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. 

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

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