Six rounds of FIM World Cup on four different continents. Desert sands, rocks, sharp stones, high mountains, mud, pampas, the ubiquitous fesh-fesh, and the wetlands in Brazil at the brim of the Amazonian jungle. This – and more – is what the bikers and quad riders had to face in 2013 as they fought for the win in the 2013 season. The quads category was dominated by Rafał Sonik, who took the highest place four times and was simply unrivalled.
When the Poland National Team Captain won the third place in Abu Zabi at the start of the season, he was satisfied and calm. He was never able to win in the UAD, because this round is set by local drivers who know the desert like their back pockets. Getting through to the top three riders was a great success and promised a successful season.
Sonik confirmed his great form in the following rallies. Once again he was a class of his own in Qatar, where perfect navigation once again turned out to be a very valuable skill. Less than two months later, he won the Rally di Sardegna for the first time in his career, followed up by winning the Desafio Ruta 40 in Argentina. This round followed the paths trodden by five editions of the Dakar Rally and Rafał Sonik knew very well what to expect. The fight with the army of local quad riders turned out to be the most difficult challenge – and he was successful, again.
Rafał Sonik secured the World Cup title for himself in Brazil, where he took the fourth place. Initially, Sonik outdistanced his rivals even if he had to cover 200 km on a flat tyre. Unfortunately, a serious failure of an axle shaft and a large time loss eliminated him from fighting for the win. However, the points received for the fourth place were enough to secure the win in the season one round before its end.
The last episode of the series was played off the beaten track of Morocco, as the Pharaohs’ Rally had to be cancelled due to political instability. As he was in a very comfortable position and treated the rally as a preparation for Dakar, “SuperSonik” dominated the rally and once again he was the best, sealing his win.
‘It’s great! All this, what I could dream of, why I trained and tried to achieve so hard, the logistics, the organisation, and the fight on each and every rally, all this came together,’ said Sonik, seconds after he opened his champagne at the finish line of the Moroccan rally.
Traditionally, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge opened a new season of the FIM Cross Country Rally World Championship. This time, the competition started with… a false start. A powerful sand storm kept the rally drivers from venturing into the first stage and the true competition started only en route of the special test. From the very beginning, Rafał Sonik adopted the tactics of a prudent, yet dynamic drive whose aim was to place him in the rally’s forefront.
‘My finish line will be in Egypt. For me, it’s not important to win consecutive rallies but to win the World Cup. This is my superior aim,’ said the Krakow quad rider before the start. Indeed, the captain of the Poland National Team was riding calmly and steady, making way for only such seasoned drivers as Sebastian Husseini or Mohammed Abu-Issa.
Ultimately, after a few days of navigating through the desert, dehydration and his “choking” quad, which would react to the clogging air filter, Sonik reached the rally’s finish line with an excellent third result, in the company of only local competitors. It was a promising start of the season and a presage of great emotions at the stages to follow.
Despite its geographical closeness, the Sealine Cross Country Rally in Qatar leads through completely different terrains than the rally in the neighbouring United Arab Emirates. Here, the landscape is more like a moonscape and the rocky desert abounds in small rocks and great boulders whose sharp edges cut the tyres of derelict drivers. Similarly to 2012, Rafał Sonik turned up trumps in stage two of the world cup by confidently securing his win.
The Qatar rally is famous for its ruthless verification of drivers’ skills in navigating through an unknown terrain. On many occasions, Rafał Sonik stressed that those who would try to ride too fast could lose the most. For the locals, the Polish rider’s good and almost impeccable drive was like a red rag to a bull. They would step on the accelerator and… get lost.
It turned out that stage three was most difficult as practically all drivers had difficulty finding the right route through the mazes of thicket and dust clouds. ‘It was amazing. Each of us would drive in a different direction. We were all getting lost,’ said the captain of the Poland National Team who, stressing his aspirations for the 2013 season, managed to get through the ordeal and won the entire rally with a significant advantage.
Rafał Sonik arrived at the Sardinia Rally Race as one of the favourites. In the previous years, he was close to winning twice on the Italian island but each time he was just minutes short of full success. This time, the saying ‘the third time is the charm’ held good because the captain of the Poland National Team was unrivalled and strengthened his leading position in the world cup classification.
The five days of competition brought a lot of emotions and incredible twists of events. Having won the prologue, the Cracovian had to struggle with rain, mud, and fog, all this without goggles which, dirty and steamy, barred him from effective navigation. Marking the trail is the leader’s of the rally most difficult task. So, in the following days, SuperSonik’s quad would turn into a mower, ploughing through prolific grass and bushes growing over the island’s trackless wilderness.
