Ross Branch, who crashed and could not finish Stage 1, delivered an outstanding performance to win Stage 2 of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2022, while Kevin Benavides took over the overall lead with a solid third place for the day.
The second stage of the rally, and also the longest special of this edition, proved to be the toughest challenge for the riders so far. Riding over 316kms of special sections and another 137kms in transit, the riders found the bright sun and the extreme heat of the terrain exceptionally exhausting.
The newest member of the Hero MotoSports Rally team – Ross, is still familiarising himself with the Hero 450 Rally bike. Even though the crash on the previous day made him quite weak physically, his undeterred passion and commitment to the sport was visibly on record throughout Stage 2. His terrific comeback is a strong boost to the morale and overall confidence of the team.
Ross Branch – P1
“Today was really hard – I started the morning with a lot of pain from the crash yesterday, and by the time I reached refuel, I didn’t really feel like going on! However, I was learning a lot about the bike today – about braking, hard reacts to the dunes, shifting gears through the dunes, jumping off dunes in the most comfortable manner – and that was fun. A better understanding of my new bike brought back a lot of confidence to me, and I definitely took a big step in the right direction. My body is aching everywhere, but it’s definitely worth the pain. I’ve been waiting for a positive result for some time, and I’m happy we’re here with a win!”
Luciano Benavides, despite taking a little while to find his rhythm across the rolling sand dunes, maintained a strong pace up until he reached the refuelling station. From there, and knowing that the stage win was a possibility, the Argentine upped his speed and navigated accurately. Ultimately securing a runner-up finish on the special, he placed just 39 seconds adrift of the overall stage winner.
Luciano Benavides – P2
“Second place for me today is a really good result. It took me a little while to get going on the stage but once I arrived at the refuelling station, I realised that I wasn’t too far from the lead. After that I pushed on to the end and felt great on the bike and everything came together really well. It was another tough stage physically and there was some tricky navigation as well, so I had to really focus and it paid off. It was a great day and we’ll build from here.”
Following his third-place result on the rally’s opening stage, Kevin Benavides was one of the first riders to enter today’s special. Chasing down the riders ahead, Kevin came across a fallen competitor who needed medical assistance. After waiting for the helicopter to arrive, the 2021 Dakar Champion continued with the stage, pushing hard to make up time. Arriving at the finish, Benavides was awarded the time lost due to the incident, which ultimately placed him third for the stage and moved the KTM 450 RALLY rider into the provisional rally lead.
Kevin Benavides – P3
“Today was a good stage for me and I’m happy with the final result. It was a tough stage both physically and mentally too, because at about kilometer 50 I stopped to help Mike Docherty after he had crashed. I called the helicopter and waited for just over 20 minutes before setting off again. It’s always tough to regain your focus after something like that, but I was able to keep up a good pace and complete the stage safely. It feels good to be leading the race, so I’ll try and keep this momentum going tomorrow.”
The tough trek continued for the Monster Energy Honda Team riders. The team’s three riders now hold the privileged position of being able to manage the race over the coming days. Ricky Brabec, fourth today, occupies second in the overall race standings, followed by team-mate José Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Cornejo. Pablo Quintanilla is fifth, only seven and a half minutes behind the leader. The Chilean posted sixth on the day.
Ricky Brabec – P4
“Day two was a good one. A long, hot day. It was great. We’re now here in the bivouac getting ready for tomorrow. The stage was long. I lost maybe five minutes. I think that the team is in a good position. Today was really hot in the dunes. I made no mistakes, but a couple of other people crashed. We capitalized on that and we will go on the attack tomorrow. The team is in a great position and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”
“This second stage was a bit faster than yesterday. The first part went through sandy valleys and the speed was very high. Until refuelling I didn’t feel at all comfortable with this terrain, but then I was able to ride with more pace and there were some technical areas of dunes where I was able to push a bit harder. It was a good day and the race is still very tight. Opening up on this type of terrain can really hurt you; right now I have fast riders in front and behind, which could be good for the remaining stages. These first two days have been very physically demanding, now we are going to try to rest our bodies before tomorrow’s stage.”
