At the finish line of his seventh World Cup season, Rafał Sonik did not hide his huge satisfaction, yet he did experience a small dose of dissatisfaction. Without any doubt, this year was the most difficult one in the career of the Kraków-based competitor, who faced injuries, equipment failures, and a bad turn of fate.
During Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, ever since the beginning of the race the World Cup defender had to make up for the time he had lost because of the poor quality gas, which clogged up the filters. When he finally took the lead, the engine died on him and exploded on route, spitting out the entire oil. Kamil Wiśniewski towed Sonik up to the finish line. The ninth place in the challenge meant that fighting for another World Cup title became extremely difficult just as it began.
In the well-known Qatar Rally, Rafał Sonik was one of the major favourites. No other rival has ever raced before in such a complicated labyrinth of paths. What’s more, the Kraków-based rider won this round three times already – and he added the fourth win in 2017 to the list. That win was hard won – he broke an axle during one of the stages and he made it to the finish line miraculously, having repaired his quad with zip ties, but his rivals didn’t avoid making mistakes and despite these problems, they didn’t manage to catch up with the Polish rider.
The Rally de Sardegna was to be a test ride, because Rafał Sonik’s favourite round did not make it to the FIM World Cup calendar this year. The start ended up with an accident during the last stage and a knee injury, which affected him significantly during the next two rallies. During the Atacama Rally in Chile, the “SuperSonik” not only had to face the pain, but he also had to deal with an unlucky failure of the navigation system. The distance meter showed the position on route incorrectly, which was why he was speeding in the speed limit zone. The time penalty killed any changes he had to fight for the podium, but two weeks later, in Argentina, he arrived at the finish lime among the top three riders with Dakar Rally experience.
The Morocco Rally was, traditionally, the last strong note of the season. As the three-times winner of this race, Rafał Sonik joined the ranks of the OiLibya Rally legends, who were distinguished on the occasion of celebrating the 10th edition of the rally. While in race, he fought for each and every minute; initially, he left Kees Koolen far behind, but ultimately it was the Dutch rider who won the race and was the one to take the World Cup. Rafał Sonik added two new silver medals to his medal collection – the first one for the Quads’ World Cup and Veterans’ World Cup.
Rafał Sonik came to Atacama Rally as last year’s winner, knowing full well that it would not be easy to repeat the success. The line-up of the race included several experienced local competitors, including the grand rival – Ignacio Casale.
Even though the local media focused mainly on the Casale-Sonik duel, the Polish quad rider dedicated a lot more attention to competing with his rivals in the fight for the World Cup. Both Kees Koolen and Alexis Hernandez were hot on his heels in the general classification, so the defender of the trophy wanted to all that it was in his power to keep them at a distance.
The knee injury that the quad rider suffered on Sardegna was clearly a hindrance in his plan. Pain became his daily companion, but despite that, he stayed close to his most dangerous rivals. Unfortunately, the failure of the navigation system prevented the Kraków-based rider from meeting his minimum goal – the podium in Chile. The distance meter showed an incorrect position on route. As a result, the six-times winner of the World Cup entered the speed limit zone faster than he should have. The time penalty pushed him outside the top three riders.
‘There is frustration and dissatisfaction, because a small detailed made me drop to the second place in the general classification. I’m aware that this could’ve cost me much, much more. Had I faced a dangerous obstacle without being aware how close it is, the consequences would be much more severe than just losing a place on the podium,’ added Sonik.
After the Atacama Rally, Rafał Sonik went down to the second position in the World Cup classification, and the lead was taken by Kees Koolen (the Netherlands).
Desafio Ruta 40
Argentina returned to the FIM World Cup calendar after an absence of several years. The starting line-up contained over 30 quad riders, and a significant number of them were experienced Dakar Rally riders. In this truly challenging event, Rafał Sonik came up third, keeping the mathematical chances for defending the trophy that belonged to him over the past four years.
At the start of Desafio Ruta 40, “SuperSonik” had extra support. During the prologue and at the starting ramp, he was accompanied by the Polish Ambassador to Argentina, Mr Marek Pernal. ‘We met earlier in Buenos Aires. It was a true honour for me to unfurl the white&red flag at the starting ramp together with him,’ said Sonik, who met with the Ambassador again shortly after the race. The meeting was held on the occasion of the exhibition entitled “Poland and Polish people versus independent Argentina 1816-2016”, which opened on 1 September in the rooms of the Senate of the Republic of Argentina.
For five days, the riders competed on rocky, mountainous paths. Clouds of dust, labyrinths of ravines, dry riverbeds and crossing the streams flowing down the snowy peaks. With difficult navigation, technically challenging terrain, and many places dangerous enough so that they were accompanied by three exclamation marks in the roadbook to boot.
In these difficult conditions, the Polish rider felt great and he initially took the lead. Unfortunately, a bad jump caused a bone to break in SuperSonik’s ankle, and the next three days he was driving injured. Despite the injury, he climbed up to the podium, giving way only to Pablo Copetti and Kees Koolen. His position in the World Cup remained the same.
The last and deciding round of the FIM World Cup was – traditionally – held on Sahara. This time, the win in the OilLibya Rally went to Kees Koolen, who secured not only the main trophy for himself, but also the Veterans’ World Cup. Rafał Sonik supplemented his collection by two silver medals.
This year’s anniversary tenth edition of OiLibya Rally in Morocco began by honouring the “legends” of this prestigious rally, whose origins coincided with the move of the Dakar Rally to South America. ‘I think this is partially why this rally is called the “Small Dakar”. Ever since the Rally of Egypt is no longer in the racing calendar, this rally is one of the few opportunities to race in the Sahara desert,’ said Sonik, who was one of the awarded riders.
He took his place on the stage next to outstanding riders from all classes. The organizers appreciated e.g. Nasser Al-Attiyah, Carlos Sainz, Pablo Goncalves, Sam Sunderland, Bruno da Costa, or Elisabete Jacinto. The “SuperSonik” nickname, which is what Sonik’s fans call him, is clearly supported by the statistics: out of four times he participated in this rally, he won three times and was second once.
After five days of fierce fight, Sonik couldn’t catch up with his Dutch competitor. ‘Kees Koolen drives a phenomenal quad that was developed by him and his team for the past several years. This season proved that even though his quad has better parameters and can do more, I’m still able to compete with him. I just need to be sound in body. Unfortunately, I had to deal with a knee injury in South America, and later with a broken bone in my ankle. These injuries foiled my plans, but I’m still satisfied that I didn’t give in to the pain. There is no other thing that brings such joy than the moment when we again and again beat our limits,’ he summarized.
‘The time has now come to celebrate,’ added Sonik, who won the World Cup trophy six times already. ‘I’d love to enjoy the first place and another ‘gold’ trophy in my collection, but standing on the podium after such a difficult, exhausting and painful season is enough of an award. Now it’s time to take some rest. In two weeks, we’ll start getting ready for the Dakar Rally. This will be my tenth time there and the anniversary, 40th edition of the marathon. There can’t be a better time to fight for a Bedouin, can it?’ concluded “SuperSonik”, who now has six gold and two silver medals in his collection.