Red Bull KTM’s Toby Price came through to win his second consecutive stage today in the longest one of the 2018 Dakar Rally, although teammate Matthias Walkner is an almost sure bet to claim the overall win in the 14th and final stage around Cordoba, Argentina, tomorrow. Price was also unable to advance on current second-place overall rider Kevin Benavides of the Monster Energy Honda team.
Today’s stage featured two different timed specials totalling 424 kilometers. The first was a mix of sand, vegetation and river beds, while the second also threw-in a stint in the Argentinan dunes. Price, who won Stage 12 did his best to pull time on Benavides, but despite finishing the gruelling timed specials with a winning pace of 4 hours, 48 minutes and 33 seconds, the 2016 Dakar Rally Champion was only able to make up a little more than 2 minutes on the hard-riding Argentinian rider, and he finished the day 5 minutes and 14 seconds behind Benavides in the overall standings.
“Very, very good. It’s good to get the stage out of the way,” Price said. “All the day went really well. This morning we had a couple of tricky bits, but it was a good fast track with really rough sections, so I pushed pretty hard there and made a little bit of time. I’m not to sure about the last bit, but we made a few small mistakes and went off track a bit. I felt good, I pushed hard and I made it to the finishing line so I’m happy. I was trying to win both the stage and second place. For sure, it’s nice to try and get stage wins.
“Coming to the end of the week and almost to the finish, I need to try and get some wins and try and get some time back,” Price continued. “Unfortunately, I made that big mistake a few days ago and that’s cost me a lot. That’s just the way it is. We’re just trying to claw back as much as we can and show everybody that we’ve got good speed. The navigation was not so bad today. It was good, but there were a lot of speed zones in this second part. You had to be pretty careful and precise to make sure you don’t do any over-speeding. We had a couple of off-track excursions but other than this the stage went really well and we navigated well the whole day. Hopefully that’s taken some time back for us, so we’ll see. It would be nice to beat Kevin. That’s the aim and the goal but Kevin’s riding really well, really strongly and really fast at the moment. He’s a little guy, so the bike’s got really good top-speed, so I’ll have to try and beat him on corner-speed. We’re just trying to mow down as much time as we can and fingers crossed it gets us into second, but if not 12 weeks ago I would have laughed and said I wouldn’t have been here on the starting line and if anyone said I was going to maybe try and push for a podium finish I definitely would have laughed pretty hard then. We’ll see… It would be nice to try and get onto the second step. At the moment, third is not looking too bad, but it’s not over yet.”
Benavides was content that he rode well enough to not only keep Price at Bay but to also take 9 minutes off of overall leader Matthias Walkner, who, barring catastrophe, should win the 2018 Dakar Rally with plenty of room to spare. Walkner finished just behind teammate Antoine Meo in Stage 13, and he was just over 11 minutes behind Price, but the Austrian is still 22 minutes and 31 seconds ahead of Benavides with just the final short stage around Cordoba separating Walkner from his first career Dakar Rally win.
“Today I rode a good stage, which was hard, but where I had a lot of fun on the sand tracks,” Benavides said. “I had a minor fall, but I pushed hard and was able to take some time back the leader. Tomorrow I will go out and try to ride an intelligent race. We are going to try to take it carefully because there are several dangers and you can’t mess around.”
Unfortunately for Monster Energy Honda and American rally fans, Ricky Brabec had to call an end to his 2018 Dakar Rally campaign after he was unable to finish the first special due to an electrical problem. Brabec came into the day sixth overall, and was hoping to end the 2018 Dakar Rally with his best finish to date in the Dakar. It just wasn’t to be.
“It was very unfortunate on the penultimate day for me to have an electric issue and they forced me to quit, as they only gave me an hour to get moving again,” Brabec said. “We’ll just have to keep working hard towards next year. I’m sorry to all friends and fans whom I haven’t been able to keep up to date recently. Thank you all very much for the support.”
While he had a tough day, fellow American Andrew Short is on the cusp of finishing his maiden Dakar Rally with a top-20 overall finish. Short posted the 37th fastest time in Stage 13, but he remains 17th overall.
“Today was tough, really tough,” Short said. “The stage was so long, and at this point in the rally it was especially tiring. The beginning of the special was really soft, and it was difficult to get a good rhythm going. The later half was on much faster tracks, and it was flat out for a lot of the way. I didn’t push too hard because a crash there would have been pretty extreme. I’m happy to get to the finish, and now, with only one day left, I’m looking forward to completing my first Dakar Rally.”
As for Walkner, just 120 kilometers now separate him from the glory of winning the 2018 Dakar Rally.
“I just tried to do nothing crazy [in Stage 13],” Walkner said. “I know it was a really, really long day and the guys in the back were pushing like hell. I had a good heading, and I didn’t want to be too nervous. I just tried to be focused on the stage and do my best. There is quite a big gap, but it can change so quickly. We’ve seen this today and before, if you have a technical problem and you get a bit lost. It can change really, really quickly, but at the moment it does not look so bad for me. I tried to just do nothing crazy, because in the end the race is over 14 days, and it is not stage by stage. It’s the fastest overall who will win, so I didn’t want to risk so much, because it was quite a long day and a dangerous day for going fast, because there were big rocks on the side. It was a good day, I think. There is still one day more to go, it’s really crazy to think otherwise. A lot of things can still happen. Twenty minutes on the last day is the same as twenty minutes on the second or third day. We have 120 kilometers left to go, so I’m going to stay focused on it and try my best.”
2018 Dakar Rally
Stage 13: San Juan, Argentina, to Cordoba, Argentina
Results: January 19, 2018 (Stage 13 of 14)
1. Toby Price (AUS)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / 4 hours, 48 minutes, 33 seconds
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +00:02:03
3. Antoine Meo (FRA)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:02:44
4. Matthias Walkner (AUT)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:11:32
5. Joan Pedrero (SPA)-Sherco TVS Rally Factory / +00:15:12
6. Johnny Aubert (FRA)-Gas Gas Racing / +00:16:10
7. Armand Monleon (SPA)-Daming Racing Team / +00:21:31
8. Oriol Mena (SPA)-Hero Motorsports Team Rally / +00:21:54
9. Jonathan Barragán (SPA)-Gas Gas Racing / +00:22:11
10. Gerard Farres (SPA)-Himoinsa Team / +00:23:34
2018 Dakar Rally Overall Standings (after 13 of 14 stages)
1. Matthias Walkner (AUT)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / 41 hours, 33 minutes, 42 seconds
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +00:22:31
3. Toby Price (AUS)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:27:45
4. Antoine Meo (FRA)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:50:17
5. Gerard Farres (SPA)-Himoinsa Team / +01:01:19
6. Johnny Aubert (FRA)-Gas Gas Racing / +01:54:12
7. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI)-Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Rally Team / +02:06:49
8. Oriol Mena Oriol (SPA)-Hero Motorsports Team Rally / +02:23:29
9. Daniel Oliveras Daniel (SPA)-Himoinsa Team / +02:39:33
10. José Ignacio Cornejo (CHI)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +02:40:17