David Castera had warned that stages 7 and 8 would be huge. The competitors tackled over 400 km of racing today and face a similar distance tomorrow.
However, the Dakar “starts when you wake up and ends when you go to bed”, as biker Lorenzo Santolino put it at the end of the special. Stage 6 winner Daniel Sanders has definitely learnt this lesson after crashing out of the race 7 km into the liaison this morning, when he was still riding on the tarmac of Riyadh (see A crushing blow). The GasGas biker, who was due to open the 402 km timed sector, did not join the rest of the field in its westward trek from the capital to Ad-Dawadimi, the geographic centre of the Kingdom, located 300 km from the rest day bivouac on the premises of one of the oldest palaces in the realm.
This part of Riyadh hosted the race for the very first time, first on the sandy terrain that made up a third of the special on the border with the neighbouring Al-Qassim Province, followed by a turn due south towards the bivouac. Combined with the 299 km liaison, the stage marking the start of the second week of the 44th Dakar came out to over 700 km.
The stage after a rest day can be tough.
This one knocked Daniel Sanders out from the get-go (see A crushing blow) while reinvigorating Ignacio Cornejo, who burst back onto the scene with his navigational acumen to earn Honda its third special in this Dakar, his career fourth. However, the time gained is far from enough to put him back in contention for the title that seemed so close last year, not least because the race in front of him is still wide open. The big winner of the day was Adrien Van Beveren, who was rewarded for his consistency with a new spell in the overall lead. Last time he occupied this position was four years ago, when he ended up crashing out of the race in stage 10. The Yamaha rider has failed to finish the Dakar ever since. Five stages stand between the Frenchman and glory. He holds a margin of 5′12″ on the restrained yet formidable Matthias Walkner. No fewer than seven bikers lie within 10 minutes of the leader. One of them, Kevin Benavides, is back on the provisional podium (third) thanks to his runner-up finish in today’s special, while Sherco’s Lorenzo Santolino fought gallantly amid the big favourites and even moved up one spot (fifth).
The new boss of the quad race, Alexandre Giroud, could afford to let Marcelo Medeiros slip away as the Brazilian cruised to his second career Dakar stage win.
Compared with VBA, Nasser Al-Attiyah has enjoyed a much wider margin at the top of the car table since the opening special. Try as he might to turn the tables on his rival, Sébastien Loeb is still 45 minutes behind the Qatari, although he did net his 17th stage win and blasted past Yazeed Al-Rajhi in the general standings without looking back.
In the T3 race, Seth Quintero almost let the stage slip away due to a series of navigation errors that played into the hands of his teammate Cristina Gutiérrez, but he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to make it seven in this edition. Even a streak as impressive as this one cannot stop the relentless march of Can-Am’s “Chaleco” López, still comfortably in the lead with 1 h 20 to spare over his South Racing stablemate Sebastian Eriksson.
In contrast, the SSV competition was turned on its head as Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira slumped down the standings as a result of a mechanical less than 100 kilometres into the special. Austin Jones is now in the hot seat.
Meanwhile, the Poles continue to rack up one stage win after another. Today was Aron Domżała‘s turn to stand on top of the podium, his second triumph in this year’s Dakar.
Finally, there is no room for envy at Kamaz as Anton Shibalov picked up his first stage win of the season, with Dmitry Sotnikov in command of the overall.
PERFORMANCE OF THE DAY
The Polish posse continues to turn in a spectacular collective performance in the SSV category. Aron Domżała‘s second stage win in the 2022 Dakar extended an almost unbroken run of victories for Poland and brought him level with compatriot Michał Goczał, who in turn is one triumph shy of his older brother Marek’s tally. Only Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira, victorious in stage 5, has managed to deny the Poles so far.
The new race leader, Austin Jones, is not the only one who benefited from the Brazilian’s off day. The American will have to keep a close eye on Michał Goczał, who has slashed his deficit to the South Racing driver to just 5′11″ as he surges up the standings. Fourth in 2021, the voracious Pole could well close the gap in the coming days.
