Thursday, 21 January 2021

Casale dedicates Dakar result to his father.

PHOTO CREDIT: BUGGYRA Racing.
Ignacio Casale, a name associated with a lot of success in cross country racing, including the world's toughest race, the Dakar Rally. 

The Chilean drivers' adventure started over 12 years ago alongside his father, competing in the trucks category. The father and son duo claimed a 26th-place finish, a result that earned Casale a wildcard entry for the 2011 Dakar Rally, and thereafter the rest is history. 

He returned to the Dakar Rally in 2011 in motorbike category in where he finished 40th overall. The following year he moved over to the quads category and claimed a strong fourth-place finish. 

A year later in 2013, Casale made history when he won stage 7 to become the first Chilean rider to win a stage in the quad's category and went on to finish second overall in the classification. 

In 2014, he went one better and won 13 stages on course to win his first of three Dakar Rally's. He returned to defend the title in 2015, but unfortunately, it didn't go according to plan as he retired due to a mechanical issue.

He then returned in 2016 but was forced to withdraw due to an injury, but a year later he returned to seal a second title on a quad bike. 

Having reached a lot of success in the quad category, Casale moved to the SSV category in 2018, but it didn't go to plan as he withdrew after stage six due to a mechanical issue and returned a year later on a quad bike to claim a third Dakar title in the quads category.

Would he return in 2021? Yes, he did! The Chilean made the switch to the Trucks category where his Dakar adventure started over 12 years ago as earlier mentioned, and he finished 9th place in the overall standings. A result he would later dedicate to his father. 

"I would like to dedicate my 9th place to my father. It was with him when I did my first Dakar in a truck 12 years ago," Casale said.

Casale's move from the quads category was quite a surprise for many, but little did we know that he was in talks with the Buggyra Racing team since 2019. 

Being realistic the Chilean set the goal of achieving a top 10 finish in the truck category which he successfully achieved in 2021. 

The Chilean claimed his best result of the 2021 Dakar Rally on stage 8, a fifth-place finish.

"Big thanks also to the whole family for their support and the whole Buggyra Racing team. It is the best Dakar team I’ve ever had," the Chilean said. "My navigator Álvaro (León) did a fantastic job, and co-driver David (Hoffmann) as well. He had lots of patience with us. It’s very emotional. Thanks to everybody!" 

Written By - Junaid Samodien.

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Dakar 2021: Stage 9 - The horror stage... for some.

PHOTO CREDIT: X-Raid Mini JCW.
Written By: Franco Theron - NamWheels

Edited: Junaid Samodien 

Honda edging towards number two? 

An eight stage win for 2021 as all of their title rivals lost time or retired, certainly now means that Honda can comfortably take their second successive Dakar win. 

Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo (Honda), yesterday extended his 1 second lead over Toby Price (KTM) to 1:06 minutes. Suffering a cut to his rear wheel, midway through the marathon stage, Price had to nurse his tyre back to the liaison yesterday. 

With the 9th stage said to prove trying for navigation, Price stormed into the stage, leading after the first checkpoint. Cornejo Florimo soon bested the Australian at the next check, but was soon beaten by his teammate, Ricky Brabec (Honda) at the third check. 

Struggling with navigation, the overall leader lost some time to Price and his Monster Energy Honda teammates, but soon again jumped into the lead of the stage as Kevin Benavides dropped time, with Ricky Brabec losing almost 21 and a half minutes before the halfway mark. 

Drama soon erupted as Price came to a standstill in the stage. Meanwhile, Daniel Sanders and Sam Sunderland were also losing significant time, potentially bringing an end to KTM’s overall 2021 contention. 

As Honda continued their attack, news came through that Price had crashed at 155km and broke his collarbone. Was this the final blow for KTM in 2021? 

With Cornejo Florimo now able to rest somewhat, Benavides soon took the stage lead, with Van Beveren slightly catching up throughout the stage. At the same time, Luciano Benavides (Husqvarna), who was also setting quick times during the stage, had to be airlifted to the hospital after a crash. 

Kevin Benavides held a steady 2 to 3 minute gap over Cornejo Florimo as the stage progressed, whilst van Beveren now moved into 3rd after Luciano Benavides’ crash.

Ricky Brabec took the lead at waypoint 4 (PK121) but lost over twenty minutes when he stopped to help the injured Toby Price. Price's teammate Sam Sunderland also stopped to assist. At the end of the stage, the A.S.O handed some time back to both riders. 

Kevin Benavides would win the stage with Ricky Brabec finishing in second, but it would ultimately be Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo and Honda claiming a 1-2-3 finish as their main rivals fell today. 

Cornejo Florimo now takes a 11:24 minute lead from Kevin Benavides, with Barreda Bort following 14 minutes behind the duo. This is the largest gap we have seen all race long. 

Will Honda make it a historic 1-2-3 on Friday? 

From bad to out for Branch 

After suffering three falls and mechanical problems during the first leg of the marathon stage, Ross Branch (Yamaha) lost all hope for overall contention. Dropping to 15th position overall on stage 7, the Botswana-born rider fought his way back yesterday to overtake his much more experienced teammate, Adrien van Beveren. 

Today, Branch again started very strong, clearing teammate, van Beveren in the early stages. However, his engine soon cut out, meaning that the Yamaha leader (up till this point) had to be forced into retirement. 

Yamaha now only has van Beveren to fight for stage wins. 

A bad day indeed for Southern Africans and Yamaha. 

Peterhansel on the verge of victory number 14?

The start of the 9th stage saw much the same as we did yesterday, with the Toyota of Nasser Al-Attiyah and the two Mini’s of Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz fighting one another with mere seconds between them. 

