Dakar Teams regather for assualt on final stages
Provisional overall standings:
1. Marc Coma (ESP, KTM) 23:08:00 hrs
2. Joan Barreda (ESP, Honda) +00:42:17
3. Alain Duclos (FRA, Sherco) +01:00:58
4. Jordi Viladoms (ESP, KTM) +01:08:09
5. Jeremias Israel Esquerre (CHL, Speedbrain) +01:33:28
6. Olivier Pain (FRA, Yamaha) +01:43:08
7. Jakub Przygonski (POL, KTM) +01:49:59
8. Helder Rodrigues (PRT, Honda) +02:01:24
9. David Casteu (FRA, KTM) +02:12:05
10. Daniel Gouet (CHL, Honda) +02:17:26
The 2014 edition of the Dakar Rally was billed at the outset as longer, harder and tougher. The first half of this annual motorsports test of strength for both man and machine have lived up to its reputation in every way.
As riders and teams settled into Salta in Argentina’s Andean foothills for the one day of respite in this 9,000 km epic, it was time to gather strength and assess what has been a very tough and eventful first half.
For the Red Bull KTM Factory team, bidding for its thirteenth Dakar title this year, it has been mixed fortunes so far. Three-time Dakar winner Marc Coma has performed to his usual high standard and leads at the half way mark by an impressive 42.17 minutes.
Team Manager Alex Doringer: “The first week was really very difficult. The Dakar is going back to its roots. The rally was very difficult in the past. Last year it was a little bit easier but this year it’s very rough, very dangerous and difficult for the riders and the bikes. Finally we’re happy to arrive at the rest day with Marc in a good lead.”
Although there are often team activities and sponsor obligations on the only day off the bike, Coma said it was very important to get some rest. “We should not forget that the goal is to rest. But there is always the routine: talking to the mechanics, testing the bike if necessary, and mainly preparing the equipment for the final week, which for us is the decisive one.”
At the half way point, Coma’s Factory teammate Jordi Viladoms is well placed at overall fourth and the two remaining KTM-supported riders, Kuba Przygonski of Poland and South Africa’s Riaan van Niekerk continue to improve positions and are currently seventh and fourteenth overall.
Looking back on the first week, the team took an early blow in Tuesday’s Stage Three when Ruben Faria, second in the 2013 edition, crashed out and was forced to retire. On Wednesday KTM-supported rider Ben Grabham of Australia clipped a rock on the top of a mountain while riding in dust and crashed, together with his bike – in his own words “close to 100 meters down the mountain”.
Then factory rider Chaleco Lopez, overall third last year, also crashed on Friday and had to retire, a big disappointment for the Chilean who the team hoped would be riding to the line in Valparaiso as a top finisher. While none of the three riders were able to continue, they did not sustain any serious injuries.
Team Manager Alex Doringer on Chaleco’s high-speed crash: “His accident happened in a canyon and although his Dakar is over, things could have been worse. I think the biggest blow for him will be mentally because these guys train all year for this race. For Chaleco not to be able to ride into Chile at this Dakar will hurt him a lot.”
Other leading teams and riders have also had their share of mixed fortunes as the original field of 196 starters had been reduced to just 94 at the start of Friday’s Stage Six. At the half way mark, there are nine KTM riders in the top 20 of the overall standings.
Looking ahead to the second week, Doringer said the team’s first priority was getting through the second marathon stage, where bikes enter Bolivia for the first time on Sunday and cannot have any outside mechanical help until Monday night.
Alex Doringer: “Bolivia will be tricky. There will be a lot of navigation, it will be very technical, its new for everyone and on top of all that it is also the a marathon stage. It is going to be very difficult and a new experience for everyone.
“First we need to think about the marathon stage, which is again a key, and after that we’ll think about the next stages. We’ll work on a good strategy and use the gap of Marc to make it safe for him. We’ll work day by day as we always do, and we’ll see what comes out at the end.”
The Red Bull KTM Factory team is competing on the brand new KTM 450 RALLY bike, which had its first real test under race conditions at the Morocco Rally in October.
The first week of Rally Dakar 2014 is out of the way, and TEAM HRC is taking a well-deserved day-off before week two of the competition begins.
It was rest day in Salta, Argentina with a lay-in for the riders, which will come as a relief after the early hour starts. Less so for the mechanics who took advantage of the break to go over the machines, while the riders faced the press and the many fans who have travelled up to the Dakar Village to meet them in person.
The members of TEAM HRC already have their sights firmly set on the final part of the rally as the competition enters the unchartered territory of Bolivia. Salar de Uyuni plays host to the opening leg of the Dakar 2014’s second marathon stage.
On paper the team’s overall situation looks positive. Joan Barreda is second overall with two stage wins, and Hélder Rodrigues has fought his way back to eighth place on the leader-board. Javier Pizzolito, too has been working hard for the team and will be looking to climb positions as the number of dunes and sand increases.
Honda is also supporting other riders with the pre-production models which will go on sale to clients in 2014. Honda Argentina Rally Team with Laia Sanz and Pablo Rodríguez improve by the day. The World Trial and Enduro champion is in 19th, and Pablo Rodríguez is in 33rd position.
