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:
The Dakar Proves that to Win This Race, You Must Suffer It
Special Stage Five was designed to torture, befuddle and test the barriers between you and insanity. Some survived without (much) damage, and others saw the end of their race right out the gate – in some cases, upside-down. Yesterday’s transfer stage, as long, fast and simple as it was, surely intended to bring the racers’ guards down so they could take an uppercut to the jaw once they became too comfortable. That’s just it. Comfort is…nice. But nice never won any battles, and as much as the ASO wants to weed out weakness, they also want to nurture talent and ambition. It’s easy to succumb to the many luxuries life has to offer, especially if there’s too much or too little of them. They distract you from your dreams, let you become complacent. Why feel pain and distress or fear when you can be cozy, indifferent or oblivious? Comfort’s best quality is to let you know there are good things to be had, and its worst is making you forget, anything worth having isn’t free. Whether you pay in dollars or sweat – to live fully is to give generously. This is what sets Dakar racers apart from so many people. The devotion to their craft is unending. It can take teams years just to cross the finish line let alone contenders. It doesn’t examine a person’s daring or talent alone, but their patience, willpower and cleverness. And SS5 did exactly that. Every skill and trait which makes the elite class extraordinary was tested.
Looking at the live tracking app, zoomed in on the colorful arrows representing each vehicle on the course, revealed a palpable chaos. Like finding a huddle of cockroaches immediately scattering in different directions when you flip on the light. Dakar is her name, mayhem is her game, and today the organization, guided by its clearly sadistic course developers, created the perfect maze – if pushing greatness until its breaking point was their goal. There wasn’t a front runner out there who didn’t draw circles in the ground, letting the later group know just how complex the roadbook was. Even the likes of Nasser Al-Attiyah, Stephane Peterhansel, Joan Barreda Bort and Ricky Brabec, to name a few, played Marco Polo with the Waypoints for a spell. You can imagine a fresh-faced athlete, new to this world, could feel overwhelmed at times. Truly grasping the gravity of this gargantuan event. The American Polaris RZR Factory team was humbled on many levels in SS5, and yet both rookie drivers survived, with excellent effort from their navigators. There are so many obstacles waiting in darkness, ready to spring out at any moment, that having no game-ending issues on the course is an achievement in and of itself. Kristen Matlock and Max Eddy Jr. (#409, Polaris RZR Factory), having suffered irreparable damage to the chassis on Stage Two are enduring the torture in the Experiential class to soak up as much information as possible, learning from mistakes they made and could make as the race continues. While Wayne Matlock and Sam Hayes maintained a slower pace than usual to reduce as many avoidable incidents as possible.
“It was tricky navigation. We got lost a little bit at the beginning, but then I would say it wasn’t a fast stage, it was really technical with really hard dunes. I love that sort of stage. This is the Dakar – the last three stages were for tourists compared to this stage. We’re close to “Chaleco” but today he was much faster. In the dunes he has incredible speed, so today he put seven minutes into us, but there are still a lot of stages to go.” – Aron Domzala #406, MONSTER ENERGY CAN-AM
Fellow countrymen in the Lightweight and SSV classes, had mixed encounters even though both landed on one of the first three steps. Seth Quintero and German local Dennis Zenz (#383 RED BULL OFF-ROAD TEAM USA) joined in the confusion early on, even earning a flat over the rocky section, but still the duo kept their focus and finished P3 and moved to P4 overall. Although Quintero is only in his late teens, he drives like a man much wiser. It doesn’t hurt that his co-pilot has his back on the hard bits either. Austin Jones and Brazilian Gustavo Gugelmin (#408 MONSTER ENERGY CAN-AM) also took a formidable position at 3rd in SSV, but theirs was a much different journey, exiting the ASS with a flawless pass. Owing their success to his navigator, Jones praised Gugelmin for his keen deciphering of the terrain and hieroglyphics which, unlike their colleagues, gave them a clean run. But let’s not let this unusual outcome set the bar. This special was a battle from the beginning, and to top it with the cherry, competitors had a two-hour liaison back to the bivouac in Riyadh. It’s hard to compare the canyons of the initial section of the trial to other recognizable regions. The path was entirely made of stone, if rock wasn’t just covering everything in view. It was a scene more common with “rock crawling” Jeeps in Utah. UTVs, Race Cars and Juggernauts sidestepped the carnage of fallen soldiers – punctures, roll-overs, mechanical functions – left wrecked along the pathway as they too tried to claw their way up the crags to the next obstacle. One of the victims was car #332, captained by South Africans Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings of Toyota Gazoo, who faced a serious crash at kilometer 20 leaving the vehicle on its side and Henk on the ground. But it wasn’t all bad for fans watching from Johannesburg as locals Brian Baragwanath and Taye Perry (#339, Century Racing) looked strong on the course pulling 2nd in the stage. Not to mention South African Giniel De Villiers and Spaniard Alex Haro Bravo (#304 Toyota Gazoo) nabbed first despite everything falling apart around them.The Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) absolutely expected a struggle. It was the intention. It’s the intention of every Dakar Rally because, here, adrenaline is what pumps blood to the heart, at least during exhaustion. They were so intent on wearing down their participants, they set up a second bivouac in the sand for those who wouldn’t make the midnight curfew to Al Qaisumah. But it doesn’t seem like any of our favorites had to take this option, which is especially good for the Bikes because if a moto rolls into Bivy Two, they’d be penalized heavily and automatically moved to the Experiential class [read: disqualified].