As if that were not enough, in one of the turns, Sonik was wiped out of the road straight into the forest three metres below the road where he had to wait for the next driver to help him get back on the route. His sportsman’s anger would not leave him until he reached the finish line and facilitated his careful yet aggressive riding to finish triumphant. ‘It is evident that hard trainings are bringing results. I’ve been training here for years now and I continue improving my riding skills in this terrain. These long hours and days spent in the wilderness of this wild island bore fruit in the form of sure victory with over 40-minute advantage at the finish line,’ summed up the winner.
Desafio Ruta 40 is a cult rally whose route coincides with the Dakar’s in may sections. ‘Those who’ve never rode it are not true off road drivers,’ said before the start Rafał Sonik who did excellent in difficult South American winter conditions by finishing third in the competition and first among drivers collecting points in the world cup.
Thirty-eight quad riders signed up for the Argentinian competition, of which thirty represented the host team. Competing against locals who know the terrain inside out always poses a challenge. Like other competitors, Sonik had to dampen down his fighting spirit because winter had the upper hand. The difficult weather conditions resulted in calling off the first stage.
The second day of the rally started with heated competition. “At times, I feel like Ali-Baba and the forty thieves, although in this case there are thirty of them,’ laughed the world cup leader who, in this rally, is competing not only with other riders but also against the severe cold weather. Step by step, the captain of the Poland National Team was strengthening his leading position. He also broke the spell of the stage running through Fimbala – the terrain which for him during the Dakar Rally had always meant technical problems.
Rafał Sonik reached the finish line with an excellent third result. He was also first among the competitors who compete in the FIM World Cup cycle, which allowed him to increase his advantage over the second rider Mohammed Abu-Issa to 27 points. Thus, he managed to take up a privileged position before the Brazilian Rally – the event with double points.
For Rafał Sonik, the Rally Dos Sertões had two faces. At halfway stage, it seemed that the Polish rider would storm the victory because he finished each stage first. Then, however, technical problems started which prevented him from repeating his 2010 success. And yet, he finished the Rally fourth and chieved his main aim – to secure the FIM World Cup one round before the end of the season.
After one of a kind prologue at the Arena Sertões in Goiânia, the time has come to compete in the characteristic red clouds of red dust in the Brazilian wilderness for nine days. Rafał Sonik did not avoid adventures, which are an inherent part of life of a rally driver. He was struggling with the roadbook which would wind backwards; he drove into a plantation of sugarcane and jump off high hills at 130 km/h. ‘I can remember sitting on the bar start on the Mount Krokiew once and feeling this tightness in my stomach. And now, here we were, taking off faster than ski jumpers at the ski flying hills,’ he said.
The captain of the Poland National Team was going like a bomb and won five stages in a row despite tearing a tyre in stage four and riding 240 km on a flat and then on a bare rim. Unluckily, the flat took place during the marathon stage where it is forbidden to make repairs. Sonik got a three-hour penalty and lost his chance to win. Problems with the tyres continued as it turned out that they were not strong enough for such rough riding. And then, the accident while riding behind a motorbike and the breakdown of the halfshaft did not help the situation, either.
Ultimately, however, it all had a happy ending. In spite of all adversity, Rafał Sonik reached the finish line fourth and was second among the drivers competing for the world cup. It made it possible for him to increase his advantage in the overall classification and, already before the Rallye des Pharaons that ends the season, secure the trophy which he won in similar circumstances in 2010.
Before the beginning of the sixth – and last – round of the 2013 World Cup, Sonik was in a dream position. He had the trophy secured, so he could treat the rally on the Sahara desert as a dress rehearsal for the upcoming Dakar Rally. He drove on Yamaha Raptor 700, which was to help him decide which quad to take to South America.
The Poland National Team Captain did not have to fight to win, but like any other sportsman, he was not to ease off. Since the very first kilometres he was the one to set the pace of the entire rally. However, the six-day rally did not lack scary moments. On the first day, a biker hit Rafał’s quad. ‘He hit my fuel tank and my right front wheel. He was catapulted from his bike and started to tumble along. Had he hit 15 cm to the left, he would hit my steering wheel, and I don’t want to even think what could have happened to us,’ said Rafał.
A few days later Rafał Sonik had to stop and help an unconscious biker, who had to be taken away from the route by a chopper. The residents of Morocco also showed their dark side – they left obstacles on the way, in the form of stones and wooden bars with nails. But the scariest obstacle was a line that was stretched over the road. Rafał avoided it in the last moment by lowering his head.
Despite many dangerous adventures, Sonik drove surely from start to finish and continued to increase his advantage over the competitors. Driving was a pleasure, what he emphasized at the end of almost each stage. ‘A lot of rocks and stones, some driving on sand. But more importantly, no special adventures or problems. I hardly wanted to end this stage,’ said Rafał after one of the special stages.
His sure win in Morocco sealed SuperSonik’s win in the entire FIM World Cup series. There was champagne, there was a honour round in the dust, and… a walk to the highest dune in the vicinity. The triumph completed this perfect season and raised hopes before the Dakar Rally.