Action and drama in Peru and Bolivia
Dakar 2018 was taking its we earned rest day in La Paz, Bolivia on Friday, leaving time to reflect on a dramatic first week along the Peruvian desert coast before the race turned up to the Andes of Bolivia on Thursday. A week into the rally, many of the pre event favourites are out, while others sit well down the leaderboard after major challenges en route.
South African Gazoo Toyota team driver, Qatari Nasser Al Attiyah scored a psychologically important opening stage win on a short opening stage after Saturday’s ceremonial start. He beat Dutch Toyota teammate Bernard Ten Brinke by 25 seconds, with a surprise as Nicholas Fuchs puts the all-new Borgward in third, from US Dakar rookie Bryce Menzies, his Spanish teammate Nani Roma and South African Hilux hero.
Peugeot made a steady start with 2017 winner Stephane Peterhansel best placed in 11th, but the Peugeots were sandbagging in search of a preferable lower starting position on Sunday. South African privateers, Hennie de Klerk and Gerhard Schutte meanwhile enjoyed a nervous but positive Dakar debut in 52nd in the TreasuryOne Amarok.
2017 winner, Brit Sam Sunderland took the opening bike stage for KTM, 32 seconds clear of French Yamaha rider Adrien van Beveren, with Spaniards Perdo Quintanilla’s Husqvarna and Joan Barreda next up on a Honda — four motorcycle makers in the top four. Early leader Yamaha rider Xavier de Coultrait held onto fifth over KTM man Mattias Walkner. South African Husqvarna star David Thomas ended a brilliant 29th, with compatriots Willem du Toit 86th, Donovan van de Langeberg 98th and Lesotho rider Wessel Bosman and Gerrie van der Byl in 115th and 116th - all of them riding KTMs.
In quad action, Yamaha duo Ignacio Casale and Sergey Karyakin eclipsed upstarts Sebastien Soulday and Kamil Wisnewski, whie truck action saw Ales Loprais striking first blood for Tatra, 22 seconds clear of Dutch driver Martin ten Brinke’s Renault and Russia’s 2017 winner Eduard Nikolaiev third in a Kamaz.
Into the dunes
Sunday’s Day 2 action took in a 267km dune challenge around Pisco — a cruel stage for some, but South Africa’s hopes were high as Giniel de Villiers took fourth for the day, 7 minutes behind a Peugeot 1-2-3 headed French Peugeot trio Cyril Despres, Peterhansel and Sebastien Loeb. Orlando Terranova was fifth for Mini ahead of Carlos Sainz’ Peugeot, while Pretoria’s de Klerk and Schutte had a good day to move up to 30th in the TreasuryOne Amarok.
There was drama for Mini as Dakar rookie Menzies crashed his Mini buggy heavily to retire, while teamamtes Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Boris Garafulic collided in the dunes among the many tales of woe of a rough and tough second day of Dakar 2018…
Barreda took the two wheeler day and the overall lead for Honda ahead of van Beveren, Walkner, Metge, Benavides and Quintanilla, while of the South Africans, Thomas slipped to 58th, van de Langeberg ended 78th, du Toit 95th and van der Byl were 119th and 120th.
Then on Monday, Al Attiyah hit back to deliver a crushing Day 3 win for Toyota as Peterhansel led the Peugeot throng of Sainz, Despres and Loeb, with de Villiers closing the Toyota sandwich in sixth. Ten Brinke was next home from Martin Prokop’s Ford, Jakub Przygonski in the best of the Minis and Lucio Alvarez and SA navigator Rob Howie’s Hilux.
Mini’s Dakar tale of woe continued as Nani Roma crashed out less than a kilometre from the finish line and Mikko Hirvonen lost almost two hours en route, while TreasuryOne privateers de Klerk and Schutte had a good run until a torrid final sector saw then drop back down to 58th. Attiyah’s second stage win of three saw him scramble up the overall leaderboard to third behind Peterhansel and Despres, but ahead of Loeb, de Villiers and Sainz, with the top six split by 15 minutes.
Sunderland rode to a fraught Day 3 bike win, 3 minutes clear of Benevides with Aussie Toby Price’s KTM third ahead of US Rider Ricky Brabec’s Honda, erstwhile leader Quintanilla and Gerard Farres-Guell next up on a KTM. Several riders including frontrunners Walkner, Barreda and Soultrait lost time when they wrong-slotted. Sunderland, Price and Quintanilla all three led at some point in the day to see Sunderland lead Benavides, Quintanilla, Price, Brabec and Walkner overall.
Van de Langeberg was the leading South African biker in 61st, while Thomas ended up 65th, du Toit was 69th and tail enders van der Byl and Bosmanv 112th and 113th. Casale delivered a clean sweep of quad stage wins, beating Peruvian Aexis Hernandes, who put one on the bridesmaid so far, Russian Sergey Kariyakin.
Monday may have been a less dramatic day, but Tuesday saw several key competitors running into trouble on several fronts off a spectacular beach getaway. Peugeot trio Loeb, Sainz and Peterhansel indeed delivered another dominant 1-2-3, but teammate Cyril Despres sat stuck in the desert with his Peugeot’s rear suspension disgorged, while Toyota duo Al Attiyah and de Villiers struggled in the sand with punctures.
