The 2016 Dakar Rally is done, and as always, the toughest motorcycle race on the planet was full of action.
If you think that this edition of the rally-raid was “easier” than its predecessors, try saying that to several of the top riders in the world who failed to make it to the final leg to Rosario.
The reality of course is that every year many of The Dakar’s competitors don’t find the final finish line, having to throw in the towel after a bout with one of the race’s many tests. Accordingly, of the 136 motorcycle racers who entered the 2016 Dakar Rally, only 84 finished.
One of those non-finishers this year was Chris Cork, whose rally tragically ended on Stage 10 (along with 12 other riders). This was the Brit’s second attempt at the Dakar Rally. As you watch the video after the jump, understand that these are the closing moments for a man who has had over a week of hard racing.
You should also know that before last year’s edition, Cork sold his house in order to raise the funds to compete, only to have his hard work end in a brutal crash on Stage 4.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
Stage 9 of the 2016 Dakar Rally proved to be a hellish one, which ultimately saw race officials shortening the day’s route, even though some riders had completed the full-stage distance. The course shortening came about because temperatures reached 113°F (45°C), leaving the ASO no choice but to end Stage 9 at the second checkpoint.
From CP2, riders were sent straight to their bivouac, where they began their second marathon stage. As such, they will not have the benefit of their team mechanics to make adjustments and repairs to their machines for Stage 10.
This fact could be very significant for HRC, since their day was especially difficult, as Paulo Gonçalves suffered a punctured radiator, and lost significant time to KTM’s Toby Price.
The good news for HRC is that Paolo Ceci was able to tow Gonçalves’s bike to CP2, which meant he finished the stage because of the shortened course. The bad news though is that Gonçalves’s engine seized from a lack of cooling, and will require significant work before tomorrow’s start.
With the marathon stage, Gonçalves will have to rely on his teammates to help him repair the Honda CRF450 Rally race bike. Honda says it is far from throwing in the towel on the situation, though they have a difficult road ahead of them.
Despite this attitude, the 2016 Dakar Rally is essentially now Price’s to lose, with only a couple more days of solid racing remaining.
With a full day’s rest under the belts, after Sunday’s day off, the competitors of the 2016 Dakar Rally once again had to go back to work. Tackling the difficult and taxing route ahead of them in Argentina, Stage 8 showed that the true Dakar Rally starts now.
With two special stages divided by a neutralization zone, there were plenty of opportunities to make time and to lose it. For Honda’s Paulo Gonçalves, it was the latter. The overall race leader crashed hard, and lost time in the process.
For KTM’s Toby Price though, it was the prior. Price will start tomorrow’s stage knowing that he has two-minute advantage over Gonçalves. As is the often the case with the iconic race, the 2016 Dakar Rally is far from over.
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.
Stage 4 of the 2016 Dakar Rally saw competitors racing mostly in a 420km loop near Jujuy, Argentina. Stage 4 is also the start of the marathon stage of the Dakar Rally, where this year team mechanics and competitors are forbidden from working on their machines, until the next day’s liaison section.
Always a decisive moment, it means that riders especially need to ensure no harm comes to their race motorcycles over the course of the stage, as they will not have the benefit of their support crews.
In that way, concentration is very much a key element to winning The Dakar, which as a segue, is something HRC rider Joan Barreda is learning the hard way.
Despite being the fastest man on Stage 4, another speeding penalty on the liaison section means that Barreda had five minutes tacked onto his time for the day, which drops him to third overall. With his pace in the special section, Barreda should be leading this edition of The Dakar, but the unforced errors are costing him.
Meanwhile, teammate Paulo Gonçalves continues to benefit from Barreda’s mistakes, and thus gets the stage win after the times for Stage 4 were tallied.