Teamwork helps make the dream… You get it. But awful saying aside, joining forces seemed to be the key to success. Even the best of riders joined forces to decipher the tricky commands printed on their daily scroll. Apparently, Jose Cornejo Florimo (#4, MONSTER ENERGY HONDA) connected well with the directions and helped lead the other athletes out of the wild. His willingness to stick with his rivals in time of need could be why his excellent comprehension of the roadbook only landed him in 2nd seed by the conclusion of Day while Kevin Benavides (#47 MONSTER ENERGY HONDA) took hold of 1st. But considering the day he had, Benavides deserved it. After becoming lost early on, as were many, he had an off-bike affair with the sand… This left him with a broken nose, bruising and a possible sprained ankle. He’d also endured a laceration which led to a fair amount of blood loss. Lesser men in his position would have hit the rescue button, thrown in the towel and blamed fate. But instead, Benavides patched himself up and carried on with pain lingering. And there are few of his caliber which wouldn’t have done the same. Remember Toby Price’s 2019 victory with a broken hand? As if the lineup had anymore combos left to reconfigure, Toby Price (#3 RED BULL KTM FACTORY) found himself in 3rd place this time, with Lorenzo Santolino (#15 SHERCO FACTORY) at his heels. American hopeful, privateer Skyler Howes (#9), is still outperforming expectations – to include his own. Now both 7th in the stage and General Standings, he has been riding smart: slow (ish) in the slow parts and fast in the fast parts. And now having the BAS DAKAR KTM team behind him, there’s a legitimate chance we could hear the Star-Spangled Banner at the closing ceremony.
“Very long, nervous, but in the end, a successful day for our crew! Not everything depends on the pilot in rally raids. Navigation in the first 30 km of the Special caught us by surprise. Those who drove calmer, came out of the situation first. Five trucks left that complex canyon together.. After 20-30km, we managed to catch up with this caravan led by Andrey Karginov and came to finish 40 seconds from it.
Some would argue you haven’t truly experienced rally until you’ve raced from the cockpit of a 10-ton camas. You’re elevated over the wheels, over everything. To crest a dune is like reaching the peak of a rollercoaster, teetering over its edge and waiting to drop. The vantage point stretches miles. You may be man-handling a glorified garbage truck, but with 700 horsepower in some, and a top speed that’ll rival the lightweight premiere cars, who wouldn’t want to barrel down the backcountry in what’s essentially an AT-AT on wheels? No, the Dakar Rally isn’t approachable. In fact, it’s elitist. It welcomes only the strongest wills and biggest hearts and rejects those with entitlement and overconfidence. But this is what makes the competition so desirable. You don’t deserve to be in its favor, you earn it. And at the end of the day, every pound of flesh that is taken feels worthwhile. Because you don’t spend years of fantasizing, planning, training, sacrifice… For a Participation trophy. At Dakar it’s all or nothing, so don’t plan to show up if you’re not going to give it your all.
Ø Liaison > 339 km – Special > 456 km; Riyadh > Al Qaisumah
Ø Patience is a virtue in rally raids, as will be seen on this long, hard stage, where competitors who fail to control their nerves are in for a bad day. Several elements will bring down the average speed, including a tough dunes sector near the middle of the special and the numerous stones that litter some tracks. Haste makes waste – or, in this case, a flat tire.
Ø Dmitry Sotnikov extended his streak to four podium finishes in a row, including three stage wins. Andrey Karginov’s best efforts came to naught yesterday as the man who was in a league of his own last year was denied by his Belarusian rival in the dying breaths of the stage. The reigning champion, who probably waved goodbye to his hopes of a successful title defense after he was struck by a serious mechanical issue in the opening stage, has nothing to lose and could well launch a counterattack in today’s 456 km special.
