Yamaha’s factory rally raid team has made up for its embarrassment earlier this year, with rider Ross Branch taking first at Rally Kazakhstan, and Adrien Van Beveren finishing third.
It was a significant win for Branch at Rally Kazazkhstan; the Kalahari Ferrari has only been on the Yamaha factory squad a few months, and he was chuffed to prove he’s got what it takes to beat the best in the world.
“Before this race I really focused on working on my navigation and it certainly worked here,” Branch said after the finish. “I opened stages and finished up front on each stage so I can’t ask for anything more … Overall, I’ve really enjoyed the whole week. It’s great to be racing again and the team has done a fantastic job with the bike and it’s just been an awesome experience. I’m really happy to have won for myself and the team.”
Branch was tapped for a top-10, maybe even a top-five finish at Dakar earlier this year, but some bad luck saw him out of the race in Yamaha’s mass team implosion. No Yamaha factory riders finished at the 2021 Dakar. He held the lead at Kazkahstan from Stage 3 onwards, and finished second on the final stage of racing, good enough for first overall.
Van Beveren also seemed very happy with his podium, although he said the terrain wasn’t his favourite—he prefers more sand. He says he’s looking forward to the Silk Way Rally, which opens in a few weeks, through central Asia.
KTM’s Matthias Walkner was second overall, Daniel Sanders rode a GasGas to fourth, and Andrew Short took a Yamaha to fifth. Again, very reassuring results to the Yamaha squad. No doubt the KTM brain trust was also happy to see Sanders do so well, as he’s widely expected to be Team Orange’s next mulleted moto-maniac, if/when Toby Price moves over to cars.
Silk Way comes next
The five-stage Rally Kazkahstan was the opening event in the 2021 FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship. The next challenge, the Silk Way Rally, will be far more difficult. This July 1-11 race will take riders through Russia to end in Mongolia. Like other stops on the rally raid scene this year, it’s doubtful all the aces will show up, but as Silk Way gains prestige, hopefully we can get better international coverage of this event.