Ricky Brabec lead Honda to take four of the top six finishes in Stage 7, Todd Smith an impressive seventh
The Monster Energy Honda Team went all out in the battle for the Rally Dakar 2017 as the squad posts their best podium finish to date, with Ricky Brabec picking up top honours for the first time in the rally, while team-mate Paulo Gonçalves took second spot.
Australian Todd Smith of the Duust Rally Team also took an impressive seventh place for Stage 7, moving him into 15th position overall after the stage. Mathew Hart was 52nd for the stage, moving into 62nd overall.
Although yesterday’s re-routing of the timed sections did little to favour the Monster Energy Honda Team, today’s modified stage nevertheless saw the team in an especially gung-ho spirit, going flat out to achieve their goal.
The result was all four of the team placing amid the top six finishers. The best of the day was Ricky Brabec, clinching his first Dakar stage win in just his second year of participation. A noteworthy achievement for the American who was able to really let rip on the Honda CRF45O Rally, chalking up the day’s fastest time and making up positions in the general rankings.
Ricky Brabec – P1
“Today was good. It was the first day of the marathon after the rest day. The track was good and the navigating went well. There was more off-road than on-road, which is more my style. I’m happy to be here at the finish-line in spite of my slide out in the grass where I went swimming. These bikes are pretty slippery in the mud. I’m happy to come away in one piece, healthy and ready to go tomorrow.”
Sunderland had another very solid and wisely cautious day as he works on his goal to see the finish in Buenos Aires on Saturday. He lost a few minutes just 38 km into the special when he found himself off the track in the dunes but at the end of the day he was able to further build on his leading overall time.
Portuguese team-mate Paulo Gonçalves was on fire today too and made short work of catching up with the rider ahead, before going on to clinch the runner-up spot.
Paulo Goncalves – P2
“Today the stage worked out quite well. I started out behind Sunderland and pushed hard in the beginning without making any navigation mistakes. I did it well and I caught him up at kilometre 60. We rode together at a good pace. Today is the first day of the marathon and I have the bike ready for tomorrow without having to touch anything. This proves that the HRC engineers are doing an excellent job. We will keep battling on to try and make up the one hour sanction that we received. There is still a long way to go.”
Sam Sunderland – P2
“It was a lot harder a stage than we were expecting – there was a lot of navigation. I lost some time today because it was a sandy stage and the guys from the back can see the tracks cleanly. I’m really happy with everything on the bike. It’s the first stage of the marathon day and the tyres are good so we’ll just keep ticking along.”
Joan Barreda, like his team-mates, came out guns blazing in a bid to win the stage. However, a minor error saw him take a parallel route that required more caution and more time. The fourth place on the stage does, however, allow the Spaniard to move two positions up the overall rankings.
Joan Barreda – P4
“It was a very physical stage. Together with Walkner we had a slight deviation on the CAP and we ended up in a very slow off-piste area and lost a bit of time on a route there. Apart from this minor error, the navigation went fairly well. It was a good stage. Now let’s see how the bike holds up, which appears to be going really well. Maybe we will change the tyre as tomorrow is the second part of the marathon stage.”
Putting in one more impressive performance aboard his rally modified WR450F machine Xavier de Soultrait was originally the highest placed Yamaha rider at the end of Stage 7. Demonstrating once again that he has the potential to battle with the international elite of rally riders the Frenchman posted the fifth fastest time during today’s timed special.
Remaining sixth overall, Xavier managed to reduce his gap to the top three by three minutes. He was later penalized six-minutes, regulating him to 14th for the Stage.
Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren, Xavier de Soultrait and Hélder Rodrigues made it to the end of the first half of marathon stage retaining their positions in the provisional overall standings. With Adrien still third, Xavier sixth and Hélder 13th overall. Adrien Van Beveren ended up ninth for the Stage.
Michael Metge was again showing form with fifth place on the day.
Michael Metge – P5
“The special was cut short but it didn’t go badly at all considering how physical it was. There were some areas of camel grass that was very tough. The sand in that section was very soft and although I didn’t fall, I came very close to it. I made a couple of navigation errors and I dropped a bit of time, but on the whole, it wasn’t a bad day for me.”
Walkner also sacrificed a little time at the beginning of the special but managed to recover well and by the end of the stage was even narrow the gap on the leading overall time.
Matthias Walkner – P6
“I wanted to have a good position for tomorrow and I’m pleased it has worked out like this. It was a short stage, but tricky with rough terrain and lots of navigation. We’re set for more difficult navigation this week so the goal is to stay in a good position just off the front. Avoiding mistakes will be the key.”
Pablo Quintanilla hung onto his overall second position after riding out the stage in ninth place. Pela Renet was 11th but advanced one place in the rankings to seventh overall.
Recent heavy rain continues to wreak havoc with the Bolivian road system and subsequently the scheduled Dakar route. Not only did this force the complete cancellation of the sixth stage but it also saw the seventh stage suffer heavy modifications.
The stage was, in the end, raced over half of the originally planned course with a total of 160 kilometres against the clock, rather than the 322 of the programme. Part of today’s stage, between La Paz and Uyuni, featured dune-filled routes that had been scheduled for stage six together with other slippery, mud-soaked stretches.
The rally leaves Bolivia tomorrow and re-enters Argentina. The stage concludes in Salta, home of injured Monster Energy Honda Team rider Kevin Benavides, who will be reunited with his team-mates at the end of the two-day marathon stage.
Riders, of course, are not permitted to receive any kind of outside mechanical assistance, although they can work on the bikes themselves. Riders are camped in Uyuni and the assistance in Tupiza.
Results Stage 7 Dakar 2017
Stage 7 results
BRABEC, Ricky – USA – Monster Energy Honda Team – 2:02’05
GONCALVES, Paulo – POR – Monster Energy Honda Team – +1’44
SUNDERLAND, Sam – GBR – Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team – +4’43
BARREDA, Joan – SPA – Monster Energy Honda Team – +6’51
METGE, Michael – FRA – Monster Energy Honda Team – +8’21
SMITH, Todd – AUS – Duust Rally Team – +9’39
WALKNER, Matthias – AUT – Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team – +9’59
QUINTANILLA, Pablo – CHI – Husqvarna Factory Rally Team – +10’28
VAN BEVEREN, Adrien – FRA – Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team – +10’52
FARRES, Gerard – SPA – Himoinsa Team – +12’22
RENET, Pierre-Alexandre – FRA – Husqvarna Factory Rally Team – +12’35
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