The first stage on the Andalucίa Rally saw the dust that everybody was so worried about a secondary concern, with the special proving favourable to those starting just outside the top ten, with Kevin Benavides, Joan Barreda and Lorenzo Santolino finished first, second and third respectively.
Playing a low profile yesterday on the Super Special prologue, Kevin Benavides started 14th and went on to win the stage, more than three-minutes ahead of his teammate Joan Barreda.
“It was a good day. I started a little behind and I was happy with that position, even if I knew it could go either way. I suffered a little in the dust but was feeling good on the bike until kilometre 170 when the road book broke, and I had to finish the stage by looking at the marks on the ground. It required a lot of concentration but in the end I won the stage, even if the last 5 kilometres weren’t easy, after seeing my brother lying on the ground. The important thing is he is OK.”
“Today was a good stage after yesterday’s, we have seen a lot of fast riders in this rally. Today was important to have a first stage without making any navigation errors. In the first part there was practically no navigation, but as the kilometres passed there were more open areas where I was able to pick up the pace. There were some complicated parts, which we had to really pay attention to. Maybe I’ve dropped a bit of time there, but I think it was a good stage overall.”
Starting respectively first, second and fourth, Aussies Toby Price and Daniel Sanders, plus teammate Matthias Walkner all of the Red Bull Factory Team finished 17th, 19th and 12th. A frustrated Toby Price, was still happy to end the day safely.
“Day one has been a little frustrating, the organization informed us of a few changes before the stage, but they didn’t really give that much detail so it was tricky to follow things especially from the front. I opened the special for probably 80 or 90 percent and stayed on two wheels, so I’m happy about my navigation and riding. The body feels good and the bike is performing well and as always, the team are doing a great job. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
Daniel Sanders, second to enter stage one, performed well, running with the more experienced members of his team and making the minimum of mistakes on the tricky to navigate route. Posting the 19th quickest stage time, the 26-year-old Australian is feeling confident and looks forward to day two.
“Well, my first day racing rally was certainly a tough one! I started off feeling a little uncomfortable, but by the halfway mark I was able to find my rhythm, keep a good pace and concentrate on the road book. I made a couple of little mistakes along the way but all-in-all it was good and a useful learning experience. There’s three more days to go, so the goal is to make the finish safe and try and gain as much knowledge and experience as possible.”
Under the GasGas awning, Laia Sanz didn’t start this morning after yesterday’s crash in the super special. With her arm badly swollen, the Spanish rider decided to pull out just before the start. A further blow for the Austrians was the retirement of Luciano Benavides. Making his début in the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing colours, he crashed just 5 kilometres from the finish. Suffering from an impact to his thorax, initial medical examinations are reassuring.
The chances of seeing a Husqvarna up at the front of the rankings now depends on the performance of the Frenchman Xavier de Soultrait, riding for the HT Rally team, who finished the stage in sixth place.
“The dust was hanging in the trees at the start of the rally and after 50 kilometres I thought it would be risky to push harder. At the first pause I saw that I wasn’t far from Kevin (Benavides) who is quick on these types of tracks. So I decided to hang on to him. With very tricky navigation, the kind we aren’t that used to, in the end it is better not to push too hard.”
Finishing third on the day, Sherco TVS Rally Factory rider Lorenzo Santolino expressed a similar sentiment.
“It was a good day and finally the dust wasn’t too bad, as Barreda, who started in front of me, set a good pace. I was never on the limit and was surprised by my final finishing position.”
Over in the Monster Energy Yamaha Rally camp, Andrew Short started third and didn’t managed to find the right rhythm. His teammate Adrien Van Beveren also admitted to struggling to find his mark but nevertheless finished a better than expected in fourth place.
Adrien Van Beveren
“It was a solid start to the Andalucia Rally. It took me until around 50km in to settle in and ride a bit looser, but with so much time off that’s normal. I then just focused on my technique and felt good on the bike. Navigation was super-tricky. It wasn’t easy to find the balance between navigation and speed but overall it was a positive day. I did make a couple of mistakes and lost a couple of minutes so tomorrow I will try to remain calm through stage two.”
The second stage will take place Thursday, with two 140-kilometre and 130-kilometre timed-stages plus a 95-kilometre liaison section. The second special of Stage 2 will cover the same route as Stage 1.
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