With the race now at its halfway point, riders get to enjoy some downtime and a chance to take stock of the intense, event-filled first week, before setting off again tomorrow for Stage 7. The next stage includes a 402 km special, with 100 km of dunes, while navigation is likely to be a challenge, as the stakes get higher as the remaining stages dwindle.
Here’s what the riders and teams have to say, heading into the second week, with Sam Sunderland leading the standings and Australians Daniel Sanders and Toby Price sitting in third and 12th respectively.
GasGas a dominant force so far
With Sam moving into the provisional lead early on and Daniel Sanders claiming two stage victories to now lie third in the provisional standings, it’s been an incredible week for the GasGas Factory Racing competitors. Brit Sunderland has managed the race perfectly to hold onto the provisional lead for five consecutive days.
Sam Sunderland – P1
“I’m happy to have reached the rest day safely and in the lead. It’s been a great first week besides my crash on stage four. My neck and shoulder were a little sore after that one but it’s been getting better day by day and it’s not effecting my riding too much. I’m looking forward to the second week of racing. Everything to this point with my bike and navigation has been where it needs to be so the goal is for this to continue next week and then we should be somewhere handy next Friday.”
Daniel Sanders has not only impressed with two stage victories, but he’s given his all each and every day to stay up front in the overall classification. He even took a navigation tower screen to the chin after sending it a little too far off the top of a sand dune!
Daniel Sanders – P3
“It’s been a really up and down first week with a few mistakes along the way but there have been plenty of positives to come out of it. My navigation is much better this year, my bike set-up is spot on and my riding, and overall speed, has definitely improved compared to last year. I’m actually a little surprised with my speed and I’m happy with all the improvements that I’ve made so yeah, it’s been a solid first week. The ultimate goal is to win this thing but getting on the podium would be cool too so we’ll see how it goes next week.”
Norbert Stadlbauer – Rally Team Manager
“It’s been a great week for both Sam and Daniel and today, along with the rest of the team, we’re enjoying the event’s rest day ahead of week two. The performance that both riders have put in this week has been simply amazing. Sam has the experience and is managing the race very well at the moment, and Daniel has two stage wins, which is a great achievement. Going into week two, as a team we need to stay ready, keep doing the right things, and carry the momentum that has built this week into next week. We have great bikes, our riders are positioned very well in the standings, and so we are set to have another great week of racing.”
Matthias leads KTM Factory efforts in P2
Matthias Walkner is well-placed to attack the final six days of racing at this year’s Dakar. Lying second overall, less than three minutes behind the leader after 20 hours of racing, Matthias knows a solid finish at each and every stage of the final week will be key to securing a second victory at the iconic event.
Matthias Walkner – P2
“It’s been a good week for me. It took me a little time to get settled on the bike because I hadn’t ridden the new version so much, but with the help of the team, we made some really positive changes and I’m super happy with how things are now. I’m healthy, I haven’t had any big crashes, so I’m ready to keep pushing in the second week. It has been a tough rally so far – they always try to make things difficult in terms of navigation and slow things down a little, so I’m expecting more of the same from Sunday onwards, as it seems the terrain will be far more technical. Consistency is the most important thing, with so many riders so close on time, you can’t really afford to make a mistake that costs you 30 minutes or so. I’ve really been trying to focus on my roadbook on every stage, and so far, it’s paying off.”
Stage 1B of the Dakar – the first full stage ridden by competitors – threw up a huge surprise in terms of the incredibly precise navigation required to successfully make it through the special. With one particularly tricky note in the roadbook not only catching out the experienced Kevin Benavides and Toby Price, but also half the RallyGP field, many riders lost time on that first stage and were forced to play catch-up as the event continued. Kevin and Toby currently lie eighth and 12th respectively at the Dakar’s halfway stage, but with week two promising to require even more precise roadbook skills, they could easily make up the time required to challenge the race leaders.
“It’s been a mixed first week for me, but overall, I’m happy with how I have ridden. Losing time on that first day was always going to be hard, but since then I have had a good pace and things have gone a lot better. My confidence with the bike is improving all the time, so I really believe I’m in a good position to attack the second week. If the first week was all about long, fast stages, I think these next six days will be all about the navigation. The roadbook this year has some differences in it day by day and that only makes it even tougher for us. The rain we have had here has also made the stages trickier to navigate – I think the key to doing well from here to the finish will be taking time and making less mistakes than everyone else. For me, I think that suits my style, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Toby Price – P12
“It’s been a very up and down first week for me. After day one I’ve been racing hard to try and get back on terms with the others, and so far, it’s going well. It’s been a tricky first week and so I’m expecting much of the same in week two – hopefully I’ve had my share of bad luck already so I can look forward to something good over the next six days. The organizers have really tried to make things tough for us this year, which is what we expected, the key is to try and stay smooth and stay on top of the roadbook and all the little changes. Looking ahead, I’m feeling good physically, I’ve only had one little tip off and that is important at the rest day – it leaves you fit and free to really attack the second half of the race. Hopefully, if all goes well, some of the others ahead will makes some mistakes as the fatigue sets in and I can capitalize on that at the right time.”
