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The 2017 Dakar Rally is done and dusted. The competitors are either already on their way home, or now spending a well-deserved vacation in South America, after tackling what is easily the most difficult motorcycle race on the planet.

The Dakar is of course iconic and well-known for its difficulty, where it is not uncommon to see riders perish on its course, but this year’s rally raid was billed as one of the most challenging editions of the Dakar Rally ever.

When a man like Marc Coma – a man who has won the race five times – tells you that, your default mode is to believe him.

Tackling that challenge were 143 riders, of which only on 96 made it all the way to Buenos Aires. And while KTM has been the dominant manufacturer for the past 15 years, the 2017 edition saw early on that any of the major four brands could have a hand on the trophy in Argentina.

Of course we know that KTM made it to a sweet 16th victory, sweeping the podium no less, but the results sheet betrays what happened on the course. As such, I wanted to share some notes I have from the 2017 Dakar Rally.

Stage 10 proved to be the end of Pablo Quintanilla’s Dakar Rally, as the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna factory had to withdraw from the race, after suffering from a dizzy spell during the grueling 751km day.

For those who haven’t been following our coverage of the 2017 Dakar Rally, Quintanilla was sitting second overall in the standings, and within striking distance of giving the Swedish brand its first Dakar victory.

Today’s stage, as well as tomorrow’s Stage 11, are the last real opportunities for movement in the overall standings, as the final round on Saturday is more of a 64km parade lap.

At just under 21 minutes behind race leader Sam Sunderland, a simple mistake by the KTM racer could easily have seen Quintanilla take the lead in the overall standings. Making the days certainly bittersweet for the factory Husqvarna squad.

After seeing Saturday’s stage cancelled, and with Sunday set on the schedule as a rest day, the 2017 Dakar Rally returned to racing-proper on Monday, with Stage 7.

Today’s special was originally conceived to be 322km long, but again the weather played a factor, and the timed section was cut down to just 160km. Sand dunes were the order of the day, which posed a challenge to some of the riders, both in navigation and time management.

For Honda, the day was very good, with American Ricky Brabec taking the day, followed closely his teammate Paulo Gonçalves. Sam Sunderland finished the day third, allowing him to maintain his overall lead in the standings. With three Hondas in the Top 5 though, the day truly goes to HRC.

Brabec’s win also continues the trend of a different rider winning each stage thus far of the 2017 Dakar Rally, an unusual circumstance in a race that usually sees a rider or two consistently rising above the rest of the field.

On that note, Xavier de Soultrait continues to impress on his Yamaha, fifth for the day, sixth overall, and still in the hunt for the overall win. Yamaha also can rely on Adrien van Beveren, who sits third overall, just behind Husqvarna’s Pablo Qunitanilla.

With three manufacturers in the Top 3, there will be a great deal of intrigue for the Dakar trophy, as we head into Argentina.

Monday night starts the marathon stage, meaning that only competitors can work on their machines in order to prep for Tuesday’s Stage 8. Without the help of their mechanics, we can expect some shake-up in Tuesday’s results from bike failures.

Weather has been pounding drought-stricken Bolivia recently, adding a further difficulty to the 2017 Dakar Rally. After seeing Stage 5 shortened because of the weather, Stage 6 was cancelled outright.

The ASO issued the following statement about the cancellation: “Considering the extreme climatic conditions and that some drivers are still on the stage course, considering that is impossible to bring the vehicles of all participants back to the bivouac and prepare the next stage in the best conditions, and considering that people of the organisation in charge of the reco of tomorrow’s stage course informed that the road is unpracticable, the 6th stage (ORURO-LA PAZ) has been cancelled.”

Stage 6 was supposed to be the longest day for Dakar competitors, with a planned 527km timed special section. That’s obviously no longer the case, with teams instead traveling by road via the liaison route – effectively giving Dakar racers the weekend off, with Sunday already scheduled to be a break from competition.

Stage 5 of the 2017 Dakar Rally was billed as another brutal challenge for the competitors still remaining. The high-altitude terrain of Bolivia certainly lived up to that expectation, but today’s special was cut in half, with severe weather interrupting the day’s gauntlet.

As such, only 219km of the planned 447km special were ridden, but that “short” distance was enough to once again upheave the overall standings, with several riders losing time from navigational errors and penalties.

Sam Sunderland took the top honors for the day, breathing hope back into KTM’s 2017 Dakar Rally. Sunderland’s victory may have only been by seven minutes, but the gaps were with the right people, as he now stands 20 minutes ahead of Pablo Quintanilla – the previous overall leader.

