The 43rd edition of the Dakar Rally is underway in Saudi Arabia. We’ll be sharing daily updates from our friends at WESTx1000. Stay tuned.
Begin Press Release:
In Classic Dakar Style, Special Stage One Showed Absolutely No Mercy
Dakar is not meant to be predictable. It’s meant to put you through the wringer and catch you off-guard. Even when the most promising performers, like 2020 Dakar Winner Ricky Brabec (#1, Monster Energy Honda 2021), take the stage or pole position in Brabec’s case, it only takes one new day for the favorites to switch places. And that’s par for the course. Yes, the wind was taken from his sails today when starting at first and ending at 24th, but Ricky has more than enough time to climb back up the motorbike pyramid with Toby Price (#3 Red Bull KTM Factory) atop the pinnacle as his target. On either side of Price’s makeshift throne is standing Brabec’s teammate, Kevin Benavides (#47, Monster Energy Honda 2021) on the second step and Matthias Walkner (#52, Red Bull KTM Factory) holding down the third. This outcome seemed less a battle among men, and more a contest of wit, patience and literacy – especially when the text you’re forced to read is akin to hieroglyphics. And with landscape as confidence inspiring, and speed-inducing, as this barren stretch between Jeddah and Bisha, it’s all too easy to grow complacent and forget the risks. Or dwell a little too long on the roadbook and blow past the next directive. Finishing strong in 8th place, good ol’ boy Skyler Howes (#9, BAS Dakar KTM Racing) recognized SS1’s obstacles right away…
Today, the racers climbed in elevation, traversing stony peaks rounded by a millennia of strong, relentless winds before dipping back into the valleys. There, the earth was textured, pock marked with jagged rocks, bare unswaying trees and loose trash camouflaged by dust. A palette of Grey, green and khaki colored in between the hard lines and bled into each other so that when the sun hits the top of the atmosphere, the mountains became shadows and dangers disappeared in plain sight. Perhaps that’s why every oasis at first appears to be a mirage, green and lush and seemingly thriving defiantly in the cruel, arid wasteland which encapsulates it. The whole scene is strange and beautiful in its emptiness. One you only read about in old Arabian and Persian tales. Whether manmade or a gift from Mother Nature, many of these watering holes are exploited by the people, and camels, who need them. But camels were of no concern to Prologue leader Nasser Al-Attiyah, and co-driver, Mathieu Baumel (#301, TOYOTA HILUX). He was distracted by a sneak attack led by 2020 Champ Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz (#300, X-Raid Mini JCW) who took the coveted spot from Al-Attiyah and Baumel by the conclusion of the special. This tactic opened the gate for eight more adversaries to flow through, putting the #301 car at 10th in this leg.
A fast pace leads to fast consequences. Teams faced wide-open roadways, jagged fields of rubble and a senseless web of crisscrossing intersections made by what appears to be, a drunk spider. The 345-kilometer liaison gave pilots plenty of time to consider the coming challenges, ponder their goals and maybe even check out the scenery. Although, as aggressively – almost indifferently – as the locals drive, too much sight-seeing could lead to a premature visit to the medic tent, or hospital…Likely just the morgue. But they would have little time to dwell on the roadbook and its complex set of coordinates. Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena (#305, Bahrain Raid Xtreme) felt the bitterness of defeat as they lost good time to the elements finding themselves in 18th. Similar contenders Yazeed Al Rajhi and navigator Dirk Von Zitzewitz (#303, Overdrive Toyota) suffered parallel incidents, to include several flat tires, which dropped their typically lofty position to 17th in Results.
