Antoine Meo’s win puts KTM 1-2-3 in the 2016 Dakar Rally standings; Paulo Goncalves withdraws after a serious crash.
Antoine Meo will take the wins, but the French Red Bull KTM rookie in the 2016 Dakar Rally must still have to wonder what it is like to win a stage that has been run in its entirety.
Sweltering temperatures forced an early halt to Stage 11 in the desert between La Rioja and San Juan in Argentina today for the second time in three days, again depriving Toby Price of an opportunity to pad his overall lead. Price was already the fastest rider through Checkpoint 4 when officials elected to halt the race at Checkpoint 2. Meo was credited with his second stage win of the rally (he also won a shortened Stage 7) by virtue of having the fastest time through Checkpoint 2. His time of 5 hours, 19 minutes and 8 seconds was just a mere 18 seconds quicker than Price’s at that point, and Price would overtake Meo on the time chart shortly thereafter, only to see that effort spoiled by another premature stop to the racing.
However, more than just heat took its toll on Team HRC’s Paulo Goncalves today. The factory Honda man apparently got on the wrong track and then crashed hard about 117 kilometers into the timed special and reportedly lost consciousness. Goncalves rider had to be airlifted from the scene, and while his prognosis is unknown as of this post, it is clear that his 2016 Dakar Rally is over. As it was, his hopes for an overall podium in this year’s event were dealt another blow after rally officials slapped him with another 50 minutes in time penalties for failing to leave a checkpoint on time after suffering his mechanical woes during Stage 9. Competitors are required to leave a checkpoint no more than 15 minutes after they arrive, but Goncalves spent more than an hour at one checkpoint while trying to make repairs to his machine. Of course, that hardly matters now in light of his injury and subsequent exit. It marks the fourth time in his 10 Dakar appearances that Goncalves has been forced to withdraw before the finish.
Meo now has two stage wins in his rookie Dakar appearance, and today’s win allowed him to surpass Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla for third overall in the rally standings.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It was a tough day for navigation. I caught up with Paulo [Gonçalves] Pablo, then he crashed, but I made a little mistake: I crashed before the first refuelling. After the refueling it was very tough for navigation, but I did a very good job. I reached the right waypoint at the right moment, so I think I’m also lucky but I’m very happy with the victory today. We’ll look tonight to see what’s going on and what we do. It’s sure that the gap is becoming much smaller, but we’ll see what we decide tomorrow.”
It isn’t over yet, but Price, remains comfortably ahead of Slovnaft KTM’s Stefan Svitko in the overall standings—Svitko finished seventh today—and Price is now just two stages away from earning his first career Dakar Rally motorcycle win in just his second appearance.
“We’ve had a good day,” Price said. We started third and at about the 180 kilometer mark we got on to the front and led the way. The most difficult part was how hot it was. On the last probably 50 to 80 kilometers it was starting to heat up really bad again. We just couldn’t get any airflow. It was a tough day, but it’s just good to be here at the finishing line.
But even though he is one day closer to rolling triumphantly into Buenos Aires, Price isn’t taking anything for granted just yet.
“I can’t smell victory yet, not yet,” he said. “I won’t smell victory until I cross the finishing line on the last day. It’s been hard on the bikes today. There’s been a lot of hot weather. The bike is still going really well, there’s no water leaking or anything. It still feels strong, so we’re in a good spot. Meo put in a good time today. He got the stage win and beat me by 18 seconds. But it’s all good, we’ve made a bit of time on the overall second-placed rider, which is our main goal, and hopefully the next two days we can take it a little bit easier. At the moment it looks like a few people are a little bit lost and have lost some time, so it will be interesting to see once everyone has crossed the line today to see exactly where everybody is at. Maybe the podium positions may have changed around a bit by the end of the day.”
Indeed, while Price is in the catbird seat for the rally win, for now, the battle for the final podium spot appears to be coming down to three riders: Meo, Quintanilla and Honda South America’s Kevin Benavides. Quintanilla again finished third today, 2 minutes and 48 seconds behind Meo, and that was enough to drop the Chilean from the top three in the overall standings. Meanwhile, Benavides trailed in sixth, 12 minutes and 13 seconds off the winner’s pace, behind Yamaha riders Helder Rodrigues and Adrien Van Beveren. Quintanilla is now 1 minute and 33 seconds behind Meo with two stages remaining. Benavides is fifth, another 11 minutes and 46 seconds behind Quintanilla, who had to battle with bike issues for the second day in a row.
“It was a really tough day,” Quintanilla said. “At the beginning I tried to push very hard until the refueling. I think I gained some time, but then I had a problem with the rear brake. It was really difficult and dangerous to maintain the grip and the bike in the right position. In the end it was really hard with a lot of stones and rivers, so it was a really tough stage, but I’m happy to finish the day. The race continues and we have to keep calm and try to do the best.”
America had a good day with two Yanks finishing in the top 11—not quite the top 10 but close enough. Ian Blythe, who rides a KTM backed by the Rally Pan Am team, finished a career high eighth in today’s stage, while Team HRC’s Ricky Brabec just missed out on the top 10, finishing 11th, behind Himoinsa Racing KTM’s Gerard Farres Guell of Spain.
2016 Dakar Rally
La Rioja to San Juan, Argentina
Results: January 14, 2016 (stage 11 of 13)
1. Antoine Meo (FRA)-KTM/5 hours, 19 minutes, 8 seconds
2. Toby Price (AUS)-KTM/+00:00:18
3. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL)-Hus/+00:02:48
4. Helder Rodrigues (PRT)-Yam/+00:06:02
5. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA)-Yam/+00:12:09
6. Kevin Benavides (ARG)-Hon/+00:12:13
7. Stefan Svitko (SVK)-KTM/+00:12:29
8. Ian Blythe (USA)-KTM/+00:21:28
9. Jordi Viladoms (ESP)-KTM/+00:25:29
10. Gerard Farres Guell (ESP)-KTM/+00:27:07
11. Ricky Brabec (USA)-Hon/+00:28:05
2016 Dakar Rally Overall Standings (after 11 of 13 stages)
1. Toby Price (AUS)-KTM/40 hours, 8 minutes, 30 seconds
2. Stefan Svitko (SVK)-KTM/+00:35:23 (1-minute time penalty)
3. Antoine Meo (FRA)-KTM/+00:43:46
4. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL)-Hus/+00:45:19
5. Kevin Benavides (ARG)-Hon/+00:57:05
6. Helder Rodrigues (PRT)-Yam/+01:02:01 (2-minute time penalty)
7. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA)-Yam/+01:33:46
8. Ricky Brabec (USA)-Hon/+01:39:55
9. Gerard Farres Guell (ESP)-KTM/+01:41:58
10. Armand Monleon (ESP)-KTM/+03:09:44