Dakar 2015 – Route Stage 8 (January 12, 2015) : Uyuni to Iquique – 24 liaison, 781 km special (805 km)
Marc Coma leads after Joan Barreda mishap – Toby Price up to 4th
Pablo Quintanilla wins stage to strengthen third place

The eighth stage of the Dakar has probably been the most devastating for the general standings in the bike category. Starting with a high-speed dash across the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia, then returning riders back into the mountains and the dunes of Chile’s Atacama Desert. Finally they had to negotiate the terrifyingly steep descent back to Iquique. 

The start of the rally was delayed because of weather conditions and rain the day before had made conditions tricky for a high-speed dash across what is the world’s largest salt lake. Coma said later that conditions had been “over the limit”, those thoughts were echoed by many, including rivals such as Honda’s Paulo Goncalves – “Yesterday was a really technical stage, and with all the rain became very dangerous. Today was a different story; we were crossing a real sea. The riders didn’t want to race for safety reasons, but the rally got underway and ended up causing a massive amount of problems for many riders. Some of them had to be rescued with hypothermia. It was too dangerous. We shouldn’t have run today.”

A fall from grace by Joan Barreda, who was towed in by teammate Jeremias Israel Esquerre and from our calculations saw his six-minute lead in Dakar 2015 pushed back to a 1-hour 24-mins deficit, effectively ending his Dakar challenge. Barreda finished yesterday’s stage with his handlebar broken in two, made an overnight swap with those of Demian Guiral from the Honda South America Rally Team. In a heroic effort the rider from Castillon had ridden over 120km on the Honda CRF450 RALLY yesterday with just one hand, dropping barely six minutes to rivals. But today, an electrical fault put paid to any chances of a significant result. Team-mate Jeremias Israel was on hand to help him through to the finish-line.

Joan Barreda – “In the end it’s been collateral damage, and a disgrace what they’ve made us do today; to race in a sea. It was out of place. All the work on all the projects that we’ve done has gone down the pan. To make a decision like that just wasn’t right. Today you couldn’t see a thing; visibility was zero. We were floating around on top of the water. They ordered us to start and this is what happened; my Dakar is over.”

Fate also struck fellow Honda rider Helder Rodrigues who after mechanical gremlins saw him slip from sixth outright to out of contention. The top 20 has also lost four other members with the withdrawals of Alessandro Botturi, Michael Metge, Daniel Gouet and Jordi Viladoms, who last year finished second to Coma in Dakar 2014.

Honda’s last remaining hope for Dakar 2015 victory rests on the capable shoulders of Paolo Goncalves who despite a lowly 15th place finish on today’s eighth stage holds down second place outright, only nine-minutes behind new race leader Marc Coma.

Marc Coma: “Conditions were very complicated, for me over the limit. To ride over the salt and the water was like a kind of cement on the bike and there was a lot of stress to try to take care of the engine of the bike and everything. To arrive here today is like a victory. I am happy we are leading now but we still have five days in front of us. We have a long way to go and every day there is something different. We just have to take it kilometre by kilometre.”

Coma said at the end of the stage that he had had problems with a radiator blockage caused by the paste-like mix of salt and water and he thanked his teammates Jordi Viladoms and Ruben Faria for their help in solving the problem at the refueling point. Faria went on to finish behind Coma in tenth place and ranks sixth outright. 

Although he was unlucky on his first two participations on the Dakar, fortune today smiled on Pablo Quintanilla. The Chilean won his first special stage and climbs onto the provisional podium in the outright standings.

Debutant Toby Price has quickly earned the respect of his rivals since the start in Buenos Aires, quite naturally since the Australian has put in some superb performances, such as today’s fourth place, only 41 seconds behind the stage winner which promotes the KTM rider to fourth outright, five-minutes behind third placed Pablo Quintanilla, but with a handy 10-minute lead over Slovakian Stefan Svitko. 

Toby Price also commented that the salt water has clogged many of the bikes and had especially affected the electronics, resulting in a lot of problems for many of the top riders. “For me it was just a matter of preserving the bike and trying to get to the finish. It’s still in one piece and I am just hoping I can get to the finish line.”

