Dakar 2017 – Stage 1 – Joan Pedrero takes early lead
After Stage 1 of the 2017 Dakar Rally, Australians Toby Price 17th, Rodney Faggotter 26th
For the first time in its history, the Dakar Rally visited Paraguay to launch its 2017 edition from the capital Asuncion for a sole and single stage with a 39-km special.
As such, Paraguay has become the 29th country to welcome the Dakar, boasting a superb setting with lush jungle-like vegetation favoured by a tropical climate, that makes for a technically tricky route and trial-like tracks.
Riders at the 2017 Dakar Rally got their two-week adventure under way with a short but technical special stage north of Asunción, before entering the long liaison section that lead them to Resistencia in Argentina.
Despite being only 39km long the day’s special stage proved to be quite challenging, with both fast and technical sections over slippery terrain.
Riders of the Monster Energy Honda Team, Ricky Brabec, Paulo Gonçalves and Joan Barreda kicked off proceedings at the Dakar Rally in style; occupying three of the top five positions.
Ricky Brabec – P2
“The liaison section was pretty tough. It was 354 kilometres and the special was only 39 km! I think that today was a bit of a shake-down for the riders, the machines and the crew. The racing hasn’t really begun yet. Tomorrow I think will be different. The humidity and the heat here are insane. You walk outside for thirty seconds and you think that you are melting. It’s taking its toll on the body and, for sure, on the machine too, as you are really pushing it. The heat is a really big factor. It will all come down to saving yourself and saving the machine, to get through the extreme heat and high elevation.”
Posting the fastest time during the day’s short special, Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team rider Xavier de Soultrait was later hit with a one minute penalty that dropped the WR450F mounted rider to 10th overall.
Xavier de Soultrait – P10
“Last year I wasn’t able to finish stage one, so to come out on top during the day’s special feels like a huge redemption. The special was quite dangerous, with both fast and technical parts. I decided to push from the start while trying to avoid any unnecessary risks. I made some good passes and managed to post the fastest time overall. The feeling on my bike is great. This year we’ve decided to race a pretty standard WR450F making just the necessary modifications to make it rally ready. I’m glad I’ve placed myself in a good position for the rest of the race and I’m looking forward to going back at it tomorrow.”
The short stage against the clock let the riders get a feel for the race ahead and gave them the chance to let off a bit of pent up energy over Paraguayan soil.
After two days of administrative red tape at the headquarters of the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol and the Paraguayan Air Force base, the riders finally got to sound the engines in the parc fermé and head up to the capital where the first timed section had been scheduled.
In spite of showers over the past few days, riders even got to raise a bit of dust, all of which the teams took in their stride.
American Ricky Brabec, on the CRF450 Rally, got the show on the road for the Monster Energy Honda Team setting a rapid pace that saw him get to the finish-line and momentarily hold the the fastest time.
Subsequently, both Joan Pedrero and Xavier deSoultrait, the first race leader, posted marginally quicker times before being sanctioned with 1 minute by speeding in a section of radar. Brabec is 12 seconds behind the Catalan rider.
Michael Metge too was looking comfortable and rode a lively, trouble-free special to snatch the second step of the rostrum some 16 seconds adrift of the overall leader before a penalty in a radar section. Metge dropped to eight place.
Michael Metge – P8
“Today was super! We’ve been waiting for this moment for a very long time. I started the special stage very well. I didn’t want to push it too much as it’s only the first day and the terrain was a bit delicate. I found a good pace that I was able to keep up and I made it to the line with a good time that gave me a nice overall position.”
Teammate Paulo Gonçalves, not wanting to miss out on the fun, finished the third fastest Honda rider, with a second spot on the day after the Metge’s penalty.
Paulo Goncalves – P3
“Today we had a short special stage but with a long day. We were at temperatures over forty degrees with only 40 kilometres of timed special but 500 in total. Now we’ve got a good look at how the Dakar is going to be. The important thing is that the sensations are good and we have started very well. This is an advance of what lies ahead. We have to keep pushing because we still have the whole race ahead of us.”
Meanwhile, Spaniard Joan Barreda had a good start after setting off from tenth starting position, rounding off the day with a fifth position after getting held up briefly in a ford.