Opening the road today, Al-Attiyah edged the two Mini’s, but only 6 seconds separated the trio. Come the second checkpoint, Peterhansel jumped into the hot seat, while the other two kept within 10 seconds. 

As the stage progressed, first Sainz lost over 5 minutes, with Al-Attiyah soon following to almost lose 6 minutes to Peterhansel before the midway point has been reached. 

The speculation came in that Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah were playing a strategic game with one another to not lead the stage and let the rival make a mistake. All this meant that the likes of Mathieu Serradori (Century Racing) Yazeed Al-Rahji (Overdrive Toyota) and Giniel de Villiers (Toyota Gazoo Racing) steadily started catching up. 

Progressively losing time to Peterhansel, Al-Attiyah had already lost 10:20 minutes to the leaders just past the midway mark of the stage. Finishing the stage, the Qatari had lost 12 minutes in total. The overall gap has therefore grown to almost 18 minutes, while Sainz is a further 42 minutes adrift.  

Rather, it was Serradori, who started to lead the stage after 320km as Peterhansel evidently held his word not to open a stage for the 2021 edition. De Villiers also managed to pass the times of his teammate and would finish the stage in third position. 

However, towards the end of the stage, Serradori’s car ground to a halt, propelling Peterhansel back into the lead, with De Villiers in third and Brian Baragwanath in fifth.

To rub salt in Carlos Sainz's wounds after navigational issues in week one. The Spaniard had to contend with brake issues today which cost him over 20 minutes, and his hopes of defending the title have slipped by the wayside (+01:02:25 behind). 

Today’s stage might just have been the final plot twist.  

Monday, 11 January 2021

Dakar 2021: Stage 8 - Toyota and Honda make it 7 out of 9 .

 PHOTO CREDIT: A.S.O/Dakar
Written By: Franco Theron - NamWheels

Motorbikes: 7th stage win for Honda

The stage from Sakaka to Neom today saw the battle between the KTM’s and Honda’s resume as Toby Price, Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, and Joan Barreda Bort (Honda) all set the timesheets alight. 

Winning the stage yesterday, Ricky Brabec (Honda) struggled to keep the pace of the leading trio as Price held the slightest of margins over Cornejo Florimo and Barreda Bort. Finishing the stage yesterday, Cornejo Florimo led overall by 1 second over Price. 

With a new rule, seeing riders only allowed 6 tyres, Price had to patch his wheel in a very innovative way, whilst also setting blistering stage times. This is why the Australian is a 2-time Dakar winner. 

As the stage progressed, Brabec started to lose time as Cornejo Florimo overtook Price, leading the latter by a mere 7 seconds after waypoint 8 (PK307), extending his lead as the stage progressed. 

The Chilean would win the stage by 1:05 minutes, extending his lead over Price to 1:06. With only four stages remaining and Cornejo Florimo opening the stage tomorrow, the 2021 Dakar Rally is too close call. 

Xavier de Soultrait (HT Rally Raid Husqvarna) also saw a promising 2021 race and started today’s stage in 4th overall. However, medical assistance was deployed at the 267km mark as the rider crashed heavily and therefore had to retire from the race. 

After a horrible day yesterday, seeing him fall 3 times, damaging his bike in the process, and taring apart his knee guards, Ross Branch (Yamaha) held a steady pace as the top Yamaha today as the rest of the top 15 were spread widely in the standings. 

Branch finished 11th, some 9 minutes behind the stage winner. Whilst losing time to the leaders, the Botswana rider did manage to climb up two spots in the overall rankings as de Soultrait retired and Van Beveren fell behind by 15 seconds. 

Losing Franco Caimi due to a broken engine; the third of their five riders today, Yamaha only has Branch and Adrien Van Beveren left to fight for stage victories. 

Cars: 7th stage win for Toyota 

The first marathon section yesterday, saw Yazeed Al-Rahji (Toyota Overdrive) win the stage in the latter part as Stephane Peterhansel (X-Raid Mini JCW) evidently ran into problems, yet still managed to extend his overall lead over the Toyota of Nasser Al-Attiyah. 

Today, however, the Qatari launched onto the stage, leading both Mini’s and Al-Rahji by mere seconds. However, at the waypoint 4 (PK161), Peterhansel started edging Al-Attiyah once again, while Sainz slightly trailed the two upfront. 

The top-three would keep on trading times, staying within seconds from one another as Al Rajhi started to fall behind the likes of Cyril Despres (Abu Dhabi Racing).  

Towards the end of the special, Al-Attiyah distances Peterhansel, while Sainz stayed in a close second. Yet, the Toyota’s gap to Peterhansel was not sufficient to drastically reduce the overall lead. The Qatari won the stage by 52 seconds over Sainz, while cutting 3:03 minutes into Peterhansel’s lead. 

Opening the road once again tomorrow, Al-Attiyah will hope to cut down the 4:50 minute deficit to Peterhansel. 

Shameer Variawa and Giniel de Villiers also held their heads high today, constantly racing within and around the top 10 stage times. However, de Villiers' charge was hampered by punctures once again. 

Having reached the bivouac with 1 minute till cut-off at 1 am, Brian Baragwanath (Century Racing) spent the night working on their car and started the stage 51st, but gained time as they also raced their way to 12th-place today.

Edited By: Junaid Samodien. 

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Dakar 2021: Stage 7 - Al-Attiyah and Branch loses out.

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool. 
Written By: Franco Theron - NamWheels

Edited: Junaid Samodien

The seventh stage of the 2021 Dakar Rally was one to forget for Yamaha's Ross Branch and the Toyota Gazoo Racing's Nasser Al-Attiyah. Rather, it was a victorious day for Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo (Honda) and Stephane Peterhansel (X-Raid Mini JCW) as they now have a firmer grasp on yet another title. 

