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 Second Half of the Marathon Stage Is Where It All Goes Wrong… Or Right?
“If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.” – Mario Andretti
Control is a skill. A quality which must be developed carefully; harnessed in the worst of times and forgotten in the best. If we don’t learn to have control, then how would we ever know when to lose it? This is a trait all formidable athletes must have. Keeping the breath steady. Focusing the mind on observing the terrain, spotting obstacles, following the roadbook. To stay calm, think clearly, and excel under pressure. That takes a sort of power over one’s self that monks spend years in meditation to achieve. And yet, a pilot experiences Zen essentially by necessity. And from it, their craft becomes their therapy. The countryside is like everything we’ve already seen, yet still like nothing else. In the beginning, racers traverse unbeaten roadways made of rubble mixed into khaki-colored valleys carved between low-profile ridges and filled with beach. Rubble lay strewn about the sandbox, like toys left unattended by toddlers. From the modest gorges to quick jaunts winding up and over the crags, many take these sorts of sections gingerly to spare their tires (to no avail). Clouds lingered over the course, low and heavy, trapping cool air in the atmosphere. Eventually, the skies and earth opened up simultaneously taking vehicles over barren plateaus, just as you’d see in the high desert outside of Barstow, California – grey, flat, featureless… Fast. Here, the speed picked up. It didn’t just pick up, it went flying.
The pièce de resistance of Special Stage 8 was an interstellar trip to a(nother) distant planet. We’ve skipped across planets on these hyperbolic spaceships a few times already – to the moon and Mars, and Moab. But of all the “alien” regions in the ancient Arabian peninsula to explore, the countryside outside of Neom was the most captivating. Enormous walls of gritty stone, bursting out of the ground. It’s no wonder the first native civilizations had found it so sacred and chose to sculpt them into confines as protection from the elements and their enemies. Even now, amidst a vast nothingness hundreds of kilometers from, well, anything, sparkling white sheets can be found strung between the opening of a vertical crevasse. Sheep or an old Toyota pick-up truck at its entrance. Much of the cultures in Saudi Arabia are or originated from nomadic tribes and find solace in their independents and disconnect from hyperconnectivity. It’s in this place, during motorsport’s most challenging race, two very different worlds collide: Engine-powered monsters, meet camel-driven denizens, both in awe of each other. An easy distraction for the finest competitors who have little reason to look around when their sights are so focused on the finish line. Second to his colleague in the first half of the Marathon, Jose “Nacho” Ignacio Cornejo Florimo (#4, MONSTER ENERGY HONDA) bested 2020 Dakar champ Ricky Brabec (#1) – who sits in Third after the A.S.S. – for the win. This is the Chilean’s first title of the 2021 event, which has put him a full minute ahead of Toby Price (#3, RED BULL KTM) in the General Standings.
With “Nacho” putting in his best performances yet, Brabec finding a rhythm after a relatively disappointing first week and fellow Honda rider Joan Barreda Bort (#88) making fatal attacks which have led him to the top seed four times now, Honda has a significant opportunity to once again keep the powerhouse KTM factory team off the highest step of the podium. Perhaps off the podium altogether. But they’ll have to get through Price first who, even in his constant battle with the odds – mechanical issues, gashed tires and complex roadbooks – intimidates and impresses peers by his sheer talent. However, he is still only a man. And man is subject to failure. So, it’s up to the other all-stars in orange, Sam Sunderland (#5), Matthias Walkner (#52) and rookie Daniel Sanders (#21) to take back the iron throne. The very one Ricky, and Honda, conquered last year to break KTM’s nearly two-decade winning streak. The war among autos, however, seems a bit more predictable. Yes, the elite are playing musical chairs with the premier seats, but we know exactly who’s in the game. Nasser Al-Attiyah, with help from navigator Mathieu Baumel, (#301, TOYOTA HILUX) broke his own record, securing his 40th stage victory, only seven under his adversary in the ranks, Stephane Peterhansel (#302, X-RAID MINI JCW TEAM). Led through the course by Edouard Boulanger, Peterhansel third in the special, while his ambitious comrade Carlos Sainz and co-pilot Lucas Cruz (#300) took over 2nd putting them 39’55” off the pace. And Nasser off by 5’50”.
