It is a very rainy start to the Ukrainian rally season and a story about it from Karolis Kairys point of view.
You keep visiting Ukraine. Why this particular country?
We fell in love with Ukraine in 2019 when we visited Rally Fortecya. The stages, the surface, the atmosphere, everything left a very good impression. Also, the efforts of the Ukrainian rally organizers to attract more participants from abroad and their special attention is increasingly inviting to return to this country. Also, the Ukrainian events fill those long months of waiting between Lithuania rally rounds.
What is the atmosphere like during the Ukrainian rallies?
Having participated in only a few rallies in Ukraine, we got acquainted with practically all participants of the championship. All very friendly and helpful. Of course, like everywhere, there is a lot of intrigue and affair boiling in the rally kitchen, but we as guests hardly feel it. The increased attention of the organizers recovers any errors or glitches throughout the rally. Participants are all friendly, we share our experience about our rallies in Lithuania, get information and knowledge from Ukrainian crews. Such an exchange of information is an invaluable experience that can only be gained by traveling somewhere and participating in competitions.
Which of the three different events you took part left the biggest impression on you?
I was impressed by all the events involved because each one is unique and has nothing to do with Lithuanian gravel roads, to which we are accustomed. Fortecya fascinates by its terrain, roads, and stunning views, Irshansk we have seen many very fast special stages where maximum speed can be reached with the Lancer Evolution. Also very specific sand roads. In Kherson, we were surprised by the conditions. Also, our technical commander was even surprised, who has participated in as many as 12 Dakar Rallies. When Darius Biesevičius saw the car after the first rides, with irony he said, “It’s not Dakar sand to play with”. The stages are really interesting and the compact race format itself is a lot of fun, so we hope to do this rally on a dry surface.
How did you manage to deal with the mud baths this weekend?
We made a big mistake before the rally by not getting the right tires ready. The plan was to start with Pirelli tires and, if it gets very wet, cut them. The test day was dry and the tires worked really well, there was no doubt with whom we would start the race. The night before the main start, heavy rains started, the condition of the stages deteriorated strongly, the organizers even postponed the start of the competition for a couple of hours. We started the first special stages with Pirelli and realized that it is impossible to drive with them on the stages in such a condition… In the 14km section, we had to stop passing other rivals, we were out of the track 7 times, we stumbled and did not feel any pleasure… It was survival, not a rally. After finishing the second stage, we even started to doubt whether we would continue driving… After returning to the service park, we had to find new tires within 30 minutes… A big thank you to the crew of Shapovalov Yuriy – Shumakov Liubomyr, they just lent us their 3 units of winter tires. We drove other special stages with 3 winter tires and 1 Pirelli, I felt a really big difference and I realized that even in such a porridge, the car can be controlled quite well… Clearly, these were heavily worn tires, but traction occurred. While we were driving 4/5 special stage, the team found cross-country tires called KX. Also a big thank you to the crew of Lobotskyi Ivan / Bishko Yuriy for handing over these tires to us during the rally. Such goodwill and assistance certainly contribute to the desire to return to the Ukrainian stages. So we flew the last special stages with KXs… It was something like driving in the winter with studded tires, after the first kilometers I got used to it and started pushing… Too bad we only had this pleasure in the last special stages.
Tell me, how do you change your driving technique with conventional, winter, and cross-country tires?
In the specific situation where the road surface was wet clay, our usual used Pirelli just didn’t work, the tread was overgrown with clay and then all that was left was to pray that we would lean somewhere gently as we slid off the road. With the winter tire, the grip has already appeared, but as I mentioned, their remainder was ~ 30%, so I have no specific opinion about the winter tire on the dirt. The cross tire, although not new, also worked very well, it was possible to ride comfortably. As we talked about after racing with other drivers, this driving style is very similar to the winter one.
Weather and stages conditions were one of the main topics during the rally. How are you in such extreme conditions?
We gained a lot of experience not only in participating, driving a car, or pacenotes reading but also we learned a lesson on how to prepare responsibly for the race. Especially when it comes to competitions abroad, where we are not familiar with the road surface, the tires allowed to be used, and so on. Although this rally cost us a lot of nerves, we really value it as a good lesson for the future.
What are your next plans for starting abroad?
We decided to take part in the Ukrainian Rally Championship. We plan to do most of the Ukrainian events. The next rally in almost a month is the Rally Galicia, which will take place in the Lviv region. It is a pity that many events of the Ukrainian and Lithuanian championships are duplicated, we do not have a specific plan, but I do not rule out the possibility that we will sacrifice Lithuanian events if this will affect the desired result in Ukraine, similarly, we will sacrifice Ukrainian rally events.
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Photos – Viktor Adjamsky, Aleksandra Mihailova