Race officials for the Dakar Rally have just released their initial plans for the 2019 edition of the grueling off-road race, and next year Dakar competitors will compete in only one country: Peru.
The news is a bit of a shock, since in the past The Dakar has found hosts in multiple South American countries (Argentina, Bolivia, & Chile). But, South America’s hospitality has been on the wane, which leads us to our next bit of news…
There is a growing idea that the Dakar Rally could be headed back to Africa for the 2020 edition and onward. Boom goes the dynamite.
Track days are winding down, the new machines for next year have already been revealed, and the cold of winter is upon us. For the motorcycle industry, this is the low-point of the season.
There is something to look forward to in the off-season, however, and it’s the Dakar Rally.
In just about one month’s time, the world’s top off-road racers will take part in what is called the most grueling motorcycle race on the planet.
The 2018 Dakar Rally is the 40th edition of the iconic rally raid, and once again it will take place far from its namesake, with competitors racing through Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina.
This year’s route will take racers to the Pacific Ocean, through the Huacachina sand dunes, and beyond, until they finish in Córdoba.
Marc Coma’s words ahead of the 2017 Dakar Rally seem almost prophetic right now, with the five-time winner and now Dakar Sport Director saying that this year’s edition of the iconic rally raid race would be the toughest ever held. The first four stages of The Dakar have proved this point, quite well.
As of Stage 3, eight motorcycle competitors had already retired, and Stage 4 claimed the Dakar’s first high-profile victim: KTM Factory Racing’s Toby Price.
Just a few kilometers from the end of the stage, Price had overtaken Honda’s Joan Barreda on the course, and while navigating a tough riverbed, the KTM rider crashed and broke his left femur.
The 2017 Dakar Rally isn’t until January of next year, but that hasn’t stopped the ASO from whetting our appetites on the iconic race, with the French organization releasing the details on the route for the 2017 Dakar Rally.
As we reported earlier, Chilé opted out of hosting the 2017 Dakar Rally, and the ASO confirms that next year’s route will go through Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay – the latter being a new venue for the Dakar Rally, since it’s move from Africa to South America.
Paraguay’s capital and largest city, Asunción will host the start of The Dakar, and will be the only stop for competitors in Paraguay. This is because the bulk of the route takes place still in Argentina, with only four stops planned in Bolivia.
Stage 7 of the 2016 Dakar Rally was another long one, with 793km in total on the route and 353km on the special. With more trecherous weather, not all of the motorbike competitors crossed the finish line, with some turning back at their discretion, with the blessing of Race Control. The special stage was also trimmed, leaving out the second checkpoint.
The day’s results mark the halfway point of the Dakar Rally thus far, with Sunday serving as a much needed day off for the riders.
Despite the long and technical route, not much has changed overall in the standings. With Antoine Meo winning the stage, and Kevin Benavides finishing second, Paulo Gonçalves got some breathing room on his overall lead position, with his third place finish on Stage 7.
His closest competitor, KTM’s Toby Price, finished the day 5th quickest, and is now over three minutes behind Gonçalves.
With the marathon stage behind them, the riders took to the long loop around Uyuni today. Stage 6 of the 2016 Dakar Rally brought in more navigational challenges, not to mention a staggering 540km time special.
With over 700km on the day, and a peak altitude of 15,000 feet, this is where the Dakar Rally starts earning its reputation as being the most grueling motorsport on the planet.
The first to show weakness on the day was Joan Barreda, whose Honda CRF450 Rally suffered some sort of mechanical problem, and had to be towed to the finish line by HRC teammate Paolo Ceci. Barreda lost four hours because of the technical setback, which effectively ends his Dakar.
The second half of the marathon stage for the 2016 Dakar Rally, where riders and teams are forbidden from working on their machines until today’s liaison stage, Stage 5 had the added challenges beyond its 642km total distance and 327km special section, which brought them into Bolivia.
The navigational challenges also increased on Stage 5, as The Dakar begins to separate the wheat from the chaff. With most of the stage at over 11,00 feet, with a peak altitude of 15,000 feet, competitors traded the hardship of rain for altitude, an equally formidable obstacle.
