Dakar 2022: Cornejo And De Villiers Put Down A Marker

#207 De Villiers Giniel (zaf), Murphy Dennis (zaf), Toyota Gazoo Racing, Toyota GR DKR Hilux T1+, Auto FIA T1/T2, action during the Stage 9 of the Dakar Rally 2022 around Wadi Ad Dawasir, on January 11th 2022 in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabia © A.S.O./G.Soldano/DPPI

Designed to offer a bit of respite to the competitors after the long distances on stages 7 and 8, each comprising approximately 400 km of specials, stage 9 brought the bar down under 300 km for the section against the clock. The menu for the day was a loop around Wadi Ad-Dawasir towards the Province of Aseer and its tracks along the canyons running through the Wajid Plateau. The 287-km special climbed to altitudes of between 800 and 1,200 metres with more than half on sand and 14% on dunes for a taste of desert rallying. The pretenders for victory at the end of stage 12 already knew that this type of distance will also be on the programme tomorrow and the day after. Some of them hoped to take advantage of this stage to regroup before the two battles on stages 10 and 11, followed by a possible final sprint on Friday the 14th of January. However, there were no major navigation errors in the bike or car races and the caravan returned to the bivouac without any major changes.

Cox Bradley (zaf), Bas Dakar KTM Racing Team, KTM 450 Rally Factory Replica, Moto, portrait during the Stage 9 of the Dakar Rally 2022 around Wadi Ad Dawasir, on January 11th 2022 in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabia © A.S.O./H.Cabilla

They have not had their final word on the matter: among the day’s winners, “Nacho” Cornejo in the bike race and Giniel De Villiers in the car category have shared the experience of both enduring a tricky first week, to say the least, before fighting back to become protagonists in the rally who can lay a legitimate claim to a place in the top 10, which should not be forgotten with a view to 2023! The Chilean already triumphed two days ago and repeated the feat on the loop around Wadi Ad-Dawasir, with a time that saw him jump from 12th to 8th place in the general rankings. He is too far away to be battling like last year for the top 3, in which time calculations are now starting to be made. As the day’s opener, Sam Sunderland suffered slightly… sufficiently to concede the place of general rankings leader to Matthias Walkner by 2’12’’. Adrien Van Beveren kept hold of 3rd place, but now only possesses a cushion of 45’’ over Pablo Quintanilla, whilst Kevin Benavides does not seem resigned to accepting 5th place, 10 minutes behind the new leader. In the car category, the gaps give rise to much less uncertainty because Nasser Al-Attiyah has gained another minute over Sébastien Loeb (occupying 2nd place, 39’05’’ behind the Qatari), though he did not manage to grab victory on the day’s special, finishing behind his two South African Toyota team-mates, Giniel De Villiers and Henk Lategan (see Performance of the day). In the T3 class, where a somewhat topsy-turvy situation reigns, the race hierarchy paradoxically seems even more settled: South Racing’s team leader “Chaleco” López is trundling towards the title with a lead of 1 hour and 20 minutes over the Can-Am of team-mate Sebastian Eriksson, whilst stage success collector Seth Quintero is racing under the stress of failing, equalling or succeeding in beating the record of 10 victories on a same edition of the Dakar. Also with South Racing, Austin Jones can equally lay a claim to overall victory, but his lead of 13’47’’ over Gerard Farrés is not an entirely comfortable cushion. Third place is occupied by the younger of the Gozcał brothers, Michał, who trails the leader by 16’27’’. There is no suspense regarding the colour of the truck that will climb onto the summit of the final podium: it will be blue. However, Eduard Nikolaev drove his Kamaz to within 8’51’’ of the one belonging to title holder Dmitry Sotnikov.

