Nikita Mazepin has climbed up to sixth overall in the Silk Way Rally after dominating the seventh stage in Elista.
The Russian was dropped by Haas ahead of the 2022 season after his country’s president, Vladimir Putin, started a war with Ukraine, and Russian sponsors were banned from appearing in Formula 1, leaving Mazepin without a seat.
He teamed up with Sergei Karakin of SNAG Racing to contest the Silk Way Rally that used to form part of the FIA world cup for cross-country Rallies.
The opening six rounds had been a bit of a rollercoaster for the 23-year-old as he suffered with a stalling UTV, dashboard failures and brake issues.
In extremely tricky conditions in the seventh leg, Mazepin managed to set a time almost eight minutes quicker than his nearest competitor as he grabbed victory.
“The muddy section wasn’t long but our wipers didn’t work, so I hoped that it would end,” said the former Haas driver, quoted by the Chequered Flag.
“It was like being in a bunker: we couldn’t see anything. It’s an interesting experience. The car slides much more on clay, more like a drift, than a buggy.
“I had fun, the last three days, I’ve been driving with pleasure.”
The young Russian played the long game when he ended up on the same bit of road as KAMAZ racer Anastasia Nifontova.
“Today, we started behind the KAMAZ trucks, then caught up with Nifontova and overtook her, but then let her go because the pace she keeps, I think, doesn’t match the pace of the marathon.
“But in her case, I would probably look at it not as a race, but as a test, so I’m happy with my pace.
“The weather change definitely influenced the car, making it easier to drive.
“I got used to the pace, but I would like to sleep a little bit more.
“From the point of view of driving, the terrain has changed again, but it’s calmer to drive here.”
Having been ejected from the pinnacle of motorsport at the beginning of 2022, Mazepin said ahead of the seventh stage of the Rally that he lives and breathes four-wheel thrills.
“I have one life and I’d like to do what I like and what makes me happy, and I’ve never liked lying on the couch and playing PlayStation in a simulator,” he told Astahov.
“I don’t think I ever will in the future.
“If off-road racing continues to give me pleasure, which is what I’m betting on, why not? If I can physically walk and get into the car, there is no age limit in this sport!”
Mazepin is now second in his T3 class following his victory in stage seven.