Tomorrow’s the Dakar Rally’s rest day. A very much welcomed respite for competitors and their race-weary machines, and after today’s monster 830km stage with 477 timed kilometers the racers have depleted their energy levels in attempts to outpace the next. The route from Ha-il to Riyadh has taken racers over countless sand dunes, loose sand, more dunes and then sandy tracks to navigate to the stage finish.
Carlos Sainz (Bahrain JCW X-Raid Team), Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda Team 2020) and Andrey Karginov (Kamaz-Master) lead the respective Cars, Bikes and Trucks categories after six days of relentless racing over terrain that’s proved to be more challenging than expected for many crews. Punctures have punctuated the racing action, but it has only meant crews have raced even harder to fight for every minute and position on the general classification.
After a stage-long battle against Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Al Attiyah and Sainz, the MINI Buggy of Stephane Peterhansel (Bahrain JCW X-Raid Team) reached the stage finish line in Riyadh first. Sainz followed just 01min 35sec adrift, Al Attiyah third and 03min 22sec down to round out the podium positions for the day.
The wily Sainz consolidates his overall lead over Al Attiyah now at 07min 46sec, and Peterhansel is 16min 18sec adrift of the lead, Al Rajhi is fourth overall and 36min 46sec down, and Orlando Terranova (X-Raid MINI) is fifth with a 43min 52sec deficit.
Said Sainz: “Today I think opening the road again wasn’t easy so I’m happy to arrive here in this position. Some parts were very fast, there were some dunes, some crossing of dunes, fast crossing of dunes, with a little bit of off-piste sometimes and then sometimes sandy tracks. It was difficult. I need the rest day now.”
If the 57-year-old Dakar Rally winner and two-time World Rally Champion found it tough with all his skill and experience, it highlights that extreme racing conditions of the Dakar Rally.
Showing the most dominant form at this year’s Dakar Rally is Bike category racer Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda Team 2020). After today’s dune-covered, high-speed sand fest, Brabec not only held onto his overall lead but has extended it and stamped his authority on the category. The American rider has dealt with strong opposition from Australian Toby Price (Red Bull Factory Team), Jose Cornejo (Monster Energy Honda Team 2020) and Kevin Benavides (Monster Energy Honda Team 2020).
It was towards the end of the long stage that drama unfolded: Price and Kevin Benavides stopped. Price was on the move within a handful number of minutes, but Benavides lost three-and-a-half hours to Brabec on this stage. That result dropped him from third place overall to 28th; when the Dakar Rally is cruel, she can be bitterly so.
The general classifications sees Brabec leading a committed Pablo Quintanilla (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing) by nearly 21 minutes; Price by 25min 39sec from Cornejo just two seconds further back, and Jose Barreda Bort (Monster Energy Honda Team 2020) at 32min 58sec.
Has the KTM stranglehold of recent editions come to an end with Honda’s superior performance in the first half of the Dakar?
The Trucks haven’t been travelling slowly over the deserts of Saudi Arabia this week; the fastest of them all thus far is Andrey Karginov. The Russian claimed the stage victory from his Kamaz-Master team-mate and rival Anton Shibalov and the MAZ-SportAuto of Siarhei Viazovich, putting further time between himself and the chasing field.
Karginov now leads the general standings with Shibalov 19min 14sec behind and 36min 30sec over Viazovich. This is a three-way battle for the overall win, and one mistake or a puncture could turn this leader board upside down.
Tomorrow’s rest day will see crews catching up on much needed sleep, massaging their aching bodies and mentally preparing for the toughest of the week of 2020 for them.