Has the Dakar ever been closer? We’re not rally historians so we couldn’t say definitively, but by heck this year it is close and really it seems any of the top six could take this. Fortunes are yo-yo-ing by the stage and no-one has an advantage. Too close to call, perhaps.
Look at the data – there’s nothing much we can pull from it. Overall leaders: Joan Barreda days 1 and 2, Pablo Quintanilla days 3 and 6, Ricky Brabec days 4 and 5. Interestingly that’s Honda in the lead for four days and Husqvarna for two. Not KTM? No, but KTM are there, Toby Price, Matthias Walkner and Sam Sunderland all in that leaderboard.
So take a look at stage wins. No rider has won more than one day so far. And the bikes? Two wins each to Honda and KTM, one to Husqvarna, one to Yamaha. No trends there.
Consistency might help. Quintanilla might be our man on this account, his overall places by the stage: 2-4-1-2-3-1. His individual day results might dip and he had a bad one on day four losing 20 minutes (navigational issues – this year’s big challenge), but he’s stayed top three nearly throughout. Nearest rival Brabec has meanwhile posted overalls of: 3-3-7-1-1-2. Day three was his turn to get lost, losing 15 minutes there. Brabec has scintillating speed this year, too. Quintanilla has been matching that with steadiness, something that so often marks Dakar winners.
But with riders suffering losses like 20 minutes on any given stage, seemingly at random – for instance Matthias Walkner losing 23 minutes on stage three due to navigation (while having to lead out the pack), and Sam Sunderland likewise losing many minutes and then hitting a mechanical on Stage 6 when he too took his turn to lead-out – anything can and will happen.
In the circumstances no one wants days wins. Day wins come with the dubious honour (handicap) of leading out on the following day, and with the navigation so critical this means lost time as the lead rider gingerly picks his way over virgin terrain. And when we’re talking featureless sand dunes, this can be super-difficult. Better to start down the pack a small way and follow everyone else’s tracks. But don’t do it too well or you’re the rabbit being chased by the dogs again.
So is this a great year?
We’re never happy. Give us a dominating talent and it’s too predictable. Make it super-even and do we create in our minds any rally-icons? It can be like Moto3 –great racing, but do we know, do we idolize individual riders?
No, fact is everything is still to play for. With four more days anyone can win, and it might be someone who’s yet to play his hand. Like Toby Price – he’s a canny boy. Or Adrien Van Beveren, who’s in striking distance and must want to avenge his loss from last year.
By the way, after celebrating Max Hunt’s progress in the Originals by Motul (malle moto) category, the Brit – alas – went out of rally on day five after a crash left his Husky too damaged to continue. A shame.
RUST predictions for the coming days: Well, we’ve still got our money on Quintanilla, he’s fast but he’s not using his speed as yet to hammer the opposition, kind of letting them make their own mistakes. Brabec is equal-favourite, if he can run the speed he’s dazzled us with for the next four days – and that’s tough to do – he’ll have everyone on the ropes. And if either should get lost again both Price and Walkner are in form, last three stages Price has placed 3-8-4, close enough, while Walkner would have placed 2-3-3 had it not been for a four-minute speeding penalty on stage five. They could pick up the pieces. It’s happened before. As ever, it won’t be over until it’s over…
Dakar Rally 2019
Overall positions after six stages (of 10)
1 Pablo Quintanilla Rockstar Energy Husqvarna 20:45:13
2 Ricky Brabec Monster Energy Honda +4’38
3 Toby Price Red Bull KTM +5’17
4 Kevin Benavides Monster Energy Honda +8’01
5 Adrien Van Beveren Yamalube Yamaha +9’32
6 Matthias Walkner Red Bull KTM +10’46
7 Sam Sunderland Red Bull KTM +21’06
8 Stefan Svitko Slovnaft Team +31’56
9 Xavier de Soultrait Yamalube Yamaha +38’04
10 Andrew Short Rockstar Energy Husqvarna +39.24