But when you’re not at the top, you might as well be on the bottom. At least this is likely how Sebastien Loeb and his mate Daniel Elena (#305, BAHRAIN RAID XTREME) felt when they endured even more mechanical problems around the 43rd kilometer. Rightfully furious about puncturing three tires (at once) on the rocky plateau, among several issues he’s encountered throughout the competition, the BRX car is out of the race indefinitely. After putting on such a show the previous stage, Saudi local Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Dirk Von Zitzewitz encountered mechanical problems after km193. They lost almost an hour to stage leader Nasser Al-Attiyah, which is a great disappointment having finally nabbed the most coveted spot. It could be worse. Like Loeb, they could be out of the race over their technical difficulties. Or further still, they could endure motorsport’s inevitable possibility: a crash.Trying to stay positive, it’s great for Americans to see their brethren poised to make history the second time in a row. And with Seth Quintero and Dennis Zenz (#383, RED BULL OFF-ROAD TEAM USA) at the heels of Austin “AJ” Jones and partner Gustavo Gugelmin (#408, MONSTER ENERGY CAN-AM), there’s quite a bit wagered on a star-spangled banner being raised at the award ceremony. Sad to say, another hopeful, Quintero’s Red Bull teammate Cristina Gutiérrez and her French co-pilot François Cazalet (#387), didn’t fare quite as well as the 18-year-old. Having broken down due to gearbox trouble during the liaison, a withdrawal became apparent when they couldn’t fix it in time for the start deadline. Disheartening for girls and women out there looking for new idols in this intense industry. Kristen Matlock of the new Polaris RZR Factory Race team is no longer in contention as well but has chosen to carry on in the Dakar Experience class to absorb as much valuable rally information as possible. Her guide Max Eddy Jr., formerly a navigator for Robby Gordon’s team, has done his best to give Matlock a crash course on the rigors of such a gargantuan event. On the upside, factory Polaris still has a car in the race, #420 captained by Wayne Matlock and Sam Hayes. They seemed to flat-line days prior, making their fans a bit anxious. But the marathon stage really lit a fire under them, and the duo have moved up a few spots to 11th in the SSV category and 14th in the Lightweight Vehicle class. Maybe they won’t be winning the race in their first year (and who does?), but they are proving that they might just have what it takes to go head-to-head with the legends – soon.
Only 13 quads checked in at D.S.S. this morning, after a crushing blow to leader Nicolás Cavigliasso (#150, DRAG’ON RALLY TEAM) turned the lights off on his 2021 efforts. “Another one bites the dust” as they say, which offered new opportunities for podium hopefuls. Alexandre Giroud (#152) saw a gap in the lineup and seized command, albeit only 10 seconds in front of Romain Dutu (#157). Regular at the head of the table, Giovanni Enrico still occupies third place, 30’’ out of reach of overall front-runner Manuel Andújar (#154). ATVs are doing a great job of jumbling only a few key pieces, while the rest of the puzzle falls by the wayside. Similarly, the Camiones are volleying positions between only a select few vessels. Barely allowing fresh faces onto the ten-truck roster, KAMAZ has really been battling KAMAZ. Then the occasional MAS- MAS-SPORTAUTO, TATRA BUGGYRA RACING and INSTAFOREX LOPRAIS PRAGA…Seemingly when they feel like it. Aliaksei Vishneuski (#505) with Maksim Novikau and Siarhei Sachuk of MAS-SPORTAUTO cracked in the last few kilometers of the stage, losing seven minutes and handing the crown to KAMAZ-MASTER Anton Shibalov, Dmitrii Nikitin and Ivan Tatarinov (#501). As if that was not enough, Andrey Karginov and Dmitry Sotnikov also gained the upper hand over the Belarussian, pushing him off the day’s first three spots entirely. This fight is leaving racers battered and bruised, some quite literally – to our dismay. And it’s not over yet. As the injuries begin to swell, doubt starts to settle in, the heart grows weak, and once again, we’re knocked down, what the best of us must rely on is that one simple trait. Because without it, we might not have what it takes to get back up.
Ø Liaison > 334 km – Special Stage > 375 km; Sakaka > Neom | 40% Sand; 51% Dirt; 8% Tarmac; 1% Chott
Ø The second part of the marathon stage tends to reward those who have been cautious in the first one. On top of the satisfaction of blasting through the sandy and then stony tracks of this special, competitors will get to enjoy the most majestic landscapes in the country… while keeping a close eye on the roadbook. If there is a time to whip out the camera, this is it.
Ø Stat of the Day: Nasser Al Attiyah won his 40th special (see stat of the day) to close in and continue to exert constant pressure on Stéphane Peterhansel, who he now trails by 4’50’’.
Ø The city of the future has not yet emerged from the sand and rocks, but the region of NEOM can already boast some impressive creations: those of its ancient geological formations. The canyons, cliffs and mountains of brown rock through which the riders and drivers wound during the second half of the special were worth the price of the navigational difficulties they had to tackle on leaving Sakaka. At the start of the special, they also had to get to grips with stony portions which were not particularly kind to the wheels of the bikers, as Toby Price and Sam Sunderland could testify. In the car race, Sébastien Loeb also encountered misfortune, puncturing his last tire. Such enchanting views demand tough sacrifices!
Ø The Abu Dhabi Racing team is ramping up its performance with the duos of Cyril Despres/Mike Horn and Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi/Xavier Panseri. On the first stage, Al-Qassimi achieved the fifth best time. He has since then come close to this result without emulating it before today. Assisted by his French co-pilot, the Emirati, who was the eleventh driver to start, climbed up the stage standings to fourth position, a little more than seven minutes behind the winner. Before the start of the day’s special, Cyril Despres, who is taking advantage of this Dakar to collect as much data possible for the development of a hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicle, was coming off the back of his best result this year, with the sixth best time on Sunday. However, the five times winner of the Dakar on a bike went one better today! During the special, he even managed to move into fourth place, before being pipped at the post in the last few kilometers by his team-mate. These two promising performances by the Peugeot drivers will no doubt fuel their determination to do as well if not better on the rally’s return route to Jeddah.