Quintanilla finished the stage in seventh, losing some time on a navigational error out of a river bed. The Chilean’s conservative approach perhaps did him well though, as his fellow Husqvarna teammate Pela Renet lost over 45 minutes looking for the waypoint around the 152km mark.

With less to lose, the Honda riders pushed hard in Stage 5, though it can’t be said that the results benefited from their gamble. Only Franco Caimi (Honda South America Rally Team) and Paulo Gonçalves (Monster Energy Honda Team), put a Honda in the Top 15 of the day’s rankings.

Gonçalves sits 10th overall for his efforts, one hour and eight minutes behind Sunderland, which could create some interesting “what if” thoughts for the HRC squad, after yesterday’s one-hour time penalties for fueling in a prohibited zone.

Not much has been said this year about the Yamaha Racing effort, but Stage 5 saw a strong performance from Adrien van Beveren, who finished third for the day and seized the same position overall. At just 16 minutes back in the overall standings, Van Beveren is very much in the hunt for this year’s Dakar.

Yamaha’s Xaiver de Soultrait is also in the hunt, sitting 36 minutes back in sixth place. With two KTMs, two Yamahas, and a Husqvarna all with a reasonable hand on the winner’s trophy still, this is certainly shaping up to be an interesting Dakar Rally.

Tomorrow sees the circus traveling the capital city of La Paz. With 527km of special planned, we expect to see more shuffling of the leaderboard.

Absolute chaos is the best way to explain Stage 4 of the 2017 Dakar Rally, as the day held surprises for more than a few of the event’s top names.

You may have already heard that KTM’s Toby Price broke his femur, crashing only a few kilometers from the end of the timed special stage. His Dakar is over, and KTM’s winning streak is certainly in danger.

It would be more so in danger though, if the Honda riders weren’t levied with a one-hour time penalty for fueling in a prohibited zone – a move that saw Joan Barreda bumped out of a comfortable lead, and relegated to seventh in the overall standings – 40 minutes back.

As such, Pablo Quintanilla and his Husqvarna technically lead the overall standings, followed by Walkner and three other KTM riders. With this time penalty, it seems very unlikely that the Honda riders will be able to regain their lost positions, though Honda is expected to appeal the ASO’s decision.

As if that entire scenario couldn’t get any weirder, there was still the 416km of timed course for the riders to contend with, including the first set of dunes so far in the 2017 Dakar Rally. With fesh-fesh and plenty of navigational challenges, all at high altitude (3,000 to 4,000 meters), Stage 4 was the mother of all stages.

The challenges only continue with Stage 5, which is set again to be full of navigational challenges, high altitude, and tough terrain.

We would like to give a special shout out to Ivan Jakeš, who was struck by lightning while racing today, and still managed to finish the stage.

Stage 3 for the 2017 Dakar Rally was a beast – especially in the first 70 km- as temperatures ranged from scorching hot to freezing cold; the climate changed from dry desert to patches of mountain rain; and the day saw nearly 4,000 meters of elevation. So, it shouldn’t surprise to see a shake-up on the leaderboard.

As such, Joan Barreda and his Honda are now the combo to beat in this year’s Dakar Rally, the Spaniard pulling out a solid 10-minute gap on his nearest competitor, who is now KTM’s Sam Sunderland.

Navigation was crucial in today’s two-part 364km special, with the terrain offering a bevy of challenges, including the dreaded fesh-fesh.

Where is Toby Price you might be asking? After a mistake during the very difficult first waypoint of the timed section, Price finds himself down in fifth place, over 16 minutes back from Barreda overall.

Stage 3 was also tough on the factory Yamaha team, with Xaiver de Soultrait slipping out of the Top 5, all the way down to 13th overall, after making a series of costly mistakes early in the special.

Conversely, the day was slightly better for the factory Husqvarna riders, with Pablo Quintanilla making some mistakes, but still seeing his name rise in the rankings. He’s just over a minute outside of the Top 3 now.

Tomorrow sees the Dakar Rally entering Bolivia, with high-altitude sand dunes and plenty of over challenges awaiting them. Still, none of the top riders are out of contention for ultimate victory, but they have a tough road to redemption.

However, Joan Barreda must surely be enjoying the padding he’s just given himself. The test, of course, is to minimize mistakes, and more important nurture his machine all the way to the finish line in Buenos Aires in ten days’ time.

