Toby Price wins another stage, while Paulo Goncalves catches a huge break after suffering a massive mechanical issue in the 2016 Dakar Rally.
The 2016 Dakar Rally is becoming a story of extremes: If it isn’t the rain that is causing shortages to the overall mileage, it’s the extreme heat.
At least that was the story of Stage 9 of the rally today through the Fiambalá dunes near Belen, Argentina, as the motorcycles were halted at Checkpoint 2 and the stage called complete after riders battled sweltering temperatures reaching 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Officials cited safety concerns due to the heat as the reason for the stoppage.
But as hot as the South American desert got, Red Bull KTM’s Toby Price got even hotter, winning another stage in just his sophomore rally effort and pulling out to a much more substantial lead over the second-placed rider.
And that rider is no longer Paulo Goncalves. The Portuguese and his Team HRC crew appeared to have their hopes for a win in the 2016 Dakar Rally evaporate in the Fiambalá heat when Goncalves’ Honda CRF450 Rally machine suffered a radiator puncture, courtesy of a branch from a bush. Just as had happened with teammate Joan Barreda earlier in the rally, Goncalves had to be towed by teammate Paolo Ceci to Checkpoint 2. The only salvation for Goncalves and his team is that the race was halted at Checkpoint 2, and thus he may have dodged a huge bullet. Depending on how rally officials time the stage, Goncalves may still have a slim chance for the rally win.
But even though he was shorted an opportunity to effectively eliminate Goncalves as a threat, had the stage continued, Price still piled time on the field. Opening the road, he had already built up a 3-minute advantage on Goncalves by Checkpoint 1 in the timed special. Price completed the shortened special with a time of 2 hours, 24 minutes and 19 seconds. According to the official standings, Price now holds a lead of just under 25 minutes on KTM Slovnaft’s Stefan Svitko, the Slovakian perhaps turning out to be the surprise new star of the 2016 Dakar motorcycle class. Svitko was third again today, finishing just behind Honda South America rookie sensation Kevin Benavides of Argentina. Just as he planned, Price is trying to strengthen his grip on the overall lead as rally heads into its late stages.
“We’ve had a fairly decent day, a fairly solid day,” he said. “It was just good that we didn’t get lost. It was definitely tricky navigation today. I still feel solid, I still feel really good… It’s been a good day, I can’t complain. I get to the finishing line and then they cancel the rest of it… That’s a bit of a shame, but that’s the way it is. We’ll just have to wait and see and see what call they come up with. It’s a bit of a bummer for me… The bike seems really good, really strong and still going really well. The mechanics have done a really good job over the lead-up to the race and during the event. I think we’re cruising along alright, so we can’t complain. For the lead over Paulo, maybe; maybe not… we’ll just have to wait and see for the decision.”
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla also enjoyed another day inside the top five, although he is not making any headway against Price and Svitko. Fourth today, Quintanilla is now third overall, a little over 32 minutes behind Price and about 7 minutes behind Svitko.
“For sure, today was a really hard stage,” Quintanilla said. “From the beginning there was a lot of navigation a lot of off-piste with dunes and vegetation. For sure, the heat was important today, so I think the race has been stopped at CP2 because the heat was too much. Let’s see how I finish today. I saw Paulo at CP1, and I think he had a problem with his bike. I think he crashed and broke something off the bike. The Dakar is like this, you know. You have to take care always until the last kilometer. I was trying to ride regularly, trying to push with confidence and not take many risks. It’s important to take care of the bike and take care of the body by avoiding crashes. We still have some stages in front of us and we have to try and be regular. I feel really good, I have confidence and I’m really happy with the bike and with the team. The team did an awesome job, so I’m really happy.”
But even though it was a shortened stage, there is no denying that American rider Ricky Brabec continues to become more and more impressive with each passing stage. The Team HRC Dakar rookie recorded his best career Dakar stage finish yet today, fifth place, and moved up to eighth overall in the rally, proving that he is more than worthy of his place on a factory team. What Brabec lacks in experience, he is more than making up for in raw talent, and it is not out of the question that he may be turn out to be a true to successor to the late, great Kurt Caselli as America’s legitimate hope for a Dakar Rally Champion in the future
Tomorrow’s stage will feature a unique start with the 10 leading cars and the the 10 fastest bikes starting the race together. The closeness of the competition could create a lot of drama.
2016 Dakar Rally
Belen to Belen, Argentina
Results: January 12, 2016 (stage 9 of 13)
1. Toby Price (AUS)-KTM/2 hours, 24 minutes, 19 seconds
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG)-Hon/+00:07:10
3. Stefan Svitko (SVK)-KTM/+00:10:33
4. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL)-Hus/+00:10:48
5. Ricky Brabec (USA)-Hon/+00:11:03
6. Antoine Meo (FRA)-KTM/+00:11:53
7. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA)-KTM/+00:14:23
8. Gerard Farres Guell (ESP)-KTM/+00:14:38
9. Helder Rodrigues (PRT)-Yam/+00:16:00
10. Armand Monleon (ESP)-KTM/+00:16:38
2016 Dakar Rally Standings (after 9 of 13 stages)
1. Toby Price (AUS)-KTM/29 hours, 53 minutes, 15 seconds
2. Stefan Svitko (SVK)-KTM/+00:24:47
3. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL)-Hus/+00:32:14
4. Kevin Benavides (ARG)-Hon/+00:33:05
5. Antoine Meo (FRA)-KTM/+00:40:37
6. Helder Rodrigues (ORT)-Yam/+00:46:51
7. Gerard Farres Guell (ESP)-KTM/+00:52:10
8. Ricky Brabec (USA)-Hon/+01:02:42
9. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA)-Yam/+01:08:10
10. Alessandro Botturi (ITA)-Yam/+01:17:17