DAKAR 2018 REPORT #3

In the most unpredictable Dakar for years things just got shaken up like you woudn't believe... 

Wednesday 17th January 2018

WHO LEADS?

Matthias Walkner (Red Bull KTM) leads, for the first time. The competition has been close, but then came Stage 10 and chaos ensued with heavy crashes and top contenders lost in the dunes. It’s turned the race on its head…

Day 7 La Paz – Uyuni

Can there be a quiet day in Dakar? Well, Day 7 was less disruptive at least. Joan Barreda (Monster Energy Honda) again pushed to close the gap to the lead. On a 425km special held over sand and mud at altitudes well over 3500m he took command and gained three minutes on Adrien Van Beveren (Yamalube Yamaha) who in placing runner-up in the stage took the lead of the rally (again) Kevin Benavides (Monster Energy Honda) came in a safe third. But the top three are separated by only a few minutes, Van Beveren three minutes ahead of Benevides, nearly five minutes ahead of Barreda with Walkner eight minutes behind. The expected charge from Toby Price (Red Bull KTM) hasn’t come (yet?) and he’s placed fifth a chunky 13 minutes behind the lead. However, at the finish it was revealed Barreda had crashed and badly hurt his knee in the last kilometres of the day – a question mark hung over his fitness for the days to come.

Day 8 Uyuni – Tupizia

Barreda’s efforts in Stage 7 indeed cost him dear in Stage 8 as he lost 12 minutes to the day’s winner, Antoine Meo (Red Bull KTM) as he nursed his injured knee. However, teammate Benavides had a great day coming in 4th but well ahead of Van Beveren to close the gap on the lead to just 22 seconds. Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda) found his mojo to chase Meo home, missing out on the win by just 68 seconds. But at least Price shifted it up a gear, placing third and almost halving his gap to the lead to 7:35 minutes. Poor Barreda went from challenging for the lead to an 8-minute deficit. Still in the running though, more than could be said for the unfortunate Xavier de Soltrait (Yamalube Yamaha) who crashed out of the top-10 and the rally just as he was getting the best results of his career.

Day 9 Cancelled

Day 10 Salta – Belén

After poor weather led to the cancellation of Stage 9 (the riders still needed to make a 500km liaison to the start of Stage 10), the Dakar really bit back with Stage 10. A long stage, with 242km of liaisons plus two specials totaling 513km, the stage brought back the sand with a vengeance, significantly requiring a lot of off-piste navigation. In the first special the overall lead changed again as Benavides rode strong turning his 22-second deficit to a near-6-minute advantage over Van Beveren (who precipitously commented at the check that he was concerned about crashing in the testing terrain). But the second special was where the damage really came. Barreda, Benavides, Price, Meo and others all got lost, so lost the organiser’s helicopter had to point the direction to the finish. Meanwhile Van Beveren and Walkner made a perfect navigation, only for Van Beveren to crash just kilometres from the end of the special, breaking his collarbone (plus other injuries) to exit the rally just when he had what could have been an unassailable lead. Van Beveren’s exit gave Walkner his first stage win of the year and the overall lead by the biggest margin yet. When the lost boys finally made it to the finish the shakeout put Barreda into second but a whopping 39 minutes back (practically ten times the best lead gained up until now), with Benavides third at 41 minutes and in fourth last year’s third place man, Gerard Farres (Himoinsa Racing Team), an experienced rider (this is his 11th Dakar) who has quietly but consistently been driving himself higher and higher up the leaderboard. 

SO, WHAT’S THE STORY?

This is classic Dakar. Super tough with fortunes swinging one way then the next stage by stage. This race will not be over until it’s over. By no means can Matthias Walkner relax. Ahead lies another Marathon, stages 11 and 12 being back-to-back with no service. And one wrong turn – well, we know what can happen. And one missed kicker – again the injury list shows no one is safe out there.

But can or will the Monster Energy Honda team attack? Perhaps they have no choice, they either attack or let fortune take its path relying on Walkner to make a mistake. Walkner is strong though, runner-up to Sunderland in 2017, this year on his two worst days (stages 3 and 6) he only lost only 9 minutes and 4 minutes – and that kind of loss isn’t going to undermine his 39-minute advantage. If Honda is going to win this Dakar, if they’re finally going to get this monkey off their back, they’re going to have to fight for it big time over the remaining four stages.

But anything can happen. Look at the Yamaha team; starting out two stages ago they had the lead and a second rider inside the top-six. Now they’re almost completely out, just Australian Rodney Faggotter still out there in 20th. However, Yamaha can hold their heads high, they are now again a top team with the riders and the technical backup capable of pulling off the win.

Let’s hope Gas Gas make the finish. You’ll notice Johnny Aubert has just snuck into the top-10 what with all the shenanigans in Stage 10. His teammate Jonathan Barragan isn’t far behind in 16th. This is a good performance for the small Catalan outfit.

It’s tough out there, but the standard in Dakar is now very high, from the 139 solos that started the entry is now down to 93, that’s about 33% out of the race. A fair ratio?

WHAT’S NEXT?

There are still big challenges ahead, not least the Marathon (non-service) nature of the next two stages then Stage 13 offers the longest day of the rally, some 904km with a 423km special. Nail-biting stuff…

2018 DAKAR RALLY

Top-10 overall after ten stages

1 Matthias WALKNER AUT Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team  32:21.03

2 Joan BARREDA BORT ESP Monster Energy Honda Team  +39.42

3 Kevin BENAVIDES ARG Monster Energy Honda Team  +41.23

4 Gerard FARRES GUELL ESP Himoinsa Racing Team  +47.46

5 Toby PRICE AUS Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team  +50.18

6 Antoine MEO FRA Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team  +01:03.35

7 Ricky BRABEC USA Monster Energy Honda Team  +01:21.37

8 Stefan SVITKO SLO Slovnaft Rally Team  +01:25.09

9 Pablo QUINTANILLA CHI Husqvarna Factory Rally Team  +01:30.24

10 Johnny AUBERT FRA Gas Gas Racing  +01:40.57

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