Honda’s continue to dominate stages as Price extends overall lead 

The Honda’s of Kevin Benavides and Ricky Brabec continued their normal stage attack as Cornejo Florimo and Toby Price (KTM) held a steady attack pace to extend their overall lead. With five stages remaining, the Honda and KTM squad are ensued in their heated battles to take the overall victory. 

Benavides then lost around 10 minutes to his teammate just before the finish, elevating Xavier de Soultrait (HT Rally Raid Husqvarna) and Jose Cornejo Florimo (Honda) ahead. The KTM’s of Sam Sunderland and Daniel Sanders were also once again on the attack and constantly kept within the top 5 times. 

The 2020 winner, Brabec won today’s stage, Cornejo Florimo, Sunderland, Sanders, and de Soultrait followed. 

Yet, Cornejo Florimo crossed the line to now lead the overall standings by a mere 1 second from Price. Sunderland follows, some 2:10 minutes back, with de Soultrait hot on his heels, only 23 seconds back. 

Once again the gaps are extremely close, with the top 4 now only separated by 2:30.  

Yamaha’s title hopes were somewhat diminished today as Ross Branch crashed very early in the stage. Although he was fine, his bike needed repairs. The Botswana rider, therefore, lost 42 minutes to the stage leaders. 

However, with the Honda’s and KTM’s seemingly on the attack for the second week, it will be a tough ask, with not much time left to do so. He will now have the same task as Carlos Sainz (X-Raid Mini JCW) had early in week 1; with a mammoth task to claw back more than 41 minutes. Teammate, Adrien van Beveren, attacked harder today but also lost considerable time to the stage leaders. Although now the leading Yamaha rider, the Frenchman is 38 minutes behind the leaders.  

Peterhansel extends lead 

After extensive work was done to the Toyota GAZOO Racing SA Hilux's during the rest day yesterday, all eyes were on Nasser Al-Attiyah to see if the Qatari would be able to claw back the odd 5 minutes to Stephane Peterhansel. 

Yet, Peterhansel managed to hold his own today as the Frenchman more than doubled his lead over the Toyota. 

The stage would again follow the same proceedings as that of stage 6 as a Mini would again lead the stage with Yazeed Al-Rahji (Toyota Overdrive) in second place, fending off the second Mini. This time around, however, Peterhansel led the stage, with Carlos Sainz chasing in third. 

Towards the end of the stage, the situation quickly turned as Al-Rahji took the lead of the stage, while Al-Attiyah gained some 5 minutes on Peterhansel to trail the Frenchman by 1:30 in the stage. All eyes were on the finish line. 

Al-Rajhi reached the finish line, 1:15 minutes ahead of Sainz, while Peterhansel finished 48 seconds behind Al Rahji, putting two more minutes into his overall lead over Al-Attiyah. Was this strategic gameplay to allow Al-Rahji to open the road tomorrow? We should soon find out! 

Brian Baragwanath (Century Racing) had a torrid day as the South-African pairing ground to a halt at the 33km mark after hitting a hidden rock in the soft sand and broke a rear suspension linkage. SRT's Mathieu Serradori tried to provide some assistance but he did not have the required part. At the time of publishing this article, Baragwanath and Perry are still on the stage trying to make it to the bivoauc. 

Giniel de Villiers (Toyota Gazoo Racing SA) also lost time today and finished the stage in twenty-second place. 

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Dakar 2021: REST DAY - Relax. Rebuild. Rethink.

PHOTO CREDIT: Toyota Gazoo Racing SA.
Relax. Rebuild. Rethink. Three words that racing drivers and teams are rarely associated with, but after 2,289 grueling timed kilometers. Riders, drivers, and navigators have earned some time off. In theory, a rest day is time off, but in the rally raid world teams' will use the time for media purposes. 

Whilst the drivers and navigators (co-drivers) take some time to breathe a bit today. Mechanics are a lot busier as they are rebuilding the cars, lightweight vehicles, bikes, and trucks. The Original By Motul category is a tad bit different though. The riders in this class are required to rebuild and fix the bikes themselves, and if required they can request the advice of racing teams, but the job has to be completed by them. 

Honda large and in charge.

The 2021 Dakar Rally has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons with new rules for the elite riders. Each elite rider will only be allowed to use six tyres. 

Some elite riders have voiced their dissatisfaction with this new rule. However, these new rules were introduced to bring the bike class a touch closer than before.

After seven days of long/ tough stages, KTM's Toby Price came out on top. The Australian leads the overall rankings by two minutes and 16 seconds over Honda's Kevin Benavides. 

Benavides has been nursing a broken nose after an accident on stage five, whilst his teammates are largely in charge of the bike category, with only a handful of riders, namely: Toby Price, Ross Branch (Yamaha), and Daniel Sanders (KTM), etc. being to take the fight to the four Honda riders. 

In the same breath, Honda appears to be in control, but the field has closed up considerably as the rally raid continued. The top six riders are now split by six minutes and 25 seconds, and with six stages to go, we are set for a close fight to the end. 

With three wins to his name, Joan Barreda Bort has had a much better year and is quite confidentially going about his business. A noticeable strategy has emerged from the Spaniard. He wins stages, and with that, you are required to open the road the following day, which has proven to be a mighty challenge for most, but he has gone into them without losing too much time to his rivals. 