Martino Bianchi TEAM HRC General Manager
“It really has been one of the most gruelling first parts that we’ve seen in the Dakar in recent years. So many riders, in so many teams, have had problems and 50% of the competitors in the bike section are already out. TEAM HRC, I believe, has been doing a great job, having won three of the of the first six stages, thanks to Barreda and Sunderland. Barreda is second overall and Rodrigues has climbed from twentieth to eighth place, and is now just thirty minutes from fifth place. I’m pleased; we’ve proved that the bike is quick, the riders are fast, and that the team bonds well together. We’ve got a week left, and anything can happen.”
Katsumi Yamazaki TEAM HRC Team Director
“I’m very pleased with the results up until now. We have won three stages and the riders have done a great job. We have lost two riders but they performed well while they were still in. We are second with Joan Barreda and eighth with Hélder Rodrigues. We have also got Javier Pizzolito. Likewise, there are the riders Laia Sanz and Pablo Rodriguez, that Honda are supporting, who are going very well. So I’m very glad about that. Tomorrow we are off again and I hope that our top riders get the best possible results.”
After six very difficult and challenging stages and days, the Yamaha Factory Racing riders had a chance to take a break from their Yamaha YZ450F machines today and relax a little ahead of the second half of the 2014 Dakar Rally.
A promising sixth stage yesterday saw Michael Metge complete the first half of the Rally with his best ever stage finish of third. After some difficult issues in the previous stages, defending champion Cyril Despres enjoyed a positive sixth stage. Starting from 17th Despres worked his way up the time sheets to finish in fifth place. Fellow Yamaha Factory Racing rider Olivier Pain was glad of the rest today after a navigational error left him playing catch up yesterday to finish the sixth stage in 14th position.
Whilst the riders don’t cover any miles on their bikes today, the bivouac is far from quiet with the mechanics flat out rebuilding the bikes while the riders are kept busy sorting out their equipment, treating their blisters and bruises and doing interviews. At 14h00 the road book for tomorrow will be issued and then at 18h00 there will be the briefing. If they are lucky they might at least get an early night. And they will need it as tomorrow they will start the first day of the marathon stage at 4h30 in the morning!
Having dominated the first half of the rally, Yamaha Raptor 700 quad riders were also enjoying a day of rest before continuing their battle to retain the top three positions of the overall standings. After yesterday’s sixth stage, Uruguay’s Sergio Lafuente holds the top spot, Polish rider Rafal Sonik sits in second and local Chilean hero Ignacio Casale sits in third.
“Well it hasn’t been such an easy first week for anybody. The organisers promised us a tough rally and they have more than kept that promise, with a lot of riders, including some of the very best, already out of the race. The fact that we are a new team with a new bike has made the challenge even tougher and we’ve had a couple of problems that have cost us precious time and currently I’m 11th overall at 2h24 from the leader. If my analysis is correct, the second week is going to be even tougher and from my point of view that’s good news. Right now I really don’t know how far I will be able to move up the rankings but if the second week is anything like the first then pretty much anything could happen. The ‘charm’ of the Dakar is that nobody knows the result until the end of the very last stage. What I do know is that I will give everything I’ve got all the way to the end. I’m a racer – that’s the only way I know.”
“I’m obviously disappointed with Cyril’s position. My job is to help him, so if he’s having a hard time I feel the same emotion. One of the many things that has impressed me this week though has been his motivation and his belief in himself. He never gives up and always keeps pushing. For my part I’ve really felt the benefit of all the training I did in the months leading up to the rally. This time last year I was feeling pretty exhausted, but this year, despite the difficult of the race so far, I feel on top form and more than ready for what is to come. That for sure has had an impact on my mental state because I also feel really positive. Cyril has had an important role to play there as well. With just a few well-chosen words he helps me find the right pace and the right attitude.”
“Given the difficulty of the rally so far, just to have made it to the rest day can be considered as an exploit. Even better, this evening I’m 6th overall and 40 minutes away from the podium. And as an added bonus I’m not injured and, the change of engine aside, have had no major mechanical problems. All in all a very positive first week. For the rest of the rally I plan to carry on pretty much in the same way. We’ll need to take care in Bolivia, which will be completely new and could throw up some surprises, especially given that it’s a marathon stage. After that I plan to take the brakes off a little and increase my pace slightly while still maintaining a good margin of safety.”
TOMORROW’S STAGE – Sun, Jan 12 – Stage 7: Salta – Uyuni – Liaison: 373 km – Special: 409 km – Total: 782 km
The second marathon stage will begin for the riders of motorcycles and quad bikes, who will be savouring the first visit of the Dakar to Bolivia. When they enter the country the riders will experience a visual shock and will also be perturbed by the maze of tracks through which they will have to navigate. In these steep mountainous areas, the beauty of the setting and the variety of colours will not make the task ahead any easier. The few villages which will be idly crossed will, on the other hand, provide them with perfect waypoints. To reward their diligence, they will be ab le to head for the bivouac in Uyuni, set up on the edge of the salt flat… at an altitude of 3,600m!