#183 Medeiros Marcelo (bra), Team Marcelo Medeiros, Yamaha YFM700R, Quad, W2RC, action during the Stage 9 of the Dakar Rally 2022 around Wadi Ad Dawasir, on January 11th 2022 in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabia © A.S.O./F.Le Floc’h/DPPI

The car category had not witnessed a podium decked out in the same livery on the first nine specials contested in 2022. However, today the Toyota Hiluxes achieved this feat, displaying, with their wealth of winners, the entire range of talents that the team can boast as a whole. Starting on the bottom step of the day’s podium, as three times winner of the Dakar and with 44 specials under his belt, Nasser Al-Attiyah no longer needs any introduction. As a result, he will have had no reason to be bitter at seeing South African Henk Lategan, triumphant on a special during the first week, finish more quickly than him and certainly would have not begrudged witnessing the victory of his old accomplice Giniel De Villiers, who began his career on the Dakar a year before him in January 2003. Since then, De Villiers tasted overall victory on the first South American edition in 2009, but, equally impressively, has also participated in 18 consecutive Dakar rallies without a single premature exit from the race. Nonetheless, it all started badly this year for the South African, who was almost obliged to stay at home due to Covid-19 and then spent two days bowing under the weight of a 5-hour penalty, which was finally rescinded after an in-depth investigation. However, the “metronome” never loses his composure, was able to remain focused and won today by 9 seconds ahead of his protégé to pick up the 18th special of his career. At the same time, he also climbed into 5th place in the general rankings and can even start to have designs on 4th place occupied by “Orly” Terranova. Barring any unpleasant surprises, which is rather inconsistent with his temperament, De Villiers is about to complete the Dakar in the top 10 of the car category for the 18th time … Who can beat that? Nobody.

#524 Van Den Brink Mitchel (nld), Mouw Rijk (nld), Donkelaar Bert (nld), Petronas Team de Rooy Iveco, Iveco Powestar, T5 FIA Camion, action during the Stage 9 of the Dakar Rally 2022 around Wadi Ad Dawasir, on January 11th 2022 in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi A © A.S.O./F.Gooden/DPPI

Though perhaps slightly more discreet than his team-mate Mason Klein since the beginning of this 44th Dakar, Bradley Cox had nonetheless carved out a respectable place for himself in the Rally 2 classification. His first adventure on the most demanding rally-raid in the world started spectacularly with victory in the category on the opening stage. However, since then, the son of South African legend Alfie Cox (who took part in the Dakar 13 times) has constantly lost time to Klein in the general rankings. Already in his wake on the Rallye du Maroc, this unfortunate trend continued. Before the day’s special, Cox lagged behind Klein by a little less than one hour, which was an impressive gap admittedly, but not insurmountable. Trailing the stage leader by 24’’ at the first time check point, he was even slightly ahead of Klein and suddenly life on the rally started looking rosy! However, he soon plummeted back down the rankings, losing more than 1 hour and 10 minutes at the finishing line. The explanation to this downturn in his fortunes was a very close encounter with a rock after 92 km that punched a hole in his front fuel tank, which emptied as quickly as his hopes were shattered. As a result, he had to finish the special “on one leg”, crossing his fingers to avoid running out of fuel right in the middle of the Saudi desert. He eventually managed to reach the finish by handling the bike as best as possible, though the consequences in the general rankings were nothing short of painful. He is out of the reckoning for the provisional podium in the Rally 2 class, which is now occupied by Klein, ahead of Camille Chapelière and Jan Brabec. It is a stroke of bad luck, but at the age of 23 years old and with a promising career ahead of him, he has plenty of time to learn from such mishaps.

#416 Farres Guell Gerard (spa), Ortega Gil Diego (spa), Can-Am Factory South Racing, Can-Am Maverick XRS, T4 FIA SSV, Motul, action during the Stage 9 of the Dakar Rally 2022 around Wadi Ad Dawasir, on January 11th 2022 in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabia © A.S.O./F.Le Floc’h/DPPI

STAT OF THE DAY: 158 km/h
This morning, Sébastien Loeb took starter’s orders on the special, moved up through the six gears of his BRX Hunter and remained with the pedal to the metal for 35 kilometres! The Frenchman gobbled up this distance in 13’43’’ at an average speed of 158 km/h by way of a morning warm-up! The Prodrive team’s data read-out indicated that the driver only, ever so briefly, eased off the accelerator four times during this period. Yet, this performance could have been slightly better. For the moment, pending the collection of a greater amount of data, the Hunter is electronically limited to a top speed of 168 km/h in order to avoid the risk of exceeding the 170 km/h speed restriction when travelling on a downward slope that might “push” the vehicle over the limit, in which case a 10-minute time penalty would be automatically handed out. Now that is what you call pushing the boundaries…

