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.