Laia Sanz is proving just how much of a motorcycle maestro she is with a fantastic fifth place on stage eight, the highest stage finish ever by a woman at Dakar, moving her up to ninth overall. After the demise of Barreda and Rodrigues, 29-year-old Sanz is now the second highest placed Honda in Dakar 2015. Laia Sanz is obviously one very hard woman!

Laia Sanz – “For me, it’s been a really great day, but this morning I would have preferred not to set off. The conditions were not for racing and my hands practically froze. The altitude, the cold and the lack of visibility…. The bikes took such a beating from the water and the salt. It was really dangerous, but we decided that we had to go for it, and we ended up starting the special.

“I got up among the front-runners from the start. I managed to warm up a bit in the refuelling and I was able to set a good pace. It was a pity that Price and Quintanilla were so fast and were able to get past me, but it wasn’t worth risking everything just to improve on the position.

“It’s a great result, and I’m really happy to have achieved it especially on such a hard day as this one. This morning it was hellish.”

There was some joy for the Yamaha camp today with Juan Pedrero battling for the stage victory right down to the final sprint to Iquique where he brought his WR450F Rally home in second, moving up to 11th overall. Juan Pedrero – “Aahh! I was so close to winning the special. Just 11 seconds! At the end of the dried lake I stopped to clean the radiator, which was completely blocked up with salt.

“Then, when I got to the CP a few kilometres after, I knew it was time well spent. There were broken bikes everywhere. At the end of the first special I was just one second behind the leader, but coming down the steep descent at the end of the second special Quintanilla came past me. I tried to stay with him but my bike started to shake and I had to close the throttle. Still, an excellent day for me.”

Tuesday will see riders go from Iquique to Calama (Chile) over a total distance of 539 km, 451 km of which is timed special.

Dakar 2015 – Stage Eight Results

1, Pablo Qunitanilla, CHI, KTM 2 hours 56.19

2, Juan Pedrero, ESP, Yamaha at 00.11

3, Stefan Svitko, SVK, KTM at 00.12

4, Toby Price, AUS, KTM at 00.41

5, Laia Sanz, ESP, Honda at 2.36

6, De Soultrait, FRA, Yamaha at 6.36

7, Alain Duclos, FRA, Sherco at 6.42

8, Hans Vogels, NLD, KTM at 7.34

9, Marc Coma, ESP, KTM at 7.37

10, Ruben Faria, POR, KTM at 7.44

Dakar 2015 Overall Rankings after Stage Eight

1, Coma, KTM at 28:51.12

2, Goncalves, Honda at 9.11

3, Qunitanilla ,KTM at 11.11

4, Price, KTM at 15.56

5, Svitko, KTM at 26.30

6, Faria, KTM at 34.34

7, Duclos, Sherco at 58.08

8, Casteu, KTM at 1:10.48

9, Sanz, Honda at 1:18.51

10, Jakes, KTM at 1:47.47

11, Pedrero, Yamaha at 2:06.10

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Dakar 2015 leader Joan Barreda Bort being towed and seeing his lead in the famous race disappear.. Next year Joan....
Dakar 2015 leader Joan Barreda Bort being towed and seeing his lead in the famous race disappear.. Next year Joan….

Tomorrow… Dakar 2015 – STAGE 9 – Tuesday, 13th January – Iquique (CHI) – Calama (CHI) Liaison:88 km – Special stage:450 km

Tomorrow... Dakar 2015 - STAGE 9 – Tuesday, 13th January - Iquique (CHI) – Calama (CHI) Liaison:88 km - Special stage:450 km
Tomorrow… Dakar 2015 – STAGE 9 – Tuesday, 13th January – Iquique (CHI) – Calama (CHI) Liaison:88 km – Special stage:450 km

For this farewell session to the Atacama Desert, all the competitors will come together once again for the special stage, with fifty-odd kilometres over sand and dunes. The routes have suffered the ravages of time and will be equally harsh on them: frequent potholes and bumps combined with the narrowness of the tracks will make for tricky going at times.