Dakar gets into gear for decisive final stages in Argentina

© Red Bull

The was a pause in proceedings at the 2018 Dakar Rally as stage nine fell victim to torrential rain in Bolivia. Instead of racing against the clock to Salta the entire Dakar convoy travelled on the assistance route. Now the race has arrived in Argentina where it will conclude after five more days of fierce competition.

 

While there was little change to the leaderboards today, there was time for title hopefuls to come up with attacking tactics. The bike race remains extremely close and Dakar veteran Hélder Rodrigues (POR) has been enjoying the show so far. The two-time bike race podium finisher believes that the contest is currently wide open.

“My experience of these next stages in Argentina tell me that the race is yet to decided. We have six riders who all have the chance to win this year. It’s a great race.” – Hélder Rodrigues

With five stages remaining the Top 6 bikers are locked together with Adrien Van Beveren (FRA) in first, just 22 seconds ahead of second place Kevin Benavides (ARG). Then Matthias Walkner (AUT) in third is 6m34s off the lead with KTM team-mate Toby Price (AUS) a further minute back. Joan Barreda (ESP) is fifth overall, eight minutes behind Van Beveren and less than two minutes ahead of Red Bull KTM Factory Team rider Antoine Méo (FRA) in sixth.

“I’m looking forward to racing in Argentina because in previous years it has served up some difficult stages. There’s still a very long way to go.” – Toby Price

Things may not be so tight in the car, truck and quad categories at the very front but there’s plenty of moving and shaking yet to be done here as well. Team Peugeot Total driver Carlos Sainz (ESP) is in pole position to regain the Dakar title he won in 2010. Sainz still holds a healthy advantage over the chasing pack, despite being hit with a 10-minute penalty for an incident involving a quad biker.

“I’m not happy about the time penalty because I do not think it reflects the reality of the situation. What happened was that I acted fast to avoid an accident.” – Carlos Sainz

Behind Sainz there’s an intense four-way battle for the remaining two podium spots. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) is second overall, 1h06m37s behind Sainz. Then it’s Sainz’s Peugeot team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) in third, seven minutes off Al-Attiyah. Then comes Al-Attiyah’s Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team-mates Berhard Ten Brinke (NLD) and Giniel De Villiers (ZAF) who are fourth and fifth overall and within striking distance of the podium.

In the truck division we find Team Kamaz Master on course for their eight victory since the Dakar moved to the South American continent 10 years ago. Leading the charge for the Russian truckers is Eduard Nikolaev (RUS) who holds first place by over 45 minutes. What will be reassuring for Nikolaev ahead of the remaining stages is having team-mates Dmitry Sotnikov (RUS), Ayrat Mardeev (RUS) and Anton Shibalov (RUS) all in close attendance should he need their assistance at any point.

“The most important thing is that our truck is in good condition and the crew is OK. It is clear that a lot of fight is ahead.” – Eduard Nikolaev

And finally the quads, where Ignacio Casale (CHI) could make history by holding the lead in his category from beginning to end. Since winning the opening stage the Chilean quad biker has maintained top spot and is currently 1h45m20s clear of his nearest rival.

After the enforced stoppage the racing returns tomorrow and it’s back to the dunes for a gruelling 373 kilometres of timed special stage. There’s still plenty more twists in the road before anyone will start to feel safe about their position at this Dakar.

Quotes
Hélder Rodrigues: « “This year the bikes have been making a really good race; Yamaha, Honda and KTM all have riders who are fighting for the victory. It’s very interesting for fans like I am this year. I’m checking updates from the stage every few minutes to see what has changed out there. My experience of these next stages in Argentina tell me that the race is yet to decided. We have six riders who all have the chance to win this year. It’s a great race.” »

Matthias Walker: « “I guess they had no choice but to cancel stage nine because we’ve been getting so much rain in these past days. The two marathon days were both really long and really wet. Now we see what will come in Argentina. I’m hoping it will not be too much camel grass, but we’ll just have to deal with what they give us. »”

Toby Price: « “After almost 1,000 kilometres of special stage in two days I think all the bikers were feeling a little bit second-hand. Now we’ve got this unplanned second Rest Day which is kind of good but also kind of bad. It’s the same for everyone so you have to accept it but it would have been nice to have as many kilometres as possible to catch up to the leaders. Now everybody will be recharged and ready to go for stage 10. All in all, everything’s going good. We’re well placed and feeling comfortable with no big issues. I’m looking forward to racing in Argentina because in previous years it has served up some difficult stages. There’s still a very long way to go.” »

Antoine Méo: « “My strategy was to open the piste on stage nine but then the stage got cancelled so that’s not ideal. The original plan would have given me a good starting position for Fiambala. Opening in the dunes is really bad. So now we’ll come up with another plan to get closer to the front as we head across Argentina.” »

Carlos Sainz: « “I’m not happy about the time penalty because I do not think it reflects the reality of the situation. What happened was that I acted fast to avoid an accident. I pushed the sentinel and the quad biker turned around and saw me. Then he moved to the outside where there was lots of space, it was very muddy. Then as he reached the side of the road he lost control and the quad began to come back to the middle of the road. Then I passed by managing to avoid an accident. I must have been very close, but I did not hit him. That’s why I feel this penalty is totally unfair.” »

Kuba Przygoński: « “Now we’ve left Bolivia and arrived in Argentina you can immediately feel the change in weather. Things have warmed up a lot. We’re expecting hard stages because every time I have raced the Dakar in Argentina this has been the case. There are some tough dunes to cross in Argentina and it’s easy to make mistakes and get stuck. We’ll be staying alert to make sure this doesn’t happen to us.” »

Eduard Nikolaev: « “The most important thing is that our truck is in good condition and the crew is OK. Our Iveco rivals Federico Villagra and Ton Van Genugten have great speed and Van Genugten especially drives on the edge. It is clear that we have a lot of fighting ahead of us.” »

Christina Gaither – Red Bull,

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