Joan Barreda – P5
“It was a stage that got tricky halfway through at a ford where I tried to push hard to overtake one of the riders ahead and the engine stopped and I had trouble getting it started straight away. Luckily, I managed to get it started and didn’t lose too much time. After that I attacked the rider in front with a good pace, but it was impossible to get by with the amount of dust that he was raising, and besides, I didn’t want to take any risks. I’m pleased about how I got over a minor problem.”
Fastest of the KTM factory riders over the short timed stage was Sam Sunderland who registered a 28 minute 48 seconds on his KTM 450 Rally to finish sixth only 29 seconds off the fastest pace.
Sam Sunderland – P6
“I’m sure it’s going to be from one extreme to the other, so we’ll see how we go. I didn’t want to be too close to the front because it was a short stage and there was not a lot to gain but much to lose. Tomorrow I’m starting sixth and I’m pretty happy with that. It’s a good way to start the Dakar and we’ll just keep ticking off the days.”
Matthias Walkner was eighth just 42 seconds behind, while Toby Price encountered some dogs on the track and dropped 1:25 to finish 17th in the tight-knit group at the front.
Matthias Walkner – P8
“It was a pretty short stage but it was cool to get back in the rhythm. There was not really any navigation but it was also a long break (from riding) for me so it’s good that it has now started. The track was really bumpy and there were holes and ditches from the rain but on the first day there was not much to win. I think it really starts tomorrow. Now I have a good feeling and I am ready and well prepared.”
Toby Price – P17
“It was good today. I had to lead the stage out and that’s the first time I’ve got to do that at the Dakar. To do it out of Paraguay was really good. I had a couple of pet dogs on the track in the second half and that slowed us down a bit. But all in all I’m only a minute off the lead and its very, very early days and plenty more to go. Paraguay definitely set the tone and to be the first rider out is something I can put down in my own history book. Hopefully we can come back and do plenty more here.
“Winning in 2016 means the target is very definitely on my back. In the Dakar lots of unexpected things can happen and everybody is going to be gunning for me. On the other hand once you have won it once, you know it is possible.”
KTM’s Laia Sanz was 24th trailing by 2.25min. In their brief foray into Paraguay the KTM riders approached the technical and often trial-like tracks with predictable caution, bearing in mind that the result on Monday determined starting positions for a longer stage on Tuesday.
Effectively battling his way through the stage Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team rider Adrien Van Beveren wrapped up day one in 11th place. A little more than a minute behind the overall lead and the Frenchman is well placed for the second day of competition.
Adrien Van Beveren – P11
“Today’s stage was more like a Baja race and I enjoyed it. The terrain was tricky in some parts so we had to be careful. With both fast and technical sections it was quite easy to make mistakes. I’m happy with my time and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. The pressure is off now so the plan is to start pushing tomorrow. It feels great to be back racing the Dakar. There’s people cheering for us in the most remote places and I’m just so happy I am part of this huge adventure.”
Coming home 11 seconds behind his teammate, Italy’s Alessandro Botturi finds himself provisionally placed 13th in the overall standings. Enjoying a trouble-free stage Alessandro is looking forward to tomorrow’s long stage to San Miguel de Tucumán.
Alessandro Botturi – P13
“It was just a short stage today, more like a prologue to what’s following. With the terrain being slippery I decided to take it easy and not push hard so I ended up posting the 13th fastest time overall. It’s still early to make any conclusions as some of the best riders decided to ride safe today. I’m happy I got a good stating position for tomorrow’s stage. My gap to the top is a bit more than one minute, so everything can happen tomorrow. The feeling on my WR450F Rally was great today and I feel very confident to push.”
Riding his own race to the finish of stage one, Rodney Faggotter provisionally placed in 26th position. The Aussie enjoyed a great feeling on his WR450F Rally and is looking forward to continue pushing for the top on tomorrow’s stage two.
Rodney Faggotter – P26
“Today’s stage was good for me. Being the first in this year’s Dakar there was a bit of added stress but luckily everything went good and we got to the end of it in one piece. Despite being short today’s special stage was quite tricky with lots of dangerous parts. I have a great feeling on my bike. We did some testing as soon as we landed in Paraguay last week and since then I’ve made zero changes. There’s still a long way to go until the finish in Buenos Aires so the plan for me is to take one stage at a time. I’m looking forward to giving some more gas tomorrow.”
Riders thus get to leave a sweltering Asunción behind, where the heat and humidity have been unbearable, bound for Resistencia, Argentina, where the rally bivouac is set up and where the second stage starts from.
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