Ross Branch has lead the charge for the Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team and has been mighty impressive. He came within 13 seconds of clinching Yamaha's first Dakar stage win this year. Oh so close... but his consistency has been key and after an 11-kilometer prologue and six stages. The Kalahari Ferrari is just 3 minutes and 41 seconds off the overall rankings lead. Go, Ross! 

It hasn't been the smoothest of Dakar's for the defending champion Ricky Brabec. The American is nearly 20 minutes off the lead in the overall rankings but has admitted that one of his targets is to make it to the finish line after six days of intense racing. He wasn't quite ready for the rest day but admits there are still six days to attack and this is where he aims to gain some time. 

BAS Dakar KTM's Skyler Howes has been the most impressive non-factory rider this year. He held the lead of the overall rankings briefly but has since slipped to ninth overall just 15:12 off the top of the rankings. Howes as a strong future in the Dakar Rally. 

Laia Sanz (Gas Gas) hasn't had the best road to the Dakar having been diagnosed with Lyme's disease earlier this year but the 'Queen of the Dakar' has been impressive and is currently in 25th overall. A very respectable result. 

Whilst we talk of good performances and potential winners. There have been riders who dropped out of the Dakar for various reasons. Mechanical issues or minor injuries, but we have also had the withdrawal of Hero Motorsport's CS Santosh who was resuscitated by a fellow competitor on a stage and was taken to hospital with a suspected dislocated shoulder and head trauma. His team later issued a statement saying that CT scans have shown "no major issue that could impact his full recovery". The Indian rider remains in hospital on route to a full recovery.

Malle Moto (Original By Motul) 

A clear leader has emerged in the grueling Original By Motul category, Maurizio Gerini. Gerini has taken the lead in the overall rankings by four minutes and 24 seconds over Arunas Gelazninkas, whilst the reigning champion Emanuel Gyenes is over 40 minutes behind. 

Forty minutes might seems like an impossible deficit to overturn, but as we know anything can happen in the Dakar Rally. It's still all to play for! 

The Kalahari Madala "Kalahari old man" James Alexander joined the Original By Motul class this year and has enjoyed every minute. However, the past few days have been a right old challenge for the rider from Botswana. He had suffered from steering issues which saw him finish stage five very late at night. Battling with steering issues again on stage six after having no time to fix his bike a night before, James cracked on and made it to the end of stage six in the cooling evening conditions. He suffered from hypothermia arriving in the night and spent the evening in the sickbay.

After a night in the sickbay, he is feeling a lot better and has started working on his bike repairing the steering issue and servicing the bike ahead of two marathon stages. 

Cavigliasso on top. 

Nicolas Covigliasso has emerged as the favorite for this year's Quad class victory. The Argentine rider has a comfortable 33-minute buffer to his nearest rival and fellow countrymen Manuel Andujar, whilst Frenchman Alexandre Giroud who has won three stages to date finds himself 45 minutes behind. 

PHOTO CREDIT: X-Raid Mini JCW
Mr. Dakar becomes the hunted.

Monsieur Dakar Stéphane Peterhansel has not won a stage, but consistency has seen him move into the lead of the overall rankings. Whilst winning a stage poses the difficulty of opening the road. The Frenchman has played all the cards that he has been dealt and even followed rival Nasser Al-Attiyah all the way to the end of stage five.

Al-Attiyah has won three stages thus far, including the 11-kilometer prologue. Opening the road has been a rather difficult task with those behind able to capitalize on the tracks ahead. But after one week of racing, Al-Attiyah remains in contention for a potential fourth Dakar title. The Qatari driver is five minutes and 53 seconds behind Peterhansel in the overall rankings.

It's been a year to forget for the reigning Dakar Champions, as none are leading their respective categories, and this is no different in the car class. Despite winning two stages thus far, Carlos Sainz hasn't been a happy camper. The Spaniard lost over 48 minutes due to navigational issues. However, after winning stage six, he was able to gain seven minutes on Peterhansel.

El-Matador has rued the new electronic roadbook, which his navigator has struggled with. Whilst Sainz's teammate Peterhansel has had a better time of it with new co-driver (navigator) Edouard Boulanger alongside him.

It's all to play but who will come out on top? 

2009 Dakar Champion Giniel de Villiers won stage five but has suffered from neck issues. His charge was also halted by navigational issues, as were many of his rivals.

The most impressive driver/co-driver pairing thus far is Toyota Gazoo Racing SA's Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings. The #332 Hilux duo claimed a second-place finish on stage three and followed that up with a third-place finish on stage four. But, unfortunately, the South African's Dakar came to an abrupt end on stage five after Henk Lategan sustained a dislocated shoulder 17 kilometers into the stage. We can not wait to see them return in 2022! 

WRC legend Sebastien Loeb made his Dakar return after a one-year hiatus with the Bahrain Raid Xtreme team, and whilst he suffered from navigational issues. His Hunter 1 seemed like a pleasure to drive, however, early into stage six yesterday the Frenchman stopped due to a broken suspension arm and lost hours waiting for his support team to arrive. Overall Loeb is now 11 hours, 42 minutes, and 36 seconds behind the overall leader. When will his luck turn around? We do hope that he returns in 2022. 

Former Dakar competitors, Brian Baragwanath and Taye Perry joined forces for the 2021 Dakar Rally. Baragwanath came from the quads category before deciding to switch to the car's class after working with Century Racing since 2018. Whilst, 2020 Dakar finisher Taye Perry hoped to return on a bike in 2021. However, things didn't go according to plan, and after a call from Baragwanath. The two teamed up and the rest is history. 

The South African duo claimed a second-place finish on stage five just 58 seconds behind stage winner and fellow countrymen Giniel de Villiers.