That left the way open for Mikko Hirvonen to take a welcome fourth for Mini ahead of a surprise in Italian Eugenio Amos in his 2WD buggy, while away from the madness up front, de Klerk and Schutte kept the TreasuryOne Amarok going strong to end up 47th, with enough time for the team to ready it for Wednesday’s action. Peterhansel — who had not yet won a stage - somehow found himself in the overall lead from Loeb, Sainz, Attiyah and ten Brinke, with de Villiers 8th.
So with Mini’s attack obliterated and Toyota’s effort hobbled, it seemed the Peugeots just needed to keep on trucking to an historic hat trick. But this is the Dakar and anything can happen…
It was no easier on two whees as van Beveren won the day by over five minutes over teammate de Soultrait, Walkner, Quintanila, Slovak Stefan Svitko and Spaniard Oliveiras Carreras as van Beveren bounced up from seventh to take the overall lead from Quintanilla, Benavides, Walkner, Soultrait and Price. It was a tough day for reigning bike champion Sunderland who retired hurt, while Barreda tumbled down to ninth and Price fell to 14th.
SA riders Thomas bounced back up to 39th, du Toit ended 73rd, van de Langeberg 78th and SA’s tail-end heroes, Bosman ended 114th and Gerry van der Byl 117th and last home. There was also a shake-up in the day's quad results, where Karyakin finally overcame Casale to take his first Dakar stage of 2018.
Mr. Dakar strikes
Wednesday’s race to Arequipa saw Peterhansel score his first win to maintain the overall lead. All was not well with his Peugeot teammates however as Loeb lost three hours and threw in the towel and Sainz lost over 18 minutes, but somehow gained a place to second overall in spite of his tardy stage.
Ten Brinke ended up second on the day from de Villiers, Sainz, Al Attiyah, Terranova and Peugeot privateer Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, who was among those to thrive in the tough, sandy early going. De Klerk and Schutte ended 34th for the day to claim 30th overall in the TreasuryOne Amarok.
On two wheels Barreda catapulted back into the sharp end of the overall top ten with a crushing 10 minute victory over Walkner, Benavides, KTM rider Alex Meo, van Beveren, Soultrait and Price as van Beveren led Benavides, Walkner and de Soultrait overall. The SA buke dice saw Thomas ende up 48th, van de Langeberg 59th, and du Toit 79th, but there was more drama in the quad stage as Kariakin crashed out of second, leaving Casale untroubled in the overall lead.
The Dakar left Peru and the desert for Bolivia’s Andres Mountains on Thursday as Sainz dominated from the start to win. Overall leader Peterhansel drove a measured day to fend off the chasing pack headed by Toyota Hilux duo Al Attiyah and de Villiers, Despres’ rebuilt Peugeot, Hirvonen and Ten Brinke, Alvares and Howie, Prokop and Jakub Przygonski’s Mini while Orlando Terranova joined his Mini teammates in retirement and Yazeed Al Arajhi's Mini had to be fished out of the Pacific Ocean. True story.
There was a concertina in the overall results as Sainz narrowed the gap to overall race leader Peterhansel down to 16 minutes 25 seconds, while the Toyotas also closed in on each other, with ten Brinke, Al Attiyah and de Villiers now separated by all of fifteen minutes. De Klerk and Schutte came home 26th in the TreasuryOne Amarok to move up to 32nd overall after spending the day embroiled in a battle for the rookie race lead. They sit second of the rookies - 12 minutes behind fellow debutant, Poe Vaculíc on Thursday evening.
The motorcycles produced a cracking stage as Frenchman Antoine Meo to the win over a dead heat for second between Benavides and Price, followed by Walkner, Soutrait, van Beveren, Barreda and Guell. That saw Benavides into a slender 2-wheeler overall lead over van Beveren, Walkner, de Soultrait, Barreda and Price.
David Thomas reached Lima best of the SA bikers in 58th, with van de Langeberg 64th, du Toit 66th and van der Byl 101st. Thomas ended the week in 49th overall, van de Langeberg 64th, du Toit 65th and van der Byl 101st. Sadly Wessel Bosman opted not to continue on Thursday following a brave effort toward the back of the bike field.
Argentine youngster González Ferioli took his first quad victory while overall leader Ignacio Casale ended fourth to increase his lead in the general standings. Another Argentine, Federico Villagra meanwhile won his second truck stage of 2018 to consolidate his second overall behind Russian Edoard Nikoaiev.
Dakar has been punctuated with its usual off-track sparring too as the Toyotas struggled in the sand causing a war of words with Peugeot who have a perceived advantage in their tyre pressure regulating systems, but otherwise the gruelling race is poised for a gripping second week.
Dakar heads across the Andes to Uyuni on Saturday, with the finish a full week later in Cordoba, Argentina. Follow the action as it happens throughout the week via TreasuryOne’s Daily Dakar Live Blog at www.motorsportmedia.co.za.