José Ignacio Cornejo – P8
“I felt very good on the bike, very comfortable and I think that showed in the riding. I took this second stage of the Abu Dhabi with some good pace and I think it went well. I think I had a good stage; we are doing well in the overall standings and in a good starting position for tomorrow’s stage.”
Franco Caimi and Joaquim Rodrigues of the Hero MotoSports Rally team too delivered good results, finishing the stage in the fifth and seventh positions respectively.
Franco Caimi – P5
“I’m extremely happy to be here at the end of stage 2. The goal is always to get into a good rhythm and get to the finish line, and we accomplished that well today. I’m so proud of the amazing job that the team has been doing to keep us running. The stages here in the desert are quite demanding, and I have to put a lot of energy to finish each stage safe. The result today is very encouraging, and I will focus on recovering to continue the fight tomorrow.”
Joaquim Rodrigues – P7
“It was a really difficult stage for me today – it was very fast, and the sun was too bright, we couldn’t see anything! I couldn’t find my rhythm at all in the beginning, but slowly started gaining my pace and then focused on finishing the stage without making any mistakes. I’m happy that we finally ended up with a good result.”
Fourth into stage two, Sunderland knew it would be a long, tiring day. After stopping momentarily to aid a fallen rider, the Brit got his head down and got on the gas to try and catch the one remaining competitor ahead of him. Navigating well, despite being only the second rider through the special, the Dakar Champion made the minimum of errors and lost very little time to the chasing pack.
Sam Sunderland – P9
“Day two is in the books. It was a bit of a scary one early on as I saw Mike Docherty had had a crash. I stopped to see if they needed help, but thankfully they were ok. After that I tried to chase down Matthias (Walkner) ahead, but he was doing a good job of opening the stage, so it wasn’t so easy. Overall, it was a really difficult day with lots of dunes, heat, and obviously the longest special of the race. I’m feeling good, happy to get the day done, and now looking forward to tomorrow and the rest of the rally.”
Stage two was a mixed day for Toby Price. Showing good speed in the first half of the special, the Australian moved up into the top five on time. A number of crashes in the latter kilometers of the stage slowed his progress and also resulted in a burned arm after falling under the bike. Nevertheless, the two-time Dakar winner is in good spirits and keen to continue pushing for the remaining three days of racing.
Toby Price – P10
“Day two is done now and it went ok. I was making good progress up to around kilometer 140 where I had a bit of a crash. The bike landed on top of me and burned the inside of my arm, which isn’t great, but other than that it was a pretty solid day. It’s definitely a tough rally – the heat doesn’t help – but I’m pleased with how things are going and I’m ready for day three.”
Continuing to rebuild his strength and endurance, Skyler Howes rode with caution on stage two to reach the finish line without issue. The American’s strategy worked perfectly as he completed the stage without losing too much time to the leading riders. Howes now lies 11th overall in the provisional standings with three days of racing remaining.
Skyler Howes – P11
“Day two done and it was a long and demanding stage today. Early on I had a couple of close calls and then I saw that Michael Docherty had crashed pretty bad, so I hope he’s ok. From there on I rode a strong and steady pace. I knew it wasn’t enough to secure a decent result, but we have three more days and I know I have a lot more to give. I’m still rebuilding after some time off before this race but I feel good on the bike so it’s on me now. I’ll regroup and focus on tomorrow.”
After catching and passing the one rider who set off ahead of him this morning, Matthias Walkner soon found himself opening today’s long, grueling 316-kilometer special. Focusing on both the demanding terrain and his navigation, Walkner completed the stage just over 12 minutes behind the eventual stage winner. The result places the reigning world champion in 10th overall, but he will enjoy a strong start position for Tuesday’s stage three where he hopes to make up time on his rivals ahead.
Matthias Walkner – P12
“The second day went well for me, but it was a long and very challenging stage. I caught the leader at around kilometer 15, and after that opened the rest of the special. I think I did a good job navigating and making my way through the dunes, but it was really demanding to be at maximum focus for close to four and a half hours, especially in the heat. I’m pleased with how things are going, no problems so far, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Stage 3 will take the riders on a 255km loop in the desert around Qasr-Al-Sarab. It will also be the second day of the marathon stage, which the riders will complete without any assistance from the team.
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