Ø Price and Barreda suffered tire damage in the opening marathon stage. Somehow, they still managed to finish, and with good time. Toby Price placed 2nd in the Stage and Joan Barreda reached 6th. Both setting themselves up for a strong standing overall.
Ø Xavier de Soultrait, who commenced the day in 4th position in the general standings, suffered a nasty fall after 267 km of the special. The medical team came to his aid and airlifted the rider, who had not lost consciousness, to the hospital in Tabuk for X-Rays. Although the outcome of his health is still not clear, this incident unfortunately, removes the Frenchman from the race.
Ø The Yamaha team has suffered another blow! After Ross Branch fell and lost valuable time yesterday, now Franco Caimi has come up against misfortune. The Argentinian’s engine gave out after 282 km, and he was not able to repair it. Of course, this means he is officially out of the running.
2nd Overall Bikes, Toby Price #3, RED BULL KTM FACTORY: “It was really tough for me today. I struggled with focusing a lot this morning with the roadbook. I was a little bit tired from yesterday’s crash. It was good to make it to the finishing line with me, myself and the bike. I’m glad I’m here and we’ll fix everything up tonight, then get ready for the last few days. The chin’s alright, it’s just a little bit hard to eat. It’s a little bit swollen and I’ve got a bit of a headache, but it’s not too bad – there are no bones broken or anything, I just got some stitches in the cut. It’s all good, it’s fine.”
1st Place Quads, Manuel Andujar #154, 7240 TEAM: “After a lot of day’s riding I have… I don’t know the name in English [blisters], but my hand will be okay I hope for the rest of the Dakar. It was really fun, the last part. The first part was a little bit tricky with the navigation, but I liked the stage. This part here near Neom is beautiful. Last year we couldn’t enjoy it much because it was really cold, but today it’s 20 to 25°C or something like that. It’s pretty cool to be here and see the rocks and mountains. It’s very beautiful. For me it was okay. I think the bike is okay, with not too much damage. It’s positive. I don’t want to talk about Nico and his race. I really feel that what happened with him is really bad for everyone that is here, because it is a worse competition. But the race continues. Now it’s me and Giroud fighting for the lead and I’m very happy to do it.”
5th Place Cars, Cyril Despres #314, ABU DHABI RACING: “It was a good day. We were missing our rhythm during the first week. We didn’t have time for training. We didn’t come to Saudi Arabia for the Ha’il Baja and its four days of racing and we were missing a little bit of rhythm. But it’s ok, the most important for us was to be on the starting line, to try and push every day and to have the best data for the car to give us the possibility to reproduce this data and this analysis on the fuel cell car for the future. Today, that’s the most important.”
1st Place Lightweight Vehicles, Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez Contardo #401, SOUTH RACING CAN-AM: “Fortunately, the marathon stage is finished. It was very difficult. Yesterday, there was a big crash for a biker, and I stopped to help him there. But today was good, it was very, very fast. My co-pilot was very good with the navigation and there were no problems with my car”.
1st Overall Cars, Stephane Peterhansel #302, X-RAID MINI JCW TEAM: “Today we started second and after a few kilometers we were opening the way for the cars. I have to say that in the last fifty kilometers I made one or two mistakes. I didn’t follow the information from my co-pilot Edouard and we ended up turning round and round a little bit. We lost probably one or two minutes. But in the end, we’re still in the fight, we’re still in the battle. It’s really complicated to do a full Dakar without a mistake. For the moment, it’s just a small one. I hope that it will be the only one until the end”.
2nd Place Cars, Carlos Sainz #300, X-RAID MINI JCW TEAM: “It wasn’t too bad. We just had a puncture at a difficult place, but the rest was fine. I’m happy with it.”
1. #4 Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo (CHL), MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021
2. #3 Toby Price (AUS), RED BULL KTM FACTORY TEAM
3. #1 Ricky Brabec (USA), HONDA ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021
4. #5 Sam Sunderland (GBR), RED BULL KTM FACTORY TEAM
5. #47 Kevin Benavides (ARG), MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021
6. #88 Joan Barreda Bort (ESP), MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021
7. #21 Daniel Sanders (AUS), KTM FACTORY TEAM
8. #52 Matthias Walkner (AUT), RED BULL KTM FACTORY TEAM
9. #9 Skyler Howes (USA), BAS DAKAR KTM RACING TEAM
10. #24 Sebastian Buhler (DEU), HERO MOTORSPORTS TEAM RALLY
1. #4 Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo (CHL), MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021
2. #3 Toby Price (AUS), RED BULL KTM FACTORY TEAM
3. #5 Sam Sunderland (GBR), RED BULL KTM FACTORY TEAM
4. #47 Kevin Benavides (ARG), MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021
5. #88 Joan Barreda Bort (ESP), MONSTER ENERGY HONDA TEAM 2021