The Honda factory team Team HRC arrive at the rest day of the Rally Dakar 2016 flying high, with Paulo Goncalves in command at the top of the general standings, ahead of the decisive second week showdown.
The sunlight in Salta on the Dakar’s day-off is somewhat deceiving given the rotten meteorological conditions that have blighted the first week.
Heavy storms and torrential rain severely hampered the race organizer’s plans, who had hoped for a more trouble-free first week without the inclement weather, which led to cancellations and changes. As far as everything else went, it was business as usual in a week of full-tilt special stages, fairly painless navigation and headache-inducing Bolivian altitudes putting a damper on rider performances.
Team HRC come away from the first week in good standing with their riders well-placed in the overall standings, especially Portuguese Paulo Gonçalves, who lies in first place overall. Gonçalves has so far clinched one stage victory, a runner-up position and two third-place finishes before yesterday’s arrival in Salta. Paulo will be looking to maintain the kind of consistency and effort that have earned him the current top-spot, as the second week assault gets underway tomorrow, with the final race destination in Rosario, Argentina next weekend.
American Ricky Brabec, on his Rally Dakar debut has shone on various stages and has been hobnobbing with rally raid’s elites in various top-ten finishes. The rest day sees him currently occupying twelfth place with distinct possibilities of improving on that position over the coming stages.
Also rubbing shoulders with the big-guns in most of the special stages has been Frenchman Michael Metge, although a penalty picked up in the sixth stage drops him several positions in the overall standings. Italian Paolo Ceci gets an honours distinction for his mission of team support over the first week.
Joan Barreda’s Dakar 2016 participation came to an end following an accident in stage six, when the Spaniard took a heavy blow to the left hand. Barreda was being towed back to the bivouac by team-mate Paolo Ceci, after a breakdown earlier in the day, when the crash and subsequent injury occured, ruling him out of a stage seven start.
Excellent participation by Honda South America Rally Team’s Kevin Benavides on the Argentinean’s maiden Dakar. The rider, who hails from Salta, marked a new milestone in Argentinean motorcycling history by winning the third stage. His supercharged performances have allowed him to hold sixth place overall as the race reaches its halfway stage. Frenchman Adrien Metge, of HSA Rally Team, has turned in a more-than-satisfactory result for the team and is placed among the first twenty.
TOMORROW’ STAGE – 2016 January 11. Stage 8: Salta Belén
Special sections: 393km – Total: 766km
Change of programme
The change of terrain which marks the entry into the second part of the rally should also mark a change in programme for the drivers, who will face the first dune sections of the 2016 edition. Experts in dunes crossing will have an opportunity to demonstrate their skills and even gain an advantage. They will also notice the navigational difficulties which have been introduced this year to complicate their existence. Louds of minutes could be lost by vehicles blocked in the sand.
Taichi Honda – Team HRC Rally Project Leader: « We are at the rest day in Salta halfway through this Dakar Rally 2016. First of all I wanted to apologize to Joan Barreda for what happened in Uyuni. On the other hand I want to highlight the great work that the team is doing, especially Paulo who is leading the rankings. Also, for Kevin Benavides who has put in some fine performances with Honda South America Rally Team, who the team is supporting. Today we are preparing the bikes for the second part of the Dakar. So far the condition of the bikes and the riders has been fine. The other four bikes haven’t given any problems and we will continue with the programmed maintenance plan as we will for the Honda South American Rally Team. The plan is to arrive in Rosario with the same engine. »
Martino Bianchi – Team HRC General Manager: « Clearly the feelings are two-fold: positive, because we are leading the race with Paulo Goncalves and because all the other team riders are doing a great job; negative because we had the technical problem with Barreda. The guy has been really unlucky in Bolivia, above all in the very same stage last year. For the rest, the feeling is positive and the team is working well together and we have overcome a really hard week, not because the routes were so difficult but for the meteorological conditions that we have been faced with and the altitude that has influenced a lot. The squad is fine and the team has been working really well together. Plus the collaboration with Honda South America Team has been working really well. The second week will be a lot harder for the riders, above all, who will have to work very hard on strategy and we are very confident that we can do a good job. »
Wolfgang Fischer -Team HRC Team Manager: « Team HRC is ready to tackle the second week of the Dakar, even if we are really missing Joan Barreda here to help us with our mission to help keep Paulo’s overall leadership. We have probably the three strongest and hardest days ahead of us. We are now arriving in the desert in the brutal hot sands of Fiambala, which also includes another marathon stage where the riders are in a different part of the bivouac without any assistance or mechanical help from the team. So, the next three days will be really interesting and after that we’ve got three more days before we arrive back in Rosario close to Buenos Aires. »
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