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