Danilo Petrucci went through a lot on the run up to his first Dakar Rally. An injured ankle sustained in training, followed by a positive Covid-19 test, both looked like they might put an end to the Italian’s race before it started. However, once cleared to race, the former MotoGP™ rider immediately showed what he was capable of, demonstrating immense speed and skill on the stages. A small technical issue was enough to force his withdrawal from stage two, but the friendly racer bounced back in style, even taking an impressive stage win on day five. Looking ahead to the second week, Danilo’s goal remains the same – head out, have fun, and enjoy his time on the bike.
Danilo Petrucci – Ineligble for standings
“It’s hard to put into words my emotions after what has happened over the last few weeks. From nearly missing out on the race to taking my first stage win – it feels like I have already lived a lifetime here at the Dakar. Everything has been new – the bike, the style of race, and I have to say it has been the most demanding thing I have ever done in my life. For sure my goal is to finish the race, but I have already enjoyed an incredible experience here, and I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to do it. I’m looking forward to the next week, it’s going to be tough, every day is very tiring, and I am learning all the time with the terrain and the navigation. Already, I am the first one in history to win a MotoGP race and a stage of the Dakar, so I have completed that goal, all that is left for now, is to enjoy the rest of the race.”
Norbert Stadlbauer – Rally Team Manager
“I’m really happy with the whole team so far at what has been an incredibly tough Dakar. The bikes are working well, and all of our riders have been impressive this year. Thankfully, everyone has arrived at the rest day physically well, but also with options going ahead. Matthias is in a really good position, lying second in the standings, hopefully he can continue doing exactly what he has been doing to the end of the race, and that should put him in with a good shout at the podium. Kevin and Toby lost some time early on, but they have both already fought their way back towards the top 10. They also both have the skill, speed, and experience to do well in the second week. Finally, Danilo has been incredible, we knew he would be able to hold his own offroad, but for him to take a stage win, is very impressive. Looking ahead to next week, the atmosphere in the team is really good and positive. We have strategies for all the riders and hopefully, if everything goes to plan, we can put them into place and earn some strong results at the end of the event. Obviously, the goal is to win, so we will give it our all on the second week.”
Van Beveren top Monster Energy Yamaha rider
The Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team had a week of mixed fortunes for the three-rider squad. Undoubtedly, the impressive form shown by Adrien Van Beveren has been incredibly positive, and after six stages he remains in contention for the overall victory thanks to his fourth place ranking in the provisional overall classification.
For Andrew Short, since having to deal with a tough first stage of the rally, the American has demonstrated exceptional rally racing skills to work his way up the leaderboard to now lie in 11th place. Frustratingly, just as Ross Branch was finding his flow, cruel luck struck with a crash on stage six ending his time at the Dakar.
Alexandre Kowalski – Yamaha Europe Off-Road Racing Manager
“The first week at the Dakar was going very well for the team until Ross had an unfortunate crash yesterday. It’s a real shame as he was just getting into his stride after placing second on stage five. It’s frustrating yet fortunately he is ok, just a big haematoma on his leg. Otherwise, with Adrien fighting for the lead all week, we cannot ask for anything more. He is riding really well, he has the experience, and he is putting together a really strong rally so far. Andrew is doing the same and is riding very well. It’s just a big shame about what happened on stage one as he has posted some really impressive stage results since then and for sure he would be much closer to the front without that problem he had. It effected many riders and it’s just unfortunate. Despite the problems, the team spirit is really high after week one and now we can all enjoy the rest day, catch up on some sleep, and relax as much as possible. The mechanics will prepare the bikes for week two, the riders will prepare themselves, and then I really believe that we will have a strong second week of racing as we make our way to the finish line in Jeddah.”
Monster Energy Honda well-placed heading into week two
Pablo Quintanilla is currently the best of the Monster Energy Honda Team bunch, fifth in the general standings, 15’43 behind the overall race leader. With one week to go, the Chilean rider is well-placed to stage an attack on the rally leadership in the coming stages.
With two stage wins and holding on to his position, Joan Barreda lies in ninth place, 26 minutes behind the leader. A manageable gap, although it remains to be seen how the Spanish rider’s shoulder injury – sustained on stage 5 – will stand up.
José Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Cornejo and Ricky Brabec are currently among the 2022 Dakar top fifteen, although with their timesheets a little too compromised to be able to close the gap on the frontrunners. Yet both riders know that the Dakar often affords the opportunity to claw back big differences from their rivals. Monster Energy Honda Team riders will be hoping that the second week of racing will be characterised by demanding navigation, that could offer the chance to whittle down time and make up places.