“For me it’s the first time that I’m racing in Saudi at Dakar. Last year, I could be here as a visitor. But now I get to really see the landscape firsthand and it’s amazing what this land has to offer – even on the first day, already. So many rocks and rocks and rocks. It’s crazy! So, it was a very difficult stage. Very stony, we got three punctures today just like many other guys as well. So, the 4×4 cars are struggling like last year with the tires. And the buggies have quite a bit of an advantage with the bigger wheels and bigger tires. We finished today only at 17th, so this is pretty bad for us, but I hope we can move forward tomorrow. You never know at Dakar. Dakar always has a surprise for you, so let’s see.” – Dirk Von Zitzewitz #303, Overdrive Toyota
It wasn’t all bad. Those same extremes were managed quite well by even first-time competitors. Cristina Gutierrez Herrero, with navigator Francois Cazalet (#387, Red Bull Off-Road) gracefully rolled onto P1 in the Lightweight Vehicle class. While “Team America” is proving themselves worthy of praise not only in the North American desert scene, but on an international scale as well. After a flat tire, a visit to the medic tent (to remove an excess of dust from the eyes) and the same grueling obstacles their opponents endured, Kristen Matlock and Max Eddy Jr. (#409, Polaris RZR Factory Racing) nabbed the 10th seat – breaking them into the elite grouping. While Wayne Matlock and Sam Hayes (#420, Polaris RZR Factory Racing) likewise earned a satisfying spot in the ranks at 12th. To round out the only American Factory team, their truck, captained by Alberto Herrero, Juan Carlos Macho del Olmo and Nuno Fojo (#521, Polaris RZR Factory Racing) ended their day with 19th in the bag.
“It’s always a little difficult the first day of the rally, especially for a brand-new team. Our goal for today was for both cars to finish and see what the pace was like. It was really, really rocky – very difficult – so I was concerned how the team would hold up, and I think it was a big success today. For their first Dakar, their first real stage, to end up 10th and 12th in their category and also sort of building a platform to go forward from. As they become more and more comfortable with the rally format and with their cars, I think the performance will continually improve. I think everybody is in good spirits, and the guys are working hard. We’re super happy so far!” – Darren Skilton, Team Manager Polaris RZR Factory Racing
Ø Liaison > 345 km – Special > 277 km
Ø The opening special will be held entirely on dirt roadways. The main challenge lies in stringing up one valley after another while avoiding the navigational hazards posed by the numerous intersections. Competitors will have to be on the lookout in the stony sections if they want to avoid flat tires.
Ø The extremely rocky terrain forced several teams to change flat tires in the Special stage.
Ø After dominating the 2020 Dakar from A to Z, Andrey Karginov’s start of the 2021 edition couldn’t have been more different. The Kamaz driver had to work on his truck for almost an hour and a half during SS1, which surely was the cause for keeping him and his team out of the Top Ten today.
Ø From enduro to rallies, David Knight is racing in his first Dakar. The Britt is especially famous for his full, decorated enduro career. A five-time ISDE world champion, Knight is flying the flag for HT Rally Raid on a Husqvarna motorbike.
8th Place Bikes, Skyler Howes #9, BAS Dakar KTM Racing Team: “Today was tricky in all forms: hidden trails through boulder fields, multiple washes going in the same direction but different canyons, 10 trails to choose from at an intersection. You really had to be on your A+ game today with navigation and riding technique. Relax for one second in a boulder field and things can go south really fast.
I lucked out with tracks to follow. I moved my way from 13th to 9th physically on the trail, so I didn’t have to focus too closely on the roadbook with eight tracks in front of me to verify I was on the right path. And yet, that also bit me when I ended up in a couple of the wrong washes, relying on tracks rather than doing what the roadbook said.
Lessons learned for the next 11 days to come. To start Stage One with an 8th place finish is awesome and 10 places better than last year! I am just going to ride every day as it comes. I have my hopes, but those don’t get you far in Dakar. Just have to roll with the punches and keep moving forward.”
Ricky Brabec #1, Monster Energy Honda Team 2021: “The day was really difficult. Not ideal to start the first day of the rally upfront. Unfortunately, we didn’t send back the prologue as we should have, but it is only the first day. And tomorrow, hopefully, we’ll get back into the desert and make up a little bit of time to catch the lead group.
Reaching the elite group is definitely one of the things we need to do to stay in this. And we aren’t too far behind. With the starting position we have for Stage Two, I believe that it will be super easy to do – just be smart and make it to the finish tomorrow.”