The rally team received their breakfast packets at the hotel in Ubon Ratchathani at 5:30 a.m. and set off for the Laotian border at Chong Maeg.
At the border, the departure from Thailand and entry into Laos were processed in the order of Officials, Motorcycles, Media, Vehicles, and Services. 500+ people and 200+ vehicles were traveling in one large group, so although it took some time, we completed the border crossing without much confusion and headed to the first SS in Laos.
On the way to the first SS in Lao P.D.R, the contestants were welcomed by a Laotian woman who placed a flower necklace around their necks at the plaza before entering the country which made us smile.
Once across the border, the traffic changed to the right side of the road. Unlike the bustling border town on the Thai side, the area turned green as soon as we crossed the first toll booth.
Soon we arrived at the starting point for SS4, the first Lao P.D.R. stage, and at 9:35am, the MOTO take off and at 10:55am, the AUTO took off onto the red dirt off-road.
Riders who fell over in the water got soaked to the skin and continued to turn the starter.
Riders who had fallen and submerged their bodies in the water and continued to sit in the muddy water to escape from the hell of the intense heat....
Even the media, who were nearby, were soaked to the skin, not to mention their cameras, from the water and mud that splashed up all over them.
A machine drops its front wheel into a deep hole and tilts heavily as it tries to escape with a winch. A machine was blown over a gap and lost its front drive as the front wheels went into a "C" shape.
A machine that breaks its leaf at the base causing the tires to point in an unexpected direction and then runs into the finish line while running like a crab.
A fan gouged out a radiator during a river crossing, causing the coolant to leak out....
As expected, the off-road conditions in Lao P.D.R. were extraordinary. In the Thai section, there is no doubt that "! (Caution)" there were too many bumps and dips to count, and each one was very rough.
Even if there were no caution, we could not let our guard down. Even if the grass on the shoulder looks beautiful, you should not drive on it. In Lao P.D.R., a grassy area means that no one has ever driven there before and any machine that steps on it at competition speed will surely get a painful payback.
The top group of MOTO was the top overall group, #17 Jakkrit Chawtale (THA) of JC DIRT SHOP Rally Team, who maintained their advantage of starting first and slid into the finish line looking spotless.
Following them were yesterday's 3rd and 4th place finishers, Team Cambodia's #16 Chhour Chan Sova and #2 Koun Phandara. They came across the finish line in a time that was almost as fast as Jakkrit.
Behind them in 4th to 10th place, were the other two teams, #1 Hironori Nishimura (Team Japan), #10 Shinichi Yamada (Team OTOKONAKI), #3 Norihisa Matsumoto, #15 Yasubumi Sunakawa, #7 Takuya Ono, #22 Hisazumi Fukumura, #20 Yoshiyuki Takahashi and other Japanese riders followed from 4th to 10th place.
The overall leader is Jakkrit Chawtale (THA), who has built up a solid position since the beginning of the rally and the second place goes to Hironori Nishimura (JPN), #1 from Team Japan, with no change in order from yesterday.
However, #10 Shinichi Yamada of Team OTOKONAKI (JPN) who was in 3rd place until yesterday, dropped two places, and #2 Koun Phandara and #16 Chhour Chan Sovan of Team Cambodia came up to him.
In the AUTO category, the #105 Toyota Fortuner team of Takuma Aoki (JPN) / Ittipon Simaraks (THA) and Songwut Danphiphattrankoon (THA) who had risen to the top overall position yesterday, started first and crossed the goal without being passed by anyone.
The #108 Theerapong Pimpawat (THA) / Jumpol DOUNGTHIP (THA) of NEXZTER REST CLUB (NXRC) started first and was not passed. However, #108 Toyota Hilux Revo made a strong push and took first place with the fastest time of 2 hours and 25 seconds, while Takuma Aoki finished in second place on a daily basis.
#101 Chayapon Yotha (THA) / Peerapong Sombutwong (THA) of Team MITSUBISHI RALLIART in 3rd place, with last year's champion putting in good times to keep his hopes alive for the final stages of the race.
Fourth place went to TOYOTA GAZOO RACING INDONESIA, #121 Tubagus Moerinsyahdi (IDN) / Jatuporn Burakitpachai (THA) who showed steady performance, but the fifth place went to an unusual yellow car, #130 Raz Yehoshua Heymann / Hillel Segal of the Pointer Team. Is their machine suited to this extremely rough road? They are from Israel.
The next two cars were #110 Suwat Limjirapinya (THA) / Prakob Chaothale (THA) and #115 Ditsapong Maneein (THA) / Athikij Srimongkhol (THA) of Isuzu Suphan Explorer Liqui Moly Rally Team and a Japanese private team came in at 8th position. They are #135 Masanao Nitta (JPN) / Kenta Satonaka (JPN) of Würth TRD Hilux MSB Tras 135.
The team's Hilux is clad in the latest eco-friendly carbon from TRAS, customized with parts developed by TRD for the competition and serviced by TRD during the event to greatly reduce the burden on the drivers and navigators. While many of the top teams in the competition speed range were collapsing, the team continued to run unassumingly with an overall score of 10th which is more than enough for the overall competition attracting attention not only for the skill of the drivers, but also for the quietness of the team as a private team.