History is made in the LIGHTWEIGHT VEHICLE CLASS.

A category split in two - T3 SSV and T4 Lightweight Prototypes. The T4 lightweight prototype category has made all the headlines after history was made this week. Cristina Gutiérrez Herrero became the first woman to win a stage since Jutta Kleinschmidt in 2005. Whilst her teammate Seth Quintero who was not eligible to compete a year ago, finally made his debut this year. 

Quintero made history yesterday after holding off Khalid Al-Attiyah to become the youngest competitor to win a stage at the tender age of 18. 

In addition to making history, the young American has two fingers on the T4 class win. He is just under 2 hours ahead of teammate Cristina Gutiérrez Herrero in the class. 

In the SSV class after two stages, a clear gap has emerged with Aron Domzala a mere 40 seconds ahead of teammate Auston Jones, whilst those behind the Monster Energy Can-Am duo are over 30 minutes behind in the overall rankings.

Kamaz-Master domination. 

Siarhei Viazovich emerged as a potential challenger for the Dakar title in 2021. However, his challenge came to a premature end due to ongoing mechanical issues. 

As Viazovich's challenge fell by the wayside, 35-year-old Russian Dmitry Sotnikov emerged as the clear favorite for the 2021 title. Sotnikov hasn't put a foot wrong thus far and has been a master in opening the road in the trucks category. 

Should Dmitry clinch the 2021 title, the Kamaz-Master team will claim their second ever five-year brace in the trucks category. The only driver and team capable of taking the fight to Kamaz were Petronas Iveco with Gerard De Rooy at the wheel. De Rooy clinched two Dakar titles in 2012 and 2016. However, the Dutchman has not returned this year. 

Having won four-stages of six, it's pretty clear to say that Dmitry Sotnikov is the favorite to win the 2021 Dakar title with teammates Anton Shibalov and Airat Mardeev over 37 minutes behind. 

A lot can still happen, but it's Sotnikov's title to lose from here on it! 

Written By: Junaid Samodien

Friday, 8 January 2021

Dakar 2021: Stage 6 – Motorbike lead changes yet again as Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah inseparable.

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool

Written By - Franco Theron - NamWheels 

Ahead of the rest day tomorrow, the fight in both the motorbike- and car categories are intensifying. Let’s have a look at what happened today. 

Honda dominating? 

Yesterday was a good day for Honda, with Kevin Benavides claiming stage honours, even with a broken nose. The four Honda riders seem to support one another very well in this edition. Teamwork seems to be the order of the day, where one rider aims to win the stage, with the rest trading positions to open the road on the next day. 

Up to this point, Toby Price seems to be the only KTM rider, realistically being able to fight the top riders, while Ross Branch plays this part for Yamaha. 

Opening the road today, Benavides struggled to keep up with the pace, while teammate, Joan Barreda Bort spearheaded the stage early on, with Toby Price (KTM) and Ross Branch (Yamaha) hot on his back wheel. 

Just over the 200km mark, Price managed to pass the Honda of Barreda Bort, with Branch, Daniel Sanders (KTM), and Ricky Brabec (Honda) very closely behind. 

However, towards the end of the stage, Price started losing time as Branch, Barreda, and Sanders once again edged ahead. 

Barreda and Branch cleared the road, while Sanders kept Brabec and the chasing KTM’s of Price, Sam Sunderland, and Mattias Walkner behind. Yet, Brabec soon made a navigational error and fell towards the latter part of the top 10. 

It was Branch, who crossed the finish line first, but Barreda soon pipped him by a slender 48 seconds. 

This means that as we head into the rest day, Price now moves into the lead, ahead of Kevin Benavides, Cornejo Florimo (Honda), and Branch. The top 6 are, however, separated by a mere 4:23. This will surely cause for a very exciting last half of the race when it resumes on Sunday. 

Sainz on the attack 

An excellent day for South Africa yesterday, saw Giniel de Villiers take Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’S fifth stage triumph of the 2021 edition, while Brian Baragwanath (Century Racing) came in a close second. 

Whilst the battle for stage honors took place, the overall battle between Stephane Peterhansel (X-Raid Mini JCW) and Nasser Al-Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing SA) brewing. The latter later admitted that he found the stage very difficult, having lost more time to his French rival. Carlos Sainz (X-Raid Mini JCW) was also quick to follow, suggesting the 2021 edition to be more of a gymkhana race, rather than a navigational marathon. 

Stating that stage 5 and 6 would probably be the most important of the race, would we see Al-Attiyah throw everything at today's’ stage in a bid to regain time? 

Sainz and Peterhansel reached the first checkpoint of the day in the lead, with Al-Attiyah and Yazeed Al Rajhi (Toyota Overdrive) closely following. The latter soon started to trouble the times of Peterhansel, while Sainz cleared ahead. 

Some 48 minutes behind Peterhansel overall before today’s stage, Sainz needed to gain time on the leading two driver if he is to challenge for the win in the last week. 

Yesterday’s winner, de Villiers struggled to keep his pace from yesterday and kept within the higher top 10 places in the stage, while Baragwanath ran in a constant 5th position. 

Sebastien Loeb’s (BRX) 2021 Dakar Rally also went from bad to worse as he broke a suspension arm on the stage and had to await the support truck for repairs. It was not the rally the Frenchman had hoped for. 

Yet, all eyes were locked on the times set by Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah, with the former looking to gain more time on the Qatari. Yet, after 404 km, Al-Attiyah gained on Peterhansel, leading the Frenchman by a barely inseparable 9 seconds.  

Crossing the finish line, Sainz claimed the stage victory as he gained on his overall rivals. Al Rajhi finished second, while Al-Attiyah bested Peterhansel by only 18 seconds. 

