanese to participate in the champagne fight at the conclusion of this rally. The curtain finally closes quietly on this battle held over the Mongolian grasslands and all come for tonight’s closing ceremony.
「Sunday—the day of our victorious return」
The rally SS starts from the bivouac. The cars take off and enter the dunes. After getting through the dunes they proceed along the riverside. The dunes and river and grass plain all overlap into an astounding visual frame. This splendid spectacle is very likely something you will only get to see in Mongolia. We make constant CAP adjustments during the drive and cross over pistes. We pass over a number of small smooth green hills and cross a bridge. There before us is the old main piste. The old main piste somehow has a sad desolate look to it because of the paved road built there. We gradually veer away from alongside the old main piste and the course reveals continual smoothly sloping beautiful green mountains. After passing over a number of mountains we see a small town right before our eyes. That is the SS finish point. We drive along the paved road to the regroupment point. There the SM class will join along with us for parade to the goal.
Now at Etap7 the final round of the rally has arrived, we travel along a landscape that seems like something out of a dream. The opening moves of this rally involved really rugged terrain and harsh driving and now the accumulated wear and fatigue on the machines has suddenly reached a crisis stage that is starting to strike hard on the rally competitors. A lot of them have already, retired from the race, I wonder how many machines will actually finish?
Yoshimasa Sugawara fought bravely in his Yamaha buggy and stayed in the race dueling with tough rivals while others in the auto class retired. He eventually won third place on the trophy stand. Also, Teruhito Sugawara in his Hino Ranger, from Russia kept on going to add an extra boost to this final day. Tomorrow we will finally see the grand finale!
「The final stage where you can’t even relax for a second!」
Leaving the bivouac we drive along the paved road. After refueling, the rally cars start out on SS-1 from the side of the paved road. Crossing the river, we travel along an even more beautiful grass plain. After passing through an area with a lot of bumps, we come upon a concrete bridge. Crossing the bridge we see a large beautiful lake. After driving along the lake’s levee, we cross a mountain and large prairie. There are a lot of branch roads and piste crossings but after proceeding along a piste with good driving conditions we reach the town. Passing the main town boulevard, we turn at a corner where some shops stand and drive along another good piste. A paved road suddenly appears far off in the grass plain and we finally finish the SS-1.
We proceed along a paved road, and refuel at a gasoline stand at a 3-way road junction. After refueling at the gasoline stand, the rally cars turn around and proceed onwards. Starting out in SS-2 the rally cars proceed along the river side with a sand dune visible on their left. After crossing the river several times, we enter an area of low hills and a large grassy plain. Passing through two small towns we proceed to the CP. We then drive intently across the grassy plain. We drive over a number of gently sloping mountains. The valleys between the mountains are also beautiful with gentle slopes. We then pass over several mountains and see the SS finish point right before our eyes. Only one SS still remains before completing the rally.Results
ETAP 6 The rally is in its final period and at long last the scene shifts to southern Siberia where after a 10 year hiatus the course runs from Tsetserleg further north where a whole new spectacle opens up before one’s eyes. Here there are two SS and undulations start to appear on the grasslands in the first SS with the route suddenly taking on a new face. However the perfect weather continues and these are ideal riding conditions. Boldbaatar is running in the lead and aiming for a chance to break free from the fierce pursuit of Battur Baatar in second place. There are only two ETAP and three SS remaining until the grand finish of this long rally. Hideyuki Fukuoka, a Japanese participant in the motorcycle class (Honda) put up a great fight but can’t seem to overcome the severe effects from an error in the first half of the rally and jump ahead in the standings. Well, tomorrow will prove the final highlight of the rally and will also be a completely new route. The tiny differences in the race standings and fierce class competition will bring rally fever to a climax!
「South of Siberia, the northern part of the grassy plain looks just like Northern Europe」
Driving a short way from the bivouac, we reach the start of SS-1.The piste was substantial but we had to proceed along a river-side road with many crevices, dry riverbeds, streams, and lots of harsh bumpy terrain. After going around the town and traveling further along and passing through a small village, we crossed a river and came upon a tree-lined road of conifers (needle-leaved trees). The scenery beyond it revealed an entire field completely covered by flowers. After running along the riverside on a route that reminds one of flower fields in the Northern Europe, we completed the short SS after about a 100 kilometer drive to the town. From here the liason is a paved road. After refueling, the rally cars proceed farther down the paved road. Next after running along a lush green area along the river, SS-2 starts. Passing through a number of gently rolling hills we proceed into another area of even more lush greenery. We make a turn just before the town and run along an elevated levee of a beautiful lake and cross over an irrigation canal for farms. We then enter a mountain with thickly growing conifer trees. The ancient rising road is rough-looking as if denying entry to those who enter it. After about 1.5 kilometers we come upon the peak of a mountain pass. At a gap in the woods we are greeted by a magnificent spectacle in a forest of fir trees. It seems as if the giant ‘Ovoos’ or in other words, sacred Mongolian domes are trying to welcome us there. Below the pass we make a gentle circle in what proves to be a beautiful spectacle. Passing over the large, gently sloping mountain of greenery, we drive on a piste along a river bordering thickly growing trees. We complete the SS at point where the town is now visible. Driving along the paved road we cross a river and reach the bivouac.
In spite of the superb weather over these last two days, the yet unseen landscapes and experiences of ETAP 5 which were to be the highlight of this rally will not happen. The heavy concentrated rain from several days ago raised the water level so high that it made the river crossing impossible. Though officials waited as long as they could for a drop in water levels, it just didn’t happen and the river crossing had to be cancelled. This was really a heartbreaking turn of events.
The rally continues across the exhilarating Mongolian plains over a single paved road to Xaraxorin over a distance of 425 kilometers with six hours allowed to complete the liason. Tomorrow will prove the full-on competition for the final part of this rally.
「Climbing straight up Sugawara Pass, shooting through the ultramarine blue sky」
Today was truly one of the highlights of the rally. Crossing a bridge a little ways from town and going down a road along the river leads to the start of the next SS. You have to stay cool and calm even after driving across streams, marshy areas, dried riverbeds, and rough and bumpy roads and finding that your average time is still too high. Passing through a valley town, we climb a mountain beyond a monument of children riding a cow. We keep climbing directly to the top of the Sugawara Pass reaching a peak some 2900 meters above sea level. After that we keep descending, make our way through a technical route, and reach the CP at a point after the CP where the route has transformed into a high speed piste. After that the navigation gets difficult. We cross a river, and after making a CAP adjustment, pass through a valley, keep going further and finally finish the SS. We refuel and head along a slightly long paved liason towards the bivouac.