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. 

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