This means that Peterhansel goes into the rest day as the leader by 5:53, with Sainz 40:39 behind Peterhansel. 

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Dakar 2021: Sweet and sour day for South-Africans

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool. 

Written By: Franco Theron - NamWheels

The 2021 Dakar Rally is now at its midway point and much can already be taken from the first week of racing. In both the motorbike- and car categories, the fight is extremely tight. 

Honda, Yamaha, and KTM seem to be inseparable with the top 5 times overall after every stage, being within seconds from one another. While Yamaha is still to win a stage in this year’s Dakar, it is Ross Branch and Andrien van Beveren, who can be said to be the most consistent of all the current top riders. 

In the car category, the X-Raid Mini’s seemed to play a very strategic game early on, but Toyota fought back with an even better approach. After stage 4, the lead between the Mini of Stephane Peterhansel (Mini) and Nasser Al-Attiyah (Toyota) was a mere 5 minutes. 

Stating that the marathon stages, leading up to-and continuing after the rest day, would be the stages to attack, Al-Attiyah knew well that these stages were two of the most technical and demanding of the edition. 

Leading up to the rest day, this is how the motorbike and car categories got on. 

Honda going strong 

Stage 4 winner, Joan Barreda Bort (Honda) started the stage first and evidently did not hold back. Having taken his 27th Dakar victory, the Spaniard was keen on climbing his way back into the overall contention. So to was his teammates, Kevin Benavides and Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo. Yet, by the second checkpoint, Barreda Bort seemed to have lost a chunk of time to the stage leaders’ duo to a navigational error. Similarly, the Yamaha of Van Beveren fell into the same error. 

For most of the stage, the Honda’s of Cornejo Florimo and Benavides led the stage, with overall contender, Xavier de Soultrait (Husqvarna) threatening the leading times. 

Benavides did, however, take the stage lead from his teammate during the end of the stage, with Barreda Bort seemingly losing more time as the stage progressed. In the end, Benavides won the stage ahead of Cornejo Florimo to make it another Honda 1-2 stage win. 

Ultimately, this also propelled Benavides into the overall lead, ahead of de Soultrait. 

Branch ever-consistent 

Signing for the Monster Energy Yamaha Rally team after two highly successful first years in the race, Ross Branch proves to once again be the ever consistent, smiling rider. 

Even more importantly, the Botswanian has remained within or close to the top 5 overall positions, even though the leaders around him are trading positions constantly. Whilst Yamaha has already seen one retirement early on, Branch proves to be the leading Yamaha rider: besting even his highly experienced teammate, van Beveren. 

This can mainly be attributed to a cautious approach and one without too many navigational errors. 

Branch is also now positioned as the sole Yamaha in the top 10 and with a shot at overall victory. A mere 8:24 behind de Soultrait and 6:18 behind Cornejo Florimo, Branch is perfectly positioned to attack on Saturday. However, Kevin Benavides on the Honda seems to have found his rhythm and is now almost 11 minutes ahead. 

Toyota vs Mini 

Just before the start of stage 5, Peterhansel was handed a one-minute penalty for unknown reasons. This would bring the leading two competitors of Peterhansel and Nasser Al-Attiyah to within four minutes. 

Opening the stage for a third time in succession, Al-Attiyah lost time to Peterhansel at the start, but quickly gained on the Frenchman to trail him by a mere 23 seconds at the 155km mark. However, by the next 197km mark, this gap grew by two minutes.  

Peterhansel reached the finish to put almost 3 more minutes into his lead over Al-Attiyah. Yet, this was not quick enough to win the stage, meaning that he will not open the road on Saturday, but rather the Toyota of de Villiers. 

Will Toyota play a tactical game with Peterhansel, come Saturday?  

South-Africans flying the flag high

It was a win-lose situation for Toyota and South-Africa. While bad news came through for Lategan, Giniel de Villiers managed to take stage honours today, recording the fastest time at every checkpoint. 

Erik van Loon (Overdrive Toyota) was hot on his heels, until Brian Baragwanath (Century Racing) and Martin Prokop (Benzina Orlen) took over the contention for second on stage. 

Baragwanath looked set to make it a first stage win, until de Villiers once again bested his finishing time by a full 5:45 minutes, with Prokop finishing in third. 

It would therefore be a good day for South Africans as it would record a 1-2 stage finish. 

Sainz unable to defend his 2020 title? 

As of 2020, a three-time Dakar winner, the multiple World Rally Champion, Carlos Sainz, seems to be unable to repeat success at this years’ edition. The Spaniard lost half an hour to the leading pair of Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah on stage 3, when he made a navigational error and again lost considerable time on the fifth stage. 

Racing through the first checkpoint at 43km, he already lost 28:40 minutes to the stage leader, Giniel de Villiers (Toyota Gazoo Racing) and more importantly, around 20 minutes to his two overall contenders. 

Magical rookie Lategan

Henk Lategan (Toyota Gazoo Racing) already proved his worth in only his first year of Dakar racing. The two-time South-African cross-country driver and former rally-ace not only challenged his much more experienced teammates in the third and fourth stage, but managed to finish stage 3 in second position, whilst just being pipped by Peterhansel in the following stage to end in third. 

Starting third on stage 5, the same navigational headache as for Sainz and Sebastien Loeb (BRX) seemed to haunt the young South-African. Soon thereafter, news came through that the Lategan and his co-driver were taken to the start of the stage again for medical treatment as they rolled their Hilux in the stage. 

This is a huge blow to the race as Lategan’s form started to rival stage winning times. Would he have raced on, the South African would have certainly ended the race as the top rookie? 