Continuing from yesterday, the overall results from SS1 to SS4 show that TOYOTA GAZOO RACING INDONESIA #105 of Takuma Aoki (JPN) / Ittipon Simaraks (THA) and Songwut Danphiphattrankoon (THA) are in the lead followed by their teammate #121 Tubagus Moerinsyahdi (JDN) and Jatuporn Burakitpachai (THA) finished in second place.
The #101 Team MITSUBISHI RALLIART of Chayapon Yotha (THA) and Peerapong Sombutwong (THA) who are aiming for their second consecutive championship are in third place, about 15 minutes behind the leader and are aiming to make a comeback in the remaining two days.
The Isuzu Suphan Explorer Liqui Moly Rally Team of #115 Ditsapong Maneein (THA) / Athikij Srimongkhol (THA) and #110 Suwat Limjirapinya (THA) / Prakob Chaothale (THA) are in 4th and 5th place followed by a surprising #130 Raz Yehoshua Heymann / Hillel Segal of Pointer Team from Israel in 6th place! The Israeli team is quietly closing in on the top six.
Takuma Aoki, the leader commented, "Today, I kept my pace down while taking care of the machine and ran at a speed range that I was comfortable with. There is no point in breaking the machine here," he commented with a nonchalant expression on his face.
Aoki's Fortuner has gained visibly superior acceleration performance from last year's machine due to the CPU tuning of the engine, and in a course layout with many stop-and-go maneuvers, it clearly shows a different behavior from a year ago. This margin of dynamic performance has also had a positive effect on driving, leading to "aggressive driving with no effort".
Who can overturn this calm driving? Only God knows.
While we were back at the hotel servicing our machines, thunder rumbled, lightning flashed and heavy drops of rain continued to fall. The next SS5, sure to be a sloppy and slippery one as well. We are looking forward to tomorrow's report to see what kind of drama will ensue!
In the twilight around 5:00 a.m., there were many black figures in front of the hotel where we were staying, headlights of vehicles in a straight line and the sound of something being dragged along. Yes, the fourth day of the rally is a big event with a tense atmosphere as all AXCR participants (competitors, service providers, supporters, media, and management staff) cross the border from Thailand to Lao P.D.R. by land in a short period of time in the morning.
and SS4, which was set in LEG4, started just after crossing the border about 3 km away on a road for daily life.
Once in Lao P.D.R., the traffic changes to the right side of the road, so those who handle the steering wheel by themselves will have to be careful to switch their mind. It is quite common for drivers to collide head-on with a motorcycle on the other side of the road, even though they dodged it at the last moment. In such situations, it is very reassuring for me to ride in a media car driven by a Thai. They are accustomed to crossing borders on land and understand the people living in the country.
Despite everything, all the riders started out on the land of Laos which is different from Thailand. First, the scenery in front of us was different. In the distance, mountains like tabletops can be seen. The road is rich in ups and downs, with bumps and potholes and deep ruts ......, in other words, a three-dimensional surface, not a flat surface, for the tires to work with.
The geology is also very different, the dry red dirt that dances as dust is fine and "hard". Riders who know this have fork skins on the inner tubes of their front forks, but some of the riders who knew this and either forgot or rode without knowing it were found to have fork oil leaking and dripping from their bikes. Some riders who knew about it but forgot or were unaware of it were seen leaking and dripping fork oil.
The expected(?) The rain we had expected was only dampening the road surface and it was completely dry compared to the time when we had surveyed the route in advance. As in Thailand, the riders naturally set a high pace.
The dreaded thing here was the myriad of gaps, ruts, and "holes. Unlike in Thailand, the rough, unpaved roads of daily life are different from those terms of bumps, ruts, and rut depths, or "elevation.
The vehicle's body is constantly being pushed up from below, and the rider is constantly being bounced along. No wonder the fork oil was dripping down.
And the holes are so big and deep that the front tires are halfway in, and they open in an uncontrolled manner. The characteristic feature of the holes is their cross-sectional shape which is like a washbasin in Thailand and a "tub" in Lao P.D.R. If you are not careful, you will hit the other edge of the hole with a thud. This stops the bike from moving forward and if you are riding at a high pace, you will usually end up falling forward.
Some riders have been in just such a situation, and after falling forward, they have lost all memory of the time since they got the bike back up, pushed in the peeled side cover, straddled the bike, and started to ride again. When he turned the bike around and started riding, he bumped into a familiar rider from the front and realized he had been riding the wrong way and came to his senses.
The sidecar, which is the number one attraction among the competition vehicles got stuck in Muddy 15km into SS4 and had to escape at a narrow intersection ahead because it was very dangerous to stay on the route where the AUTO had started out (SS The starting order was MOTO, Sidecar, and AUTO.)
Incidentally, the sidecar, the only one among the entries was manufactured by "URAL," which moved its manufacturing base from Russia to Kazakhstan. The vehicle is a "URAL CROSS" model based on the "GEAR UP," with the vessel side modified to look like a sidecar cross. This model is sold in some European countries. It was a very funny sight to see so many people regardless of nationality stopping to look at the model just by placing it in the paddock. The first day in Laos seemed less "watery" than I had expected, but I heard that in some places there were puddles of water that filled the width of the road to the point where the front tires sank in.
The remaining two days were stages in Lao P.D.R. Will it end "dry" or will it be a tumultuous start? Looking at the setting sun, black clouds are rising. ......