Red Bull KTM’s Toby Price, the 2016 Dakar Rally Champion, finally grabbed a stage win in Stage 11 of the 2018 Dakar Rally today, but teammate Matthias Walkner remains in firm control of the overall rally standings with just three stages remaining in the grueling, 5000-plus-mile off-road race.
Stage 11 featured a total distance of 485 kilometer in total between Belén and Fiambalá, with 280 kilometers of timed special, which ran the competitors through broken-up dry river beds and extremely technical sections before finishing with another section of sand dunes that led to some high-speed sections on the day to Fiambalá. Today’s starting order was set by the finishing positions of not just the motorcycles but all vehicles remaining in the 2018 Dakar Rally. Thus the motorcycle competitors had to deal with heavily rutted tracks.
Price had a good handle on the timed special anyway, finishing with a time of 4 hours, 1 minute and 33 seconds, 1 minute and 38 seconds ahead of Monster Energy Honda’s Kebin Benavides and 6 minutes and 31 seconds ahead of Red Bull KTM’s Antoine Meo, the Stage 8 winner. But while he was pleased with the win, Price could only lament about the previous stage.
“Yesterday was… I’ve never felt so bad in my life,” Price said after getting lost in a pivotal Stage 10. “Today we just needed to try and see if we could claw back a little bit of time, and I think we’ve done that a little bit, but it’s gonna be tough from back where we are. It’s good to get a stage win. In the first week I was quite conservative, but now I attached some more, it’s good to get a stage win because I hadn’t done that this year so far. To be still in the race going towards the finish line is a pretty big achievement for me. My goal is just trying to stay on two wheels, not making a day like yesterday and seeing what that gives us at the finish line.”
Price’s stage win moved him back in an overall podium position, but teammate Matthias Walkner, who finished fifth today, 11 minutes and 1 second behind Price, is still 32 minutes ahead of Benavides and just over 39 minutes ahead of Price, a comfortable margin as the 2018 Dakar Rally nears its completion. It would take a monumental mistake or some really bad luck for Walkner to lose his advantage at this point in the rally. Still, the Austrian is not taking anything for granted yet.
“I spent most of the time with Stéphane Peterhansel today,” Walkner said. “I passed him on the dunes, but on the fast bits he passed me. Every day can change everything. I have to stay focused day after day. I don’t think so much about victory. Of course, I’m a little bit nervous. Just missing one waypoint can cost you 20 minutes. Keeping going and doing my best is all I can do.”
Stage 11 was another good one for Monster Energy Honda’s American rider, Ricky Brabec, who finished fourth, 7 minutes and 34 seconds behind Price, which helped to remain sixth in the overall rally standings.
“I am much happier than when I finished yesterday, which had been a nightmare to try to find that cursed waypoint,” Brabec said. “I feel fine; the bike is running really well too. We will continue fighting to finish this Dakar as best we can. I hope Joan gets well and improves soon.”
Brabec’s comment was a reference to the withdrawal of his Monster Energy Honda teammate, Joan Barreda, who called it quits while running second overall in after he was just to battered to continue. The knee injury he suffered while winning Stage 7 was bad enough, but Barreda crashed again in Stage 10 and suffered a concussion. He wanted to continue but was forced to end his seventh Dakar Rally campaign after posting three stage wins, the 20th, 21st and 22nd of his Dakar Rally career.
“I couldn’t take it anymore,” Barreda said. “Since I fell and hit my knee I have been suffering a lot in every stage. My knee was unstable, and I had to change my position on the bike but even that didn’t help. Today I reached a point where I couldn’t feel my leg any more and I think that, in spite of everything, the best decision has been to stop so as not to make the situation worse. It’s a pity because I was second in the race overall, but I wasn’t in any condition to fight to win the races.”
Barreda wasn’t the only one, as Slovnaft Racing’s Stefan Svitko also failed to start Stage 11 after crashing in Stage 10.
The 2018 Dakar Rally continues tomorrow as the field heads to San Juan, a total of 723 kilometers, including a reduced special stage of 288 kilometers along a route that is expected to be rocky and once again present some navigational challenges.
2018 Dakar Rally
Belén, Argentina, to Fiambalá, Argentina
Results: January 17, 2018 (Stage 11 of 14)
1. Toby Price (AUS)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / 4 hours, 1 minute, 33 seconds
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +00:01:38
3. Antoine Meo (FRA)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:06:31
4. Ricky Brabec (USA)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +00:07:34
5. Matthias Walkner (AUT)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:11:01
6. Gerard Farres (SPA)-Himoinsa Team / +00:12:32
7. Johnny Aubert (FRA)-Gas Gas Racing / +00:19:38
8. Joan Pedrero (SPA)-Sherco TVS Rally Factory / +00:22:46
9. Oriol Mena (SPA)-Hero Motorsports Team Rally / +00:27:00
10. José Ignacio Cornejo (CHI)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +00:27:08
13. Andrew Short (USA)-Husqvarna Factory Rally Team / +00:36:22
14. Mark Samuels (USA)-OX Motorsports / +00:36:27
2018 Dakar Rally Overall Standings (after 11 of 14 stages)
1. Matthias Walkner (AUT)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / 36 hours, 33 minutes, 37 seconds
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +00:32:00
3. Toby Price (AUS)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:39:17
4. Gerard Farres (SPA)-Himoinsa Team / +00:49:17
5. Antoine Meo (FRA)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:59:05
6. Ricky Brabec (USA)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +01:18:10
7. Johnny Aubert (FRA)-GasGas Racing / +01:49:34
8. Pablo Quintanilla (CHI)-Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Rally Team / +01:53:19
9. José Ignacio Cornejo (CHI)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +02:05:57
10. Oriol Mena (SPA)-Hero Motorsports Team Rally / +02:13:07