Helder Rodrigues gave Yamaha its first stage win of 2016, but Toby Price is almost sure to become the first Australian ever to win the Dakar Rally.
Yamaha Factory Racing Yamalube’s Helder Rodrigues obviously had higher hopes for his first Dakar Rally since returning to the “bLU cRU,” but even though the rally in general has not gone his way, the Portuguese rider finally broke through and gave Yamaha its first win of 2016 in the Dakar Rally’s penultimate stage from San Juan to Villa Carlos Paz in Argentina today.
Rodrigues shined in the longest stage of the rally, which included 450 kilometers of transfer sections and 481 kilometers of timed special. The battle for the stage win was actually cause for some excitement, as Rodrigues, Honda South America’s Kevin Benavides and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla duked it out for the victory. Quintanilla was the leader though Checkpoint 1, but then Benavides and Rodrigues took over, battling back and forth for the stage lead. Rodrigues began to tilt the battle in his favor about 344 kilometers into the timed special when he passed Waypoint 8 with a 2-minute and 41-second lead over Benavides while Quintanilla fell back a total of 4 minutes and 1 second by then. At the finish, Rodrigues was 4 minutes and 32 seconds ahead of the second-placed man, and he also moved up to fifth place overall.
“For me it was a great day,” Rodrigues said. “I tried to push and to fight a little bit. I had a better second week. On my first week I was sick. At the beginning of this week I took out my shoulder, but now I am okay. Today I could push. I was riding a lot, having a lot of fun, passing Toby [Price[ and [Antoine] Meo. It was fine, really nice, a really nice day for me. I was riding fast and safely. For me it’s good, and for Yamaha it is very good to win this day. I tried to push a bit and take the fifth place in the overall ranking. But the important thing today was to ride fast and safely.”
And who was that runner-up? It was neither Benavides nor Quintanilla, but rather the man who is all but set to be crowned as king of the motorcycles in this year’s Dakar Rally, Red Bull KTM’s Toby Price. The Australian rode another cool, calm and collected stage, adding to his overall lead on Slovnaft KTM’s Stefan Svitko. Price’s strategy of lying in wait early and then attacking in the crucial sections has mirrored that of mentor and former fellow KTM factory rider Marc Coma, and now it appears that Price will reap the rewards of the discipline he has showed by making history as the first Australian ever to bring home a Dakar Rally win in any category–and this in only his second Dakar appearance.
“This was a long stage with 480 kilometers,” Price said. “It was on really sharp shale-like rock. It was really sketchy, really skatey, and it felt like I was riding on ice. We had a couple of excursions off the track a couple of times, so we thought we’d whack it down and make sure that we get to the finish. I looked back and saw Helder [Rodrigues], and he was on the gas. He’s in the running, but for me he’s no problem if he passed me, so I didn’t put up a fight. Once he got there, I let him through, then just continued on with my own race. We’re here at the finishing line, and that’s the main thing…I haven’t really looked into the history of results yet. I’ll look at that tomorrow once it’s all done. If that happens it will be a bit of history and I’ll be pretty stoked with that.”
After winning two stages thus far in the 2016 Dakar Rally, France’s Antoine Meo saw his luck go bad in Stage 12. Meo started the stage third and was tasked with keeping Price in front of him in the event that the Australian needed any assistance. Meo’s ride seemed to be going well until he suffered a hard crash just 50 kilometers from the end of the timed special, seriously injuring one of his hands. Meo was able to get going again, but he ended up losing 38 minutes, and he dropped from third overall to sixth overall.
Price now leads Svitko, who finished fourth today, by 37 minutes and 39 seconds in the overall standings, and Quintanilla is back into third place overall, 15 minutes and 31 seconds behind Svitko and 4 minutes and 18 seconds ahead of Benavides, who is now very much in danger of falling to fifth overall as just 1 second separates him from fifth-placed Rodrigues.
2016 Dakar Rally
San Juan to Villa Carlos Paz, Argentina
Results: January 15, 2016 (stage 12 of 13)
1. Helder Rodrigues (PRT)-Yam/6 hours, 24 seconds
2. Toby Price (AUS)-KTM/+00:04:32
3. Kevin Benavides (ARG)-Hon/+00:04:55
4. Stefan Svitko (SVK)-KTM/+00:06:48
5. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA)-Yam/+00:07:28
6. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL)-Hus/+00:12:23
7. Gerard Farres Guell (ESP)-KTM/+00:17:04
8. Armand Monleon (ESP)-KTM/+00:17:15
9. Olivier Pain (FRA)-Yam/+00:17:36
10. Jacopo Cerutti (ITA)-Hus/+00:18:29
2016 Dakar Rally Overall Standings (after 12 of 13 stages)
1. Toby Price (AUS)-KTM/46 hours, 13 minutes, 26 seconds
2. Stefan Svitko (SVK)-KTM/+00:37:39 (1-minute time penalty)
3. Pablo Quintanilla (CHL)-Hus/+00:53:10
4. Kevin Benavides (ARG)-Hon/+00:57:28
5. Helder Rodrigues (PRT)-Yam/+00:57:29 (5-minute time penalty)
6. Antoine Meo (FRA)-KTM/+01:14:50
7. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA)-Yam/+01:36:42
8. Gerard Farres Guell (ESP)-KTM/+01:41:58
8. Ricky Brabec (USA)-Hon/+02:03:06
10. Armand Monleon (ESP)-KTM/+03:19:13