Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Skyler Howes has delivered another impressive performance at the 2021 Rally Kazakhstan, finishing stage five in fourth overall. Teammate Luciano Benavides also enjoyed a strong showing, placing seventh on the stage to earn sixth overall in the provisional rally standings.
Taking his second stage win of the event on Saturday’s penultimate day four, Skyler Howes earned himself the task of opening Sunday’s fifth and final stage, which turned out to be a relative sprint to the finish. Shortened to just under 160km due to an issue with the event’s refuelling truck, the timed special challenged competitors with another day of high-speed racing over the fast rocky pistes and tracks often seen at this year’s event.
Despite leading the field and making a small error midway through the day, Howes maintained an extremely fast pace over the hardpack ground to ultimately complete the stage as fourth fastest – less than two minutes down on the eventual winner. After the large time penalty awarded following his technical issue on stage three, Skyler placed 14th overall in the rally standings. However, the American, riding his first FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship event for the team, was extremely happy with both his riding and the performance of his Husqvarna FR 450 Rally, and is confident of carrying his momentum through to the next event.
Finishing Rally Kazakhstan strongly with seventh on the final stage, for sixth overall in the standings, Luciano Benavides achieved his goal of building his confidence and safely completing the event. As the first world championship event of 2021, it was important for the young Argentinian to finish, and be able to work on both his feeling on the bike and his road book navigation. Now, with his fitness at 100%, Luciano can look ahead to the rest of the season, and Dakar 2022.
Skyler Howes: “Stage five felt a bit short, which is a shame because I was having a good day leading out. Other than one small area early on where the road book didn’t quite match the cap heading, I didn’t make any mistakes and felt really good on the fast tracks with a really nice flow. On the whole I had a lot of fun here, the terrain was more exciting that I thought it was going to be. The result isn’t what I wanted, but I have to take the positives from the race – two stage wins and some good team building time is very important. I’m really looking forward to the next one.”
Luciano Benavides: “It feels great to finish the race, it was really important for me and my confidence on the bike. Today was a really fast stage and near the beginning I saw that Sam Sunderland had crashed and so I stayed with him until the helicopter arrived. Thankfully he was ok, but it meant I had to ride the rest of the stage in the dust of some of the quads that came past me. I think I did a good job, especially on such a fast stage, I just tried to keep a good rhythm and not make any mistakes. It’s a shame the day was shortened, but the most important thing is I’m here at the finish.”
Pela Renet – Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing Rally Team Manager: “It’s been an encouraging rally on the whole, and good to get both riders safely to the finish. Skyler did another good job today, leading out and not losing too much time over 160km. His performance has been excellent, and he’s shown very good pace combined with accurate navigation, so this is very positive and looks good for the remainder of the season. It’s great that Luciano has successfully completed the race. He struggled a little early on with his speed and was finding it difficult to get comfortable on the bike. But as the race has gone on I think he has been able to build his confidence and we hope this can continue at Silk Way and beyond, with him moving up the leaderboard.”
The next round of the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship to be contested by the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna factory Racing team will be the Silk Way Rally in Russia from July 1-11.