2nd Place Cars, Brian Baragwanath #339, CENTURY RACING: “Today we went slow to go faster. We calmed down and tried to just look at the navigation. Taye Perry did a very good job. It’s the first time for us in a big race like this to be navigating like this. Navigation on this Dakar has been super tough. We made some big mistakes on stage two. We missed a way point and lost twenty minutes. Now we’re really just focusing on getting a rhythm and working together. I found that when you calm down and focus on your caps and your oblique corners… the tricky thing is that it’s a cap over a long corner, so you almost have to hold your steering for a little longer and take the corner slowly when there isn’t really a road, so that is the very difficult part. From the Dakars I’ve done in 2015 and 2016 it is definitely way, way more difficult, but it’s something different for me. It’s cool.”
2nd Overall Cars, Nasser Al-Attiyah #301, TOYOTA HILUX: “It was not easy to open. We saw a lot of bikes coming and we got confused. At the beginning, we lost maybe eight or nine minutes. I’m happy to have finally got here. Stéphane did a very good job because he stayed behind me all the way. I’m quite happy to finish day five and tomorrow Stéphane will open, and it will be easier for me. We’re taking it one day after another and we’ll see where we are. Next week will also be very difficult”.
2nd Place Bikes, Jose Cornejo Florimo #4, MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021: “It was a tough stage. It’s a long time since I can remember a stage as tough as this one. There was everything: rocks, trails, dunes, fast parts, tricky navigation… I think I did a good job with the navigation – I didn’t get lost at the beginning where everyone got lost and I made up a lot of time to the guys that started in front of me very quickly. So, I started to open the way after about 80 or 90 kilometers until, well, almost the end. Then Sanders started to push a little bit in the dunes in front – he did a good job – and for the rest I opened almost all the stage. I don’t know about the results, but hopefully the guys behind me haven’t beaten me by much and tomorrow I don’t have to open. But we’ll see anyway. For the result of this stage, I’m very happy with my riding and with my navigation, so I’m happy. We’re improving in the general standings, so that’s good. Tomorrow is another day, so now it’s time to rest and to focus for tomorrow”.
1st Place Bikes, Kevin Benavides #47, MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021: “It was a really hard day for me. At the beginning, I got lost like all the riders, but after that I started to push a lot. On one dune I jumped, a big jump, and I crashed because I hit another big one with the front wheel. I banged my head like this and broke the GPS and everything. I cut myself too and started to lose a lot of blood. There was also some pain around my ankle. In the end, I continued and kept pushing with a lot of pain, so, yeah, it was really hard for me today. My nose is broken and also, I broke the helmet, it was really hard. I think I’ll be okay for tomorrow. I’m in pain, but it will be ok. I also tried to push on the last part to win some time, but it was hard and there was a lot of pain today. But it’s like that, this is the Dakar.”
1st Overall Cars, Stephane Peterhansel, X-RAID MINI JCW TEAM: “Today was a real Dakar stage: really complicated with the navigation but also not easy in the dunes; some rocky plateau, some tracks with really big rocks… not really nice to drive. At the end it was not a beautiful landscape and not nice to drive, but it was selective, a really selective stage like it always is on the Dakar.”
2nd Place Quads, Manuel Andujar #154, 7240 TEAM: “The stage was really hard with tricky navigation. It was tricky on the first 150 kilometers, but I think I rode well and I’m happy with today’s stage. In the first kilometers I made a mistake, but I was able to fix it really quickly, get back on the right route and get it done”.
1. #47 Kevin Benavides (ARG), MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021
2. #4 Jose Cornejo Florimo (CHL), MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021
3. #3 Toby Price (AUS), RED BULL KTM FACTORY TEAM
4. #15 Lorenzo Santolino (ESP), SHERCO FACTORY
5. #5 Sam Sunderland (GBR), RED BULL KTM FACTORY TEAM
6. #12 Xavier de Soultrait (FRA), HT RALLY RAID HUSQVARNA RACING
7. #9 Skyler Howes (USA), BAS DAKAR KTM RACING TEAM
8. #52 Matthias Walkner (AUT), RED BULL KTM FACTORY TEAM
9. #18 Ross Branch (BWA), MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA RALLY TEAM
10. #2 Pablo Quintanilla (CHL), ROCKSTAR ENERGY HUSQVARNA FACTORY RACING
1. #47 Kevin Benavides (ARG), MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021
2. #12 Xavier de Soultrait (FRA), HT RALLY RAID HUSQVARNA RACING
3. #4 Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo (CHL), MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021
4. #3 Toby Price (AUS), RED BULL KTM FACTORY TEAM
5. #5 Sam Sunderland (GBR), RED BULL KTM FACTORY TEAM