Stage 2 saw an epic battle fought between road opener and Stage 1 winner Kevin Benavides (Monster Energy Honda) and Yamaha’s new recruit Ross Branch (Monster Energy Yamaha Rally) who started down in 13th place. Despite the pressure of finding the way, Benavides led for much of the special and very nearly achieved the rally-raid holy grail of winning from the front.
In the end a crash in which he hurt his arm and a 2-minute time penalty for missing a waypoint put paid to his hopes and saw Branch take the stage win. Also starting far back, Toby Price (Red Bull KTM Factory) got up to third but eventually fell back to fifth, meaning that an impressive Lorenzo Santolino (Sherco TVS Rally Factory) took second for the stage. That saw Adrien Van Beveren (Monster Energy Yamaha Rally) moved up to third, with Kevin Benavides fourth at 2’42.
A clearly delighted Ross Branch is obviously stoked with his new French-based team and effortlessly making the transition from promising privateer to factory team front runner.
“Yeah really good day today. I tried to slow down a bit because yesterday I think I was pushing too hard. The tracks are a little bit slippery and I know the guys at the front are really quick. I just had some fun today and tried to navigate and not miss any waypoints. The Yamaha is going amazing and I’m really happy with the team and the position we’re in. Learning everyday for Dakar – that’s the main goal. It feels awesome to get a stage win! It was a great day, I set off steady, minimising mistakes as these can prove costly. Everything is on point. My bike, navigation, and I’m just pumped to take the win today. It’s a great feeling and sets me up for another strong day tomorrow.”
In the overall standings, Benavides can find consolation in the fact he maintains the overall lead 2’52 ahead of Santolino with Van Beveren third at 5’30. Ross Branch moves up to fourth at 8’45.
“It was a very good stage for me. I started out very focused. I was doing very well over the first 100 kilometres, opening the track but opening a gap from the rest. Two kilometres before the finish of the first part I had a small fall, scratching my arm a little. I slowed down a bit for the rest of the stage, but I did well. I think finishing second today is a great job. We will try to keep progressing and try to finish as best we can.”
Another rider who impressed over the 243 km special was Sherco TV Factory Rally pilot Lorenzo Santolino. Starting behind Joan Barreda (Monster Energy Honda) is never a disadvantage, but when he made a mistake Santolino took over and maintained his position for the remainder of the special.
“I had a great day. I was behind Barreda and he made a mistake so I passed ahead of him. I rode my own race, controlled the rhythm. Then Kevin fell and I just concentrated to getting to the finish without any problems.”
Coming back from his Dakar injury, that many predicted could put an end to his career, Adrien Van Beveren (Monster Yamaha Rally Team) again showed consistency to finish well up the rankings, proving he is once more very much in contention.
Adrien Van Beveren
“Today’s stage was good. I started off near the front so there were very few lines. I took my time, stopping to check the roadbook a couple of times to make sure I was heading in the right direction. I lost some time doing this, but it was a better option than going off course. I’m not pushing too hard, it’s still early in the race and I’m riding safe and fast, so I’m happy. My navigation was good so I look forward to another strong day tomorrow.”
Toby Price had to ride through the dust from the competitors ahead in order to make up time and despite the disadvantage, the Australian was able to fight his way through to third at the stage’s halfway point. A small mistake cost Price some time in the second part of the special, but the former Dakar winner held on for fifth at the finish, putting him a strong position moving forward..
“Day two has gone a little better, but the rally is certainly proving to be quite a challenge. A lot of people had some crashes today, including Sam and Matthias, so the main goal, as ever, is to get to the finish unscathed and on two wheels. I’m pleased with how I rode, it wasn’t easy starting further back and having to deal with the dust, but the result is ok. Two days left now so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Fellow Australian and KTM Factory Racing rider Daniel Sanders continues to learn and gain knowledge onboard his KTM 450 RALLY. Putting in an excellent performance on his second-ever competitive rally stage, Sanders placed 11th, despite a couple of crashes along the way. Now with the rally at its halfway stage, Daniel is starting to settle into the race and looks forward to more solid results from the remaining two stages.
“Today has been good, it was easier for me starting at the back and being able to follow the lines, so that made things easier to navigate. I started off really well but made a mistake quite early on – the tape was down and the layout didn’t match what I had on the roadbook – I think a few people got lost there. I did have a couple of crashes, but generally I found that I could get into a good rhythm today and find a nice flow. We repeated part of yesterday’s stage too, so it was good to be able to push there. I’m feeling good, and the bike has been great – looking forward to tomorrow now.”
Retirements include Sam Sunderland (Red Bull KTM Factory) who pulled out after crashing and hurting his arm and Joaquim Rodrigues (Hero Motorsports) who was forced to pull out of the special with an electrical fault. He will restart tomorrow.
Jordi Viladoms – KTM Rally Team Manager
“It’s been another tricky stage here for everyone. Toby did very well, coming from behind through all the dust and he was able to make a good result. Matthias, Sam, and Daniel all had crashes today, Sam’s was very early in the stage, and unfortunately it was impossible for him to continue. Thankfully, nothing is broken and so for him, we can continue preparing for Dakar. Matthias and Daniel have really good speed, but we can see, the rally is more of a challenge than we thought, with many broken tracks and dust. We will continue to do our best and hope for a strong result at the finish.”
Friday’s stage three of the 2020 Andalucia Rally, the penultimate of the event, will see competitors cover a total of 434 kilometers. A single timed special of 300 kilometers will once again test riders’ skill and judgement as they navigate through the Spanish tracks and farmland.
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