Ruben Faria – General Manager
“We came to the Dakar with the ambition of winning the rally for the third time in a row. We have good riders, the team is great and the bikes have been flawless. We started the rally well, but in stage 1B there was a complication with a difficult waypoint. What we have to do is try to make up the time lost by our riders. After the first day, we had to change the team’s strategy a bit and we are going to take it one day at a time. We know that results are like a rubber band, that one day you are in the front and the next you are in the back. We have arrived at this rest day with all four riders still in the race and with the bikes in perfect condition. Joan has hurt his shoulder a bit, but he is in the race. Pablo is our best-placed rider, and tomorrow he will start behind some of his rivals and try to gain some time on them. Nacho will also start behind and, if he stays focused, he could make up a lot of time. We will assess where we are each day and take it from there. Ricky is also a very strong rider who didn’t get off to the best of starts; those ups and downs don’t always agree with him, but he is improving and only time will tell. The important thing is that, at the moment, the race is at its halfway point, there is still another week to go and our riders are in good shape to stage an attack. In the Dakar things always happen and we have to be ready to take advantage of those moments.”
Luciano Benavides keeps Husqvarna’s hopes alive
Luciano has delivered strong, consistent results with the minimum of mistakes to lie 17th overall heading into the second week of racing. Top-10 results on stages four and five show that Benavides is definitely on the pace and gelling well with the latest version of the FR 450 Rally.
Lying eighth at the close of stage four, and still very much in the hunt for an overall podium result, Skyler Howes unfortunately suffered a crash on Thursday’s stage five. Although the American was able to make it to the end of the special, medics insisted he was taken to hospital for assessment, where thankfully no serious injuries were found. Although Skyler won’t play any further part in the 2022 Dakar, he is expected to make a fast and full recovery and be back riding soon.
Luciano Benavides – P17
“Looking back over my first week at this year’s Dakar gives me a mixture of feelings. On one hand, losing so much time on the first day, with that tricky note in the roadbook, really put me on the back foot straight away. On the other hand, I’m really happy with how I have been riding and navigating through the rest of the race – if it wasn’t for that first day I would be right up there with the leaders, and that’s really encouraging going into the second week. In terms of my feeling and riding, I think it’s my best Dakar ever, so far. The bike is working good and the team are doing a great job. I also believe I am better prepared mentally this year. It has meant I’m able to keep a good rhythm for the entire stage, and in turn that means there’s less chance of making a mistake. Looking ahead to week two, I think the navigation will be the biggest challenge. From previous years the rocky sections and the canyons have always been difficult to navigate through accurately and a wrong turn can end up costing a huge amount of time. The goal for the second week is to treat it like a new race – forget about the times and put in six really strong days. Hopefully then I can get some strong stage results and prove that I am capable of fighting for the top places.”
Andrew Houlihan Update
Aussie rider Andrew Joseph Houlihan was been forced to withdraw from the 2022 Dakar Rally, after a nasty obstacle on the drama-filled Stage 5 re-inflamed his pre-existing injuries, with a request for pain killers of the medical officials leading to their decision not to allow him to continue, with the health of competitors clearly a top priority.
“My Dakar came to an end today. Not by my choice. The medical staff and officials will not let me continue due to my rib fractures. Today’s stage started well and I was feeling really good, had perfect navigation, passed many bikes and had worked my way up in 62nd position. The track was very fast with some rocks and stones littered in the sand. I misjudged a small section with a deep hole. I hit it very hard at high speed but did not come off, just jarred my upper body really bad. It was only 20km until the refuelling point so I rode in very slowly. I asked the medical team for some pain medication and they wanted to know what I needed it for. I made the mistake of mentioning rib and chest pain. They then started feeling my rib area and poking to see were the pain was which didn’t go very well. After a long discussion / argument I had to accept their decision to not allow me to continue in the race. I argued the point with them for quite a while but their decision was final and for good reasons. This Dakar was always going to be a big challenge for me but I was getting through the days without too much trouble taking my time and trying to enjoy it.
“The terrain is so demanding you have to stay focused 100% for every second as the smallest mistake can have severe consequences and the speed you have to ride at is just crazy. The sand and dunes are like nothing we have in Australia so to train and prepare for Dakar you need to be in the sand and dunes in Africa or Saudi Arabia, something I didn’t get the chance to do prior to this Dakar, although yesterday I had a great rhythm and flow through the larger dunes and really enjoyed them. Katie and I will continue on with our Nomadas Adventure team for the remainder of the Dakar, with Pablo Guillen (#35 – KTM) and Vasileios Boudros (#147 – Husqvarna) our 2 riders still in the race. Let’s hope 2022 will be a year that I can fully recover and come back to Dakar 2023 injury free and 100 per cent fit.”
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