Dakar 2017 – Stage 9 Cancelled – Sunderland maintains his leads

Riders on Tuesday crossed the border from Bolivia to Argentina on their way from Uyuni to Salta as the rally turns east towards Saturday’s finish in Buenos Aires.

Dakar 2017 - Stage 8 - Sam Sunderland - Image: Marcin Kin
Dakar 2017 – Stage 8 – Sam Sunderland – Image: Marcin Kin

Once again race direction were forced to make changes to the stage before the start as a consequence of torrential rain in the region and rising water levels in rivers that riders had to pass through.

But there was worse to come for the Dakar caravan. There was a massive landslide on the liaison road some 40km north of Jujuy, and 160km from Salta, which caused considerable damage to a village along the way, according to Argentinian civil security.

While the leading group of riders competed the stage, many riders, support teams and vehicles were stranded and eventually Dakar vehicles, competitors, assistance and logistics were diverted over a much longer route and some were not due to reach Salta in time for the start of Stage 9.

Dakar 2017 - Stage 8 - Matthias Walkner - Image: Marcin Kin
Dakar 2017 – Stage 8 – Matthias Walkner – Image: Marcin Kin

The Stage 9 was therefore cancelled. The plan is now to regroup the Dakar caravan in time to start the Thursday from Chilecito to San Juan.

All KTM factory riders completed the timed special on what was, according to Matthias Walkner, a very difficult day’s ride. Walkner is now overall fourth and has a possible podium finish in his sights.

Dakar 2017 - Stage 8 - Matthias Walkner - Image: Marcin Kin
Dakar 2017 – Stage 8 – Matthias Walkner – Image: Marcin Kin
Matthias Walkner

“The stage up to the first checkpoint was a bit about tactics because that was to decide the starting order for Stage 9, so to be fourth at that point was okay. Then I tried to make up some time over the last 250 km and it was good enough for second place. It was very cold and it rained and there was a lot of fog in the early morning. We could only see about 10-15 meters. There was also a lot of flooding and in some places deep mud.”

Sam Sunderland continues to take the careful approach on the KTM 450 Rally to his ride to try to further build on his overall lead of almost 21 minutes over second placed Chilean rider Pablo Quintanilla.

The cancelation of Stage 9 will further enhance Sunderland’s chances of at good end result because his closest opponents will have one day less to narrow the gap to the leader.

Thursday and Friday however still present very challenging days as the rally approaches the finish on Saturday at Buenos Aires. In the Dakar Rally anything can still right up to the finish line.

Dakar 2017 - Stage 8 - Sam Sunderland - Image: Marcin Kin
Dakar 2017 – Stage 8 – Sam Sunderland – Image: Marcin Kin
Sam Sunderland

“I don’t want to think about victory at all. We’ve got a long way to go and the state of the overall standings can change in one day. You can lose so much time. I think that’s the Dakar – everybody is going to have problems at some point and I think it’s how you manage them, how you can stay safe and try to not lose such big, big amounts of time. I think you win it on the bad days, not on the good days.”

The cancelled ninth stage, the so-called ‘Super Belen’, planned for almost 1,000 km, and with very difficult navigation, was to have been a possible game changer in this year’s rally.

Dakar 2017 - Stage 8 - Pablo Quintanilla
Dakar 2017 – Stage 8 – Pablo Quintanilla

The cancellation also cuts back on Quintanilla’s possibilities of narrowing the almost 21-minute gap in the overall standings to current race leader Sunderland. Quintanilla now has about a seven minute overall advantage over third placed French rider Adrien Van Beveren.

Dakar 2017 - Stage 8 - Adrien Van Beveren
Dakar 2017 – Stage 8 – Adrien Van Beveren

Making a cautious start to the special stage, Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team’s Adrien Van Beveren went on to post the 11th fastest time of the day. With four stages left to be contested in this year’s Dakar Rally the Frenchman is still holding on to a very strong third place in the rally’s provisional overall standings.

Attacking today’s second part of the marathon stage, WR450F mounted Xavier de Soultrait was the highest placed Yamaha rider. Involved in some great battles with the fastest riders of the day, the Frenchman wrapped up the stage in ninth to retain his impressive sixth place in the provisional overall standings.

Dakar 2017 - Stage 8 - Xavier de Soultrait
Dakar 2017 – Stage 8 – Xavier de Soultrait
Alexandre Kowalski – Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team director

“This Dakar is proving to be super tough for everybody. The heavy rainfall during the last few days has created lots of problems in northern Argentina. Along with our riders who’ve been battling to retain their positions in the overall standings, it’s also been a hard day for support crews. With all main roads covered in mud, it was impossible for us to reach Salta before midnight. Stage nine has been cancelled so at 5:00am on Wednesday morning we will take the road to Chilecito. The race will resume there on Thursday morning. Overall, we’re really happy our riders got to the end of this gruelling marathon stage without any major changes in their positions in the overall. Adrien and Xavier are still third and sixth respectively and Hélder dropped to 16th. Our focus now is on the remaining three competitive stages. Every day that goes by we get one step closer to our goal. We will continue giving our best until we reach the end in Buenos Aires.”

Australian Todd Smith took 19th in Stage 8, with 15th in the overall standings, while Mathew Hart took a strong 39th for the Stage, moving into 55th overall.

Dakar 2017 - Stage 8 - Mathew Hart
Dakar 2017 – Stage 8 – Mathew Hart – Image: All Hart Racing Facebook

Mathew Hart’s wife Kate shared this message on the All Hart Racing Facebook:

“Matt will give an update on stage 8 soon but he finished in 39th which means he is now sitting in 55th overall! Today is our nine year wedding anniversary and all I want for our anniversary is that he finishes Dakar… and places in the top 40! This man is the most inspirational person I know and everything he has ever set his mind on he not only achieves he smashes it! There are two little people that are going to grow up knowing that what ever they dream of they can achieve. Everyone that knows Matt knows he is going to finish this. Words cannot express how amazing all of your support for Matt has been throughout this and from the bottom of our hearts thank you!”

Stage 8 Overall Standings
  1. Sunderland Sam – GBR – Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team – KTM 22:01’08
  2. Quintanilla Pablo – CHI – Husqvarna Factory Rally Team – Husqvarna +20’58
  3. Van Beveren Adrien – FRA – Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team – Yamaha +28’49
  4. Walkner Matthias – AUT – Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team – KTM +34’14
  5. Farres Gerard – SPA – Himoinsa Team – KTM +34’24
  6. de Soultrait Xavier – FRA – Viltais Racing Team HFP – Yamaha +50’10
  7. Renet Pierre-Alexandre – FRA – Husqvarna Factory Rally Team – Husqvarna +1:08’09
  8. Goncalves Paulo – POR – Monster Energy Honda Team – Honda +1:08’34
  9. Barreda Joan – SPA – Monster Energy Honda Team – Honda +1:10’53
  10. Rodrigues Joaquim – POR – Hero Motorsports Team Rally – Hero +1:36’00
  11. Caimi Franco – ARG – Honda South America Rally Team – Honda +1:51’15
  12. Brabec Ricky – USA – Monster Energy Honda Team – Honda +1:52:31
  13. Metge Michael – FRA – Monster Energy Honda Team – Honda +1:53’34
  14. Duplessis Martín – ARG – Asistencia Med – KTM +2:00’34
  15. Smith Todd – AUS – Duust Rally Team – KTM +2:01’56

55. Mathew Hart – AUS – All Hart Racing Husqvarna