They call it the hardest motorcycle race in the world, and for good reason. The 13-day trial that is the Dakar Rally sees competitors racing against each other, racing against the clock, racing against the terrain, the rain, the heat, and even racing against themselves, as they test the limits of their bodies.

It shouldn’t surprise us then to see the number of top-level competitors whose 2016 Dakar Rally ended before the finish line in Rosario, and it also shouldn’t surprise us that even those who finished the race considered today a victory, no matter where they landed on the results sheet.

That being said, no one is celebrating harder than KTM’s Toby Price, who clinched his first Dakar Rally win today, on only his second Dakar participation.

“Winning in my second participation is awesome, but being the first Australian to win the Dakar is just insane. I would’ve never imagined this two years ago. Finishing the rally is already a triumph. Winning it is amazing! I tackled the race in true Aussie style,” said Price.

“I attacked when I had to, when the time was right, and I kept an eye on my bike during the all-important marathon stages. I also navigated quite well. I hope this is just the start, to win again. It won’t be easy, so I’ve got to savour this victory.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfIKEhFL1sE

The Penultimate stage of the 2016 Dakar Rally, Stage 12 also happened to be the rally’s longest stage – 931km overall, with a 481km timed special. With most riders now saving their bikes, in order to ensure a finish tomorrow, only a few pushed hard on the way from San Juan to Villa Carlos Paz.

One of those riders pushing for victory was Helder Rodrigues, who finally put Yamaha Racing on the charts with a strong result. For his efforts, Rodrigues is now only four minutes away from securing a podium finish for Yamaha and himself, battling closely with Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla (3rd) and Honda South America Rally Team’s Kevin Benavides (4th).

“Today was a good day for me and for the whole Yamaha crew. It was a difficult stage but I felt it was the moment to attack and finally I managed to win! What is great is that I climbed up in a good position to fight for a podium tomorrow,” said Rodrigues.

“I will stay focused until I cross the finish line but, for sure, I will push even more for the last stage. The WR450F Rally is really a good bike; on a rally as the Dakar, a machine that lasts the distance makes a big difference. Yamaha’s crew did a good job on this competition, day after day; I had great pleasure working with them.”

www.youtube.com/watch?v=PH6M_xfhWmM

Stage 11 of the 2016 Dakar Rally proved to have more drama, despite KTM’s Toby Price extending his overall lead. The big news though was Honda’s Paulo Gonçalves crashing out, 118km into the timed section of the stage.

Trying to make up time to the front-runners, Gonçalves’s crash was pretty severe, and he had to be airlifted to a hospital in San Juan for his concussion. Thankfully though, doctors in San Juan determined that beyond the concussion, Gonçalves had no other major injuries.

“Today my participation in the Dakar 2016 came to an end in the worst way. It appears that I had a heavy fall, but I can’t remember what happened. I was told that I arrived on the bike to an area where there were spectators and ambulances,” said Gonçalves.

“It’s a Dakar that finishes for me in the worst way. It is a shame because the team really deserved much more. The competition is that hard and the last few days hadn’t been going that well. But we have to keep going and think that soon we will be back in competition.”

Honda’s hopes for the 2016 Dakar Rally now rest on the shoulders of American and Dakar rookie, Ricky Brabec – who is almost an hour back from overall leader Toby Price.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acYR83n7OFM

Stage 10 of the 2016 Dakar Rally didn’t have much movement on the leaderboard, but it still was an eventful day, especially for the Honda factory riders.

With Paulo Gonçalves suffering a punctured radiator on Stage 9, and as a result a damaged engine, right before the start of the second marathon stage, things seemed dire for Honda.

Luckily, the HRC factory riders were able to replace the radiator, and inspect the engine. With the piston showing less damage from the heat than previously thought, only the compression needed to be adjusted on the Honda CRF450 Rally, in order for Gonçalves to continue onto Stage 10.

“The day was a positive one. I started behind the trucks and the tracks weren’t good. The sand was very unstable and I had to ride very smoothly. The good thing is that I arrived without problems,” said Gonçalves. “I’m still in the fight for the top positions and now we will set the bike up for an attack tomorrow because in the marathon stage I repaired the bike as best I could.”

“After what happened on Tuesday it will be very difficult to fight for the victory because the difference is very big. But it isn’t over yet. After the problems that I’ve had, to be here is very positive. I have to keep up a good pace every day, starting tomorrow.”