A CRUSHING BLOW
We were watching his career with great interest. As soon as he wrapped up the 2021 edition with top rookie honours in fourth place overall, Daniel Sanders faced a barrage of gushing comparisons with his older compatriot Toby Price, who had finished third in his debut in 2015 before going on to win the next edition. Australia’s next big star, dispatched to GasGas by KTM to bolster its Spanish cousins, kicked off the 2022 rally with an auspicious performance. “Chucky” picked up three stage wins and gave up a fourth en route to completing the first week in third place in the general standings, a mere 5′35″ behind his teammate and overall leader Sam Sunderland.
It barely even registered as a concern when the Australian explained how he had face-planted on his navigation instruments, an episode that caused his lower lip to double in size four days ago. Yet the Victorian now knows that danger lurks around every corner in the Dakar.
Sanders was heading to the start of the special, in which he was due to open the road, when he hit a pavement right after exiting Riyadh, a mere 10 kilometres into the liaison! A fractured left elbow put paid to his hopes and dreams of shining in the rest of the Dakar. As collateral damage, GasGas, which seemed poised to finish the first round of the FIM Constructor Championship at the top of the leader board, has also seen its prospects blighted, although Sunderland continues to fly the bright-red flag for the maker.
STAT OF THE DAY: 95
Nacho Cornejo clinched his first success of the season in stage 7. Together with Joan Barreda’s two victories in stages 2 and 4, it brings Honda’s tally to 95 Dakar stage wins since Christian Desnoyers opened their account in 1979.
However, Pablo Quintanilla remains the Japanese brand’s best performing asset in the general standings with three podium finishes since the 44th Dakar got under way. He lies ahead of “Bang Bang” Barreda, who is nursing an injured shoulder, and just eight minutes behind Adrien Van Beveren. Cornejo is a bit further back in ninth place, over 26 minutes down. However, unlike GasGas and Husqvarna, both of which have lost a factory biker to injury, Honda still has its four leading men in the race. Barreda’s tenacity makes it as clear as daylight that he is not soldiering on just so that he can miss out on his first Dakar top 3 again.
W2RC: LOEB CLOSES IN
If Nasser Al-Attiyah is a serial winner for the 2022 edition of the World Championship, which recently got under way, he has met his match! Sébastien Loeb’s return to the circuit promises a thrilling confrontation between the Toyota Gazoo Racing and the BRX. Loeb bagged 5 points for the stage win for the second time and inched closer to the Qatari, who has 24 to the Frenchman’s 23. In the T3 race, Quintero scored 5 points, “Chaleco” 4 and Gutiérrez 3. The American tops the leader board with 30 points to the Chilean’s 25. In the T4 competition, Can-Am Factory South Racing’s Aron Domżała has narrowed the gap to the Goczał Bros., but Michał still leads with 22 points to his name. In the T5 category, Big Shock’s Martin Macík (33 points) remains on top of things ahead of Kees Koolen (26). Finally, in the motorbike race, GasGas’s hopes of reaping a double dividend from Sanders and Sunderland for the constructor standings, which will be calculated on the evening of the finish, were shattered by the Australian’s premature exit from the event.
THE MAKINGS OF A CLASSIC
Having sat second overall for three days after starting with third place after stage 3, Serge Mogno consummated his rise to the top of the Dakar Classic table this evening. He has 206 points, which puts him 77 points clear of the Euvrards and 156 ahead of Juan Roura Iglesias. The defending champion, Marc Douton, moved up to fifteenth overall thanks to third place on the day. In a repeat of last year’s scenario, there is a truck in the top 5, that of the Belgian Feryn team, which is back under the guidance of the battle-hardened Tom De Leeuw, who has twenty Dakar starts under his belt and has been tasked with mentoring the latest member of the dynasty, Cédric Feryn, in his debut with his father’s team. Pascal Feryn has come out to play after five years on the sidelines, as he is taking part in the Classic himself. The competitors from the Low Countries still have a knack for surfing the dunes!
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Sébastien Loeb: “There is no strategy”
The BRX driver took the special and vaulted past Yazeed Al-Rajhi to reclaim his spot as Nasser Al-Attiyah’s closest rival… albeit still 45 minutes back.
“We had a fantastic special until 50 kilometres before the line, when we started having engine problems. It just sputtered on, off and on again… We lost a lot of time near the end, but we still came out on top, so no complaints from my side. We’re not in a position of strength, there are no questions to be answered. There is no strategy. We’ll just do our job and see how it plays out.”
The RacerViews info
By Matt Hancock
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