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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.

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.

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.

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.

Today marks the real start of the 2017 Dakar Rally, with Stage 2 taking competitors on a 803km trip (275km on the timed special) through the Chaco region of Argentina. Navigation wasn’t too hard on the racers for this stage, though the heat and humidity persisted and road hazards abounded.

This allowed KTM’s Toby Price to pull out a small lead over the competition, which doesn’t mean much in the standings, but sets him up with clear road for tomorrow’s stage start, which could prove to be a strong advantage as the Dakar Rally gains in elevation.

Finishing behind Price was KTM teammate Matthias Walkner, who got caught speeding during the liaison section and suffered a five-minute penalty for it. This dropped Walkner to 15th for the day, and put Paulo Gonçalves into the day’s #2 spot – a good position for the Honda rider.

Yamaha’s Xaiver de Soultrait has another strong day, as he rounded out the third-place position on Stage 2. KTM’s Sam Sunderland finished the day fourth, and Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla finished fifth.

In the overall standings, there is less than five minutes covering the Top 7 riders, showing that there is still some sifting left to do, in order to separate the wheat from the chaff. Tomorrow’s 364km special stage should do just that.

The 2017 Dakar Rally starts today, and over the next 13 days we will be bringing you all the news of this grueling race for cars, trucks, quads, and of course motorcycles.

Toby Price is favored to win in 2017, the Australian once again on a KTM 450 Rally. He won’t have an easy time of it though, with riders from Honda, Husqvarna, Yamaha, and even within his own KTM Racing team all having a shot at this year’s addition.

To hoist the winner’s trophy though, riders will be tested over 12 stages, seven of which have timed sections of 400km or more. As fans should be well aware of, anything can happen over those 12 stages.

For 2017, the Dakar Rally will start in Paraguay for the first time ever (the race’s 29th host country), before it heads to Bolivia, and then ends in Argentina.

Six days will be spent above 3,000 meters in elevation, and Dakar Sporting Director Marc Coma says it will be the most grueling Dakar Rally ever – as a five-time winner himself, Coma’s words should be taken with a heavy burden.

To get you in the mood for the 38th running of the Dakar Rally (the 9th in South America), we bring you a bevy of photos of the bike that everyone wants to beat: the 2017 KTM 450 Rally.

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.”

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.