The racers in orange fared the best in the high mountains, as Stage 5 was dominated by KTM riders, with Toby Price taking the top honors, followed by Stefan Svitko and Matthias Walkner. This result closes Svitko and Price to under two minutes of overall leader Paul Gonçalves, who struggled on the stage with altitude sickness, losing roughly nine minutes in the process.
After the news that Chilé would be dropped from the 2016 Dakar Rally because of extensive flooding near the course area, the iconic race and its organizers had to go back to the drawing board to find a challenging alternative for The Dakar’s 8th race in South America.
The ASO believes they have done just that, announcing that the 2016 Dakar Rally will go through Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, with stages in the Andes Mountains being the highlight of rally raid competition.
The last day in Bolivia, Stage 9 of the 2015 Dakar Rally was back to business for this weary bunch of competitors. Though the miles are counting down, the terrain isn’t getting any easier, and it’s starting to separate the field.
We’ve already seen the grueling course claim HRC’s Joan Barreda, perhaps dashing Honda’s best hopes of unseating KTM’s dominace of the iconic rally raid race. But HRC responded in-kind on Stage 9, taking four of the Top 5 spots…that lone remaining spot being Marc Coma’s.
While the factory KTM rider may not have much help on the time sheets from his teammates, KTMs well-run racing machine has kept the Spaniard out of trouble.
“It was foggy at the start of the special and I made one small navigation mistake and I lost some time there, but then I tried to push with a high rhythm to come back to my position,” said Coma. “The last part was also tricky navigation and it was difficult to find one of the waypoints. I am lucky because maybe I am faster than some of the others and I can push until the end. It’s okay. It was a good day for us.”
Coma now only has a five-and-a-half-minute lead, ahead of HRC’s Paulo Goncalves. The fellow Portuguese rider has shown fine form over The Dakar, and is perhaps HRC’s best hope of an overall win.
Stage 8 proved to be a big day for the 2015 Dakar Rally, as the riders had to compete on machines that they alone could only work on the day before, as Monday was the riding portion of yesterday’s start to the first marathon stage.
This added challenge by the race organizers likely decided the outcome of this year’s rally, as it left HRC’s Joan Barreda to work on his broken Honda CRF450 Rally without the aid of his mechanics. Losing a monumental amount of time on Stage 8, after suffering electrical issues — Barreda saw an unfitting end to his well fought Dakar Rally.
Those issues can surely be attributed to the wet weather and the Uyuni salt lake that the competitors had to cross, which made for a slurry of salt water and mud. Ultimately the stage would be cut short at the 378 km marker, because of weather, with little complaint from the competitors.
“In the end it’s been collateral damage, and a disgrace what they’ve made us do today; to race in a sea. It was out of place. All the work on all the projects that we’ve done has gone down the pan,” said a disappointed Barreda. “To make a decision like that just wasn’t right. Today you couldn’t see a thing; visibility was zero. We were floating around on top of the water. They ordered us to start and this is what happened; my Dakar is over.’
Fresh off their rest day on Saturday, the 2015 Dakar Rally competitors were back to work on Sunday for Stage 7. A difficult round on the road, riders had to contend with 11,000+ feet in elevation, rain, and snow — all while crossing into Bolivia.
The big news from Stage 7 was Marc Coma halving the difference to Joan Barreda, mainly as a result of the HRC rider breaking his handlebar in two, after a crash during the time special section. The factory KTM rider now trails Barreda by only 6 minutes, and more importantly will have a significant gap on the course from his rival, on Stage 8.
“It was a tough stage where you had to be careful, but when I came to a muddy section around kilometre 200, while I was breaking before a danger marked on the road book, the bike slid and I crashed,” explained Barreda.
“The handlebars were damaged, so I had to do the last 120 kilometres just with the right hand. I was pushing hard to lose a minimum of time, but that was not easy. We are now at the marathon stage, we are a great team and we will solve the problem with my teammates.”
Barreda finished the day 10th on the stage, while Coma crossed the line in second, in a close pack with stage winner HRC’s Paulo Goncalves and fellow KTM rider Matthias Walkner, who finished third and continues to impress.
As if the route of The Dakar wasn’t hard enough, riders will not have the support of their teams at the end of the stage, as Stage 7 is the start of the first marathon stage for the motorbikes.
The timing of the marathon stage and Barreda’s crash could be fortuitous for Coma, but HRC has proven itself ready for this year’s Dakar, winning the lion’s share of the stages.