#303 Quintero Seth (usa), Zenz Dennis (ger), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team, OT3 – 02, T3 FIA, W2RC, action during the Stage 9 of the Dakar Rally 2022 around Wadi Ad Dawasir, on January 11th 2022 in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabia © A.S.O./F.Le Floc’h/DPPI

W2RC : Loeb overtakes Al-Attiyah again
In the world rally-raid championship, Al-Attiyah and Loeb both picked up a healthy number of points: 5 for Nasser and 4 for Loeb, who keeps the championship lead with 32 points against 30 for the Qatari. SRT’s Mathieu Serradori sustained his momentum from the previous day and moved into the day’s top 3 of competitors enrolled in the W2RC, allowing him to tie with Lucio Alvarez and his Toyota Overdrive for 5th position in the championship. After a dearth of two days, Nani Roma gained 2 points that bring him closer to Al Rajhi. In the T3 class, Quintero picked up 5 points for the 7th consecutive stage. Cristina Gutiérrez and “Chaleco” shared the rest of the podium places in that order. The Chilean from Can-Am South Racing is on 32 points, whilst the American on the Red Bull Off Road Junior Team is on 40 with his female colleague on 22 points. Fernando Alvarez pocketed 2 points and has drawn level with De Mévius on a total of 9 points. In the T4 class, Marek Goczał gained a 4th victory, this time ahead of the official Can-Am driven by South Racing’s Austin Jones and in front of his brother Michał from Cobant-Energylandia Rally Team. In thechampionship table, Marek boasts 31 points, his brother Michał is on 27 and the American has 26. In the truck category, the boss of Big Shock Racing, Martin Macík was the best of the competitors enrolled on the W2RC for the 8th time. He has the highest number of points in all the categories with a massive 48! 13 points separate him from Kees Koolen and Maryin Šoltys trails him by 20 points.

#11 Cornejo Florimo Jose Ignacio (chl), Monster Energy Honda Team 2022, Honda CRF 450 Rally, Moto, W2RC, Motul, action during the Stage 9 of the Dakar Rally 2022 around Wadi Ad Dawasir, on January 11th 2022 in Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabia © A.S.O./F.Le Floc’h/DPPI

Marc Douton, the winner in 2021 behind the wheel of a Sunhill buggy, had announced that he was not coming to “defend his title, but to put it back into play”. Was he bluffing? At the end of the afternoon at the bivouac, he was waiting for the last competitors to arrive and could legitimately hope to win his first day on the second edition of the Dakar Classic. He occupied 7th place on completion of the first consistency test, but a navigation error soon cost crew number 700… a penalty totalling 710 points. A drop down to 25th place at the start of the rally was followed by a methodical comeback: in 21st, 15th and then finally 12th yesterday, the Douton/Athymon duo hoped to re-join the top 10 this evening. All these figures hide the sweat and dust, but no tears! Competing in the H2 class (intermediate average speed) the two-wheel drive East Safari type Porsche 911 has not exactly swaggered through the Saudi desert. “Firstly, there are some incredible cars, much better suited to the rally than our princess. We pay the price of this every day, especially our mechanic, Thomas, who has a huge amount of work to do. Even if it has proven to be super reliable, every day there have been small details that need to be sorted. Secondly, the field of vehicles enrolled is incredible, from the Peugeot T15 to the Nissan Dessoude, not forgetting the Mitsubishis. Thirdly, Jérémy is not the same co-pilot as I had last year and 60% of the job is done by the co-pilot. It’s Jérémy’s first race. Now that we’ve got our bearings, we are able to work together, but without any pressure, because the real hero of the crew, well… it’s the car”. There are still three stages for the princess to become the queen of 2022 and allow Marc to remain king of the desert in the Classic category.

Kevin Benavides: “Ten minutes is nothing” The title holder regained ground today and occupies 5th place in the general rankings, 10’22’’ behind the leader. “I felt good. It was a nice stage and very fast. Really fast and shorter than normal stages. So, I pushed all day. I think I did a good job. Today, I think the navigation was a little easier. It was fast, but I enjoyed it because there were a lot of valleys and canyons, so it was a nice stage. The last stages will be really interesting. Anything can happen, so I think I need to be prepared for everything. I think it’s nice that the race has become so close for all the riders. We are pushing a lot, day-by-day. It’s still open – ten minutes is nothing. Of course, everybody wants to win, so I think I need to keep fighting”.

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