Certainly, a big learning curve, may this be a future Dakar winner in the making? 

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Dakar2021: Stage 4 Analysis - Nail bitingly close in both the motorbike and car categories.

Ross Branch #18 on his way to fourth on stage four.
PHOTO CREDIT: Yamaha Racing.

After the drama from yesterday as well as the extremely close racing in the motorbike category, we were certainly very eager to kick of the stage today. This is what occurred: 

Honda back at it 

Winning yesterday’s stage, Toby Price (KTM) once again had the duty of opening the special today. It was therefore inevitable that the Australian would lose some time. However, the KTM rider lost just under 15 minutes today as he lost the lead early in the stage by means of navigational errors. 

It was then Joan Barreda Bort (Honda) who took over the lead, ready for a second 2021 stage win. After two difficult days, the Spaniard crossed the line, 6 minutes ahead of Yamaha rider, Ross Branch. 

Yesterday’s overall leader, Howes (BAS KTM) struggled with the conditions and would eventually lose the overall lead, thanks to a 13 minute deficit to Barreda. 

Overall, this means that the lead swaps once more, with Barreda now slotting into second; 15 seconds shy from the lead, which Xavier De Soultrait (Husqvarna) now holds. This is an extremely close margin. 

A further three minutes and 9 seconds sees Kevin Benavides (Honda) in third, followed by the consistent Yamaha of Branch, 1 minute further. 

Less than 5 minutes separate the top 5 

With Howes slotting into fifth place overall after today’s stage, the top 5 are separated by a mere 4:26 minutes. With key stages still remaining, it is anyone’s win to take, with KTM not far behind. 

Toyota powering ahead 

With a one-two position on yesterday’s stage, Toyota Gazoo Racing looked to have a tough day as Nasser Al-Attiyah and Henk Lategan would open the road for the others. 

Yet, this did not deter the leading Toyota’s as they once again dominated the stage, with Al-Attiyah and Lategan trading fastest times throughout the stage. Separated by a mere 44 seconds at 298km, everyone held their breath to see which Toyota would cross the finish line first. 

Yesterday, Al-Attiyah made it clear that he would attack Peterhansel on the 5th and 6th stage. With only five minutes between the leading duo, anything could happen. 

Yet, today, Al Attiyah already punched hard by winning his third consecutive stage and the fourth of the 2021 edition. The two X-Raid Mini’s of Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz fought back hard but just missed out on a stage win by a mere 11 seconds. This moved Lategan to third on the stage, with Sainz almost 3 minutes behind. 

Sainz did, however, threaten Al-Attiyah’s stage lead at seven points, but seemed to have backed off towards the finish. Is this perhaps a strategic plan to allow the Toyota’s to open the road tomorrow? 

Both Brian Baragwanath (Century Racing) and Giniel de Villiers (Toyota Gazoo Racing) also drove at a steady pace, with both losing over 12 minutes to Al-Attiyah on the stage.

This means that Al-Attiyah would once again open the road tomorrow, a recipe that proved to work over the past three days. Just under 5 minutes now separate the Toyota and the Mini. It is anyone’s guess.

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Dakar 2021: Wadi Ad-Dawasir loop - STAGE 3 ANALYSIS.

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool.
Written By: Franco Theron - NamWheels

The 630 km stage 3 today again saw drama unfold. With 9 stages remaining, a likely winner is far from being declared. Anything can still happen, with the general classifications in both the car and motorbike categories, changing on a daily basis. 

Stage 2 recap

Yesterday saw drama in the motorbike category as Yamaha’s Andrew Shorts retired. This, however, comes as a controversial matter as it quickly became clear that his and early leader, Toby Price’s KTM suffered problems after refuelling their bikes in the stage. 

Losing 32 minutes in the stage, Price discovered water in his fuel pump, a problem that sent Shorts into retirement.

Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team has issued a statement following Andrew Short's withdrawal from the 2021 Dakar Rally.

"Subsequent inspection of the bike on its return to the bivouac identified the problem as contaminated fuel, with a significant amount of water found to be present in both the fuel tank and the fuel pump on Short's bike," the statement read.

"Water was also found in the fuel of Short's Monster Energy Yamaha teammate Franco Caimi when his fuel tank was drained after the stage. Fortunately for the Argentinian, the fuel contamination wasn't as severe as that of his teammate and he was able to complete the day's stage."

In order to ensure none of their other riders a similar fate, they opted to drain the fuel from the four remaining bikes and replace the fuel pumps. 

The team has also stated that they had lodged an official request to the FIA to freeze the results of stage 2 at Checkpoint 2. As it would allow Short to start the race today. However, the request was requested. 

Honda continues to impress, but KTM stamps its authority 

While Honda finished a strong first and second on stage yesterday, Kevin Benavides again took the lead for the manufacturer early on today. Losing 29 minutes to his winning team mate yesterday, Benavides had a point to prove. 

He was followed shortly by Price and Mattias Walkner (KTM). It would, however, be a bad day for the overall leading Honda’s of Joan Barreda Bort and Ricky Brabec as the two lost considerable time to the Husqvarna of Pablo Quintanilla and Ross Branch (Yamaha Monster Energy). Skyler Howes would take over the lead of the race. 

At 354km, Price took the lead from Benavides. A lead he would hold onto to win the stage by 1 minute and 16 seconds from Benavides. 

Branch holding a steady pace 

Ross Branch showcased a steady, yet consistent approach towards today’s stage. Losing about 13 minutes at every point, the Kalahari Ferrari kept his times in front of the overall leading trio of Quintanilla, Brabec, and Barreda Bort. Even more importantly, Branch came in ahead of his vastly experienced Yamaha teammate, Adrian van Beveren by a mere two seconds. 

