Paulo Gonçalves was forced to retire from the stage between La Rioja and San Juan today after a serious crash that led to the rider being airlifted to safety. The hopes of Team HRC, now without its top riders, rest in the hands of Dakar debutante Ricky Brabec, Paolo Ceci and the Honda South America Rally Team, who the team are supporting.
The eleventh stage was marked out in the roadbook as a day for attacking. Team HRC’s Paulo Gonçalves, at least, interpreted it that way and set out this morning with conviction, hoping to whittle down the advantage that the front runners held over him. Nevertheless, 118 kilometres into the timed section, the Portuguese rider fell heavily, suffered concussion and had to be airlifted by helicopter to the hospital in San Juan. After a thorough medical check and scan, doctors determined that the blow had resulted in neither fractures nor any serious consequences.
Team HRC’s remaining competitors in the race Ricky Brabec (USA) and Paolo Ceci (Italy) completed the special stage at a swift pace. Brabec continues to rub shoulders with the top ten rally elites, while Ceci had his work cut out starting from way down the field at La Rioja this morning. The Italian spent the day clawing back positions. By the time the competitors had crossed the finish-line in San Juan, he had made it into the leading thirty.
The red-hot youngsters at Honda South America Rally Team continue to excel and with just two days to go are firmly entrenched in the top ten. Argentinean Kevin Benavides sits fifth overall and the rider chosen by Honda Brazil, Frenchman Adrien Metge, is tenth. The future is looking bright for the team.
2016 January 15. Stage 12: San Juan Villa Carlos Paz – Special sections: 481km – Total: 931km
The longest stage
There is more than 900km to cover on the day before the finish, including more than half in the special section, with the exception of the trucks, whose dimensions are not suitable for some of the tracks on the agenda. In this semi-mountainous terrain, the vegetation which lines their edges might be a bit tight for them! This means that the other vehicles will also have to show dexterity. Fans of pure driving will be at ease, but they’ll have to watch out for blunders: at this stage in the game, a mistake could cost them dearly.
Paulo Goncalves – #2 – STAGE: DNF PROVISIONAL: « Today my participation in the Dakar 2016 came to an end in the worst way. It appears that I had a heavy fall, but I can’t remember what happened. I was told that I arrived on the bike to an area where there were spectators and ambulances. It’s a Dakar that finishes for me in the worst way. It is a shame because the team really deserved much more. The competition is that hard and the last few days hadn’t been going that well. But we have to keep going and think that soon we will be back in competition. »
Ricky Brabec – #48 – STAGE: 10th PROVISIONAL: 8th: « It has been tremendously hard and very hot. Horrible. In conditions like these, I think that the only thing that you can do is try to get to the end with out making any mistakes due to the speed. I’m happy about that even if I did lose a bit of time. But here I am, in one piece, so I have to be happy about that. »
Paolo Ceci – #32 – STAGE: 24th PROVISIONAL: 30th: « After everything that has happened over the last few days and the way that today’s stage went, the only thing that I can say is that I’m happy to have made the finish-line. I went over 200 kilometres in the dust. It was terrible because it became very dangerous if you tried to speed up. It was a difficult stage but we are getting closer to Rosario. I hope that Paulo is fine and that he hasn’t got hurt. »
Kevin Benavides – #47 – STAGE: 6th PROVISIONAL: 5th: « I had a bit of a complicated day. Things were going well until kilometre 30 when I made a mistake and took a wrong route. I lost a lot of time getting back onto the right track. It is a shame because I was having a great race, but the Dakar is like that. Tomorrow will be another day to have another attempt. »