DAKAR 2018 REPORT #1

Welcome to RUST’s Dakar 2018 reports. You’ll notice we’re not doing daily (or hourly) reporting – as the web is literally drowning in these – instead timely recaps as we look to observe the shape and the trends that dominate the race

Tuesday 9th January 2018

WHO LEADS?

Sam Sunderland (Red Bull KTM) leads the 2018 Dakar Rally after the third stage. Sunderland holds a four-and-a-half minute advantage over his nearest rival, Kevin Benavides (Monster Energy Honda). That’s the bare minimum of the story. Of course that can’t even scrape at telling the story of the paddock’s fortunes over the past 72 hours:

Day 1 Lima-Pisco

Kind of a prologue day, on paper, with a 242km liaison mainly along the sandy beaches of the Pacific Ocean, leading to a short 31km special in the sand dunes of the Ica region. Prologue day? Sam Sunderland had other ideas, attacking the short special with full force to pull a remarkable 33 seconds on second placed Adrien Van Beveren (Yamalube Yamaha) and a stunning minute and more on all other contenders – impressive given the special took just 21 minutes.

Day 2 Pisco-Pisco

Downside of winning day one was having to ‘open the course’ (ie be first rider) on day two, and Sunderland paid the price placing seventh, losing six minutes to the new leader. That new leader was arch-rival Joan Barreda (Monster Energy Honda) who took full advantage over a course that was the opposite of day one, comprising a short 12km liaison leading into a 267km special which was 90% sand dunes – not an easy day’s navigation. Van Beveren placed runner-up again, keeping Yamaha in the running.

Day 3 Pisco-San Juan de Marcona

A much longer day, with a 208km liaison leading to a 296km special, which was again mostly sand dunes but also some going which the Dakar guide calls ‘soil’ (‘terre’). Out front Barreda was in command all day until about 16km from the end when he took his only wrong turn of the day – and rode 15km in the wrong direction. By the time he’d corrected his error he’d lost half an hour to the new leader, Sunderland. Honda teammate Benavides didn’t make a mistake to finish second on the stage and lift to second overall. Van Beveren meanwhile suffered the same as Barreda, going astray, losing 13 minutes. Barreda consequently has dropped to 15th overall, Van Beveren is now seventh.

 

SO, WHAT’S THE STORY?

Navigation is clearly very testing at this stage in the Dakar. That’s because the riders are riding dunes with little in the way of reference points, riding off ‘cap headings’ (compass bearings). Of course those are big dunes too, and not the easiest terrain – physically very testing and a little dangerous given some big drop-offs.

Sunderland clearly has it in mind to win! Two stage wins already (a moral victory in certain camps!) show he has both speed when he wants to use it and accuracy when it comes to navigation (perhaps we shouldn’t speak too soon).

Honda is still suffering its virtual Dakar curse. The team lost its second top rider – Pablo Goncalves – just before the start due to a training accident. Bang Bang Barreda has so far done everything right but just one thing wrong – and been punished severely for that – 30-minutes is a huge disadvantage in the modern Dakar. And further misfortune – Michael Metge picked-up an hour’s penalty at the end of day three (after Honda published their day report), possibly for navigational errors (his GPS was on the blink) and so dropped from ninth to 31st. Thankfully Honda brought five riders to Dakar and so still have two riders in the top-10.

Yamaha is looking more and more like a top-flight Dakar team. Van Beveren will, given a little good fortune and hard work come back into the top-five, his teammates Franco Caimi and Xavier de Soltrait are also inside the top-10.

Anything can happen. That’s an obvious Dakar thing, but already we are seeing big gains and losses, and these will probably continue (or not). After three days it’s still a strong top-10, anyone could win it. And what about Toby Price? He’s lurking in the shadows for now, he’s quietly pulled up to fourth place but he has oodles of speed (check out the video of his Finke-winning ride on YouTube) – he’s playing a canny hand this year. It’s too early to call anything.

 

WHAT’S NEXT?

Two more days in the sand, then a rest (at altitude!). Day 4 is set to be something unique. The day starts with a 114km liaison. Then, apparently, a mass start from a beach (15 riders per row) into a 330km special. And that special will include 100km of sand dunes (big ones at that). Oh, and a sizeable altitude gain, going from sea level to 2000m (6000ft). Sounds tough. Day 5 then offers up another dune-based special of 266km followed by a 508km liaison that finishes high up in the mountains, where the competitors can look forward to a rest day (which they’ll probably need to acclimatize to the altitude…).

Fair to say first order of the day for all competitors is survival – a good result after that… A mass start, eh?

AND A BIT OF FUN…

Each year while the competitors struggle with the challenges in South America, Dakar fans grapple with the nuances of each new race website (never the same site twice). It’s taken three days for RUST to find its way around this one. Before we changed the language from French to English we had Google creating all sorts of laughs with its attempts at instant translations:

‘Bread at the bedside of his motorcycle’ turned out to be a notification that Olivier Pain had stopped for a few minutes to work on his KTM.

Sam Sunderland did not complain of ‘bad reception on 1000’ – no he was saying to have missed one (sand dune) drop off in a thousand that day was not so bad.

And if anyone can point us to where we can find out where on the Dakar website we can find who’s scratched from the event (ie. DNF’d) then we’d be mighty thankful (email: editorial@rustsports.com)!

2018 DAKAR RALLY

Top-10 overall after three stages

1 Sam SUNDERLAND GBR Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team 06:44'23

2 Kevin BENAVIDES ARG Monster Energy Honda Team  +04'38

3 Pablo QUINTANILLA CHI Husqvarna Factory Rally Team  +05'00

4 Toby PRICE AUS Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team  +07'28

5 Ricky BRABEC USA Monster Energy Honda Team  +08'00

6 Matthias WALKNER AUT Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team  +08'50

7 Adrien VAN BEVEREN FRA Yamalube Yamaha Rally Team  +10'37

8 Antoine MEO FRA Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team   +10'54

9 Franco CAIMI ARG Yamalube Yamaha  +13'02

10 Xavier de Soltrait FRA Yamalube Yamaha Rally Team  +13’10 

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