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