However, a good showing by Skyler Howes (BAS Dakar KTM), Xavier de Soultrait (Rally Raid Husqvarna), Sam Sunderland (KTM Red Bull), Price and Benavides, would propel these five riders ahead of Branch in the overall standings. 

Toyota Gazoo Racing fighting back 

Winning stage 2, the South-African built Toyota Hiluxes were again charging through the special. 

It was South-African Dakar rookie, Henk Lategan, setting the timing sheets alight early on, followed shortly by Yazeed Al Rajhi (Toyota Overdrive), Sheikh Al Qassimi (Abu Dhabi Racing), Mathieu Serradori (Century Racing), Giniel De Villiers (Toyota Gazoo Racing). 

The tables, however, quickly turned as Carlos Sainz regained the lead at the 88km from Al Rajhi and Al-Attiyah, however, soon made a navigational error. Both Sainz and Al Rajhi then lost valuable time, with the former losing almost 32 minutes at the 183km mark; prompting Al-Attiyah and Sebastien Loeb (BRX) into the lead of the stage. 

Midway throughout the stage, Lategan fought back to slot in between Al-Attiyah and Stephane Peterhansel, while both De Villiers and Brian Baragwanath (Century Racing) were starting to lose quite a bit of time. 

Crossing the finish line, Al-Attiyah managed to take just over 4 minutes out of Peterhansel’s lead and a massive 31 minutes. Lategan, meanwhile finished the stage in second position, 2:27 behind his Gazoo Racing teammate. 

All this means that Peterhansel now leads the race, albeit by only five minutes from Al-Attiyah. With two back-to-back stage wins, might we see the Qatari close in even more in the coming days? Or will Sainz find a way to claw back his almost 34-minute deficit?

Monday, 4 January 2021

Dakar 2021: Stage 1 and Stage 2 analysis.

PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool.

Written By: Franco Theron - NamWheels

Has Mini already won? 

Whilst the start of the rally saw a curb in top speed regulations, the X-raid Mini’s of Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz seemed t play the same tactics as their Red Bull motorbike counterparts, during the prologue. 

While Nasser Al-Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing) took the lead on the prologue, the Mini’s quickly doused Toyota’s early celebratory mood. With the two mates almost in sync, the reigning champion (Sainz) took the lead, a mere 5 seconds ahead of Peterhansel. 

On today’s second stage, Peterhansel punched back, finishing just under 7 minutes ahead of Sainz. 

Yet, it was the Toyota of Al-Attiyah, who reigned supreme on the stage; taking 2:35 minutes out of Peterhansel’s overall lead and 9:17 from Sainz. 

All this means that the three favourites are now just less than 10 minutes away from one another, with Sainz trailing Peterhansel by 6:37 and Al-Attiyah trailing the leader by 9:14. 

While Mini started strongly, Toyota quickly punched back today. It will be anyone’s win. 

What about the other South-African Toyota Gazoo Racing Hiluxes? 

Henk Lategan, in his first-ever Dakar, seems to do well. The two-time SACCS champion is now in 16th position overall, trailing Peterhansel by 49 minutes. He is positioned just ahead of his more experienced, yet ever-cautious Dakar Legend teammate, Giniel De Villiers. The latter is now 18th, just over 52 minutes behind. Yet, as we know, De Villiers is never a quick starter; climbing up the leaderboard, stage by stage. 

Shameer Variawa did well on stage 1, finishing just ahead of Lategan in 12th. At the time of editing, Variawa does seem to struggle in the second stage, trailing the leaders by more than two hours. 

KTM stronger than ever? 

Having won 13 consecutive Dakar titles before Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda) bested the KTM trio in 2020, the KTM squad seems to be back at the 2021 edition with new ambition. The 2016 and 2019 winner, Toby Price, was quick to state the obvious; being that KTM held back on the prologue stage so as to not open the tracks on the first stage of the rally. 

It certainly proved to pay off as the initial Honda pace setters of Brabec and Joan Barreda Bort got lost, earning Price the lead of the rally. 

The second stage of the rally would, unfortunately, swing the favour back in the hands of the Honda’s as Barreda Bort seized the opportunity of a later start to retake the lead for the manufacturer. Brabec finished second and now sits just under 7 minutes behind. 

The KTM of Mattias Walkner came to a halt early in the stage, with the Austrian eventually losing almost two hours and a half. Sam Sunderland lost exactly 23 minutes today, while Price lost even more at 32 minutes. 

KTM might have won 13 consecutive titles, yet the last few years proved to be more of a daunting task in keeping up with appearances. With Yamaha and Husqvarna also being in the mix, will we again see a game of cat and mouse right up until the end? 

We certainly think so… 

The “Kalahari Ferrari” had us worried, but not for long 

Ross Branch (Monster Energy Yamaha) showed us his capabilities during the prologue; taking into account that this is only his third ever Dakar. The Botswanian then seemed to struggle during the first stage, losing valuable time and eventually finishing 12th. 

But, with the ever-present smile on his face, Branch raced ahead during the second stage, threatening the leaders of the stage. 

He would eventually finish today’s stage in fourth (at the time of typing this article), moving up to third overall as the leading Yamaha rider, 6:37 shy of the lead. 

With 10 stages remaining, anything can still happen. Yet, Branch has already showcased his performance in 2020. A stage victory might well be in reach, but can we expect even more? 

We might only be in the second stage of this years’ Dakar, but both the car and motorbike categories are already lighting up and our Southern-African competitors are doing us proud.