The battle for Stage 8 of the 2018 Dakar Rally enjoyed a little American flavor when Monster Energy Honda’s Ricky Brabec stepped up and fought Red Bull KTM’s Antoine Meo waged a thrilling tussle for the stage win between Uyuni and Tupiza in Bolivia, Sunday, and while Meo ended up with the win, Brabec’s performance vaulted him back eighth place overall.
It’s position Brabec will keep, and his competition will also stand pat, as Dakar Rally officials have announced the cancellation of Stage 9’s timed special due to safety concerns. Certain sections of the route have been determined to be impassable after heavy storms have flooded the route.
Brabec led much of Stage 8, which reminded him of his Southern California and Baja desert racing experiences. Only a late charge in the timed special allowed Meo to sneak to the front of the 498-kilometer timed special. Meo finished the stage with a time of 5 hours 24 minutes and 1 second, while Brabec finished just 1 minute and 8 seconds behind the Frenchman.
“I went flat-out from the start,” Meo said. “I wanted to gain six or seven minutes on the leaders, and I’m happy with what I did today because I pushed to the limit. I stopped for two minutes to help Quintanilla, whose chain had come off. I fell at kilometer 400, but both my bike and I are fine. It’ll hurt my chances if tomorrow’s stage is cancelled, but I’ll try to salvage something on the way to Fiambalá. Everything’s still up in the air!”
Brabec was happy to finish the second half of the marathon stage without incident.
“We have finished this second part of the marathon, in which we weren’t allowed to receive any assistance,” Brabec said. “The type of stage today was very similar to the races we have in California, and I felt very comfortable, much more than yesterday, which was horrible for me, because I’m not a rider who likes mud. Today there were fast tracks and off-piste. The end of the special was good, battling with Antoine Méo. We will continue fighting over the next five days. Every year of the three in which I’ve taken part in the Dakar, stages have been canceled, which is nothing new. If it’s for our safety, that’s good.
Red Bull KTM’s Toby Price had another consistent day, finishing third, just 2 minutes and 45 seconds behind Meo.
Monster Energy Honda’s Kevin Benavides came ever so close to retaking the overall lead after finishing fourth in Stage 8 after catching the overall leader, Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally’s Adrien Van Beveren on the route. But although Benavides pulled back 3 minutes on ABV, the Argentinian finished the day just 22 seconds out of the overall lead.
Meanwhile, Benavides’ teammate Joan Barreda’s 2018 Dakar Rally roller coaster ride faced another uphill challenge while nursing the knee damage that he suffered in a crash while en route to victory in Stage 7. While there is no apparent break to the leg, Barreda soldiered on in pain and finished the day eighth, but he lost 3 minutes and 16 seconds to ABV. Barreda is now fifth overall, 8 minutes and 1 second out of the lead.
“Yesterday I had a fall while pushing hard, where I had managed to make up quite a few minutes,” Barreda said. “I damaged my knee, and it was looking unlikely that I would make the start line for today’s stage. I thought that I might not be able to participate today. The doctors bandaged me up, and today I had the job of opening the track from the start of the special. Over the first kilometers there was a part of dunes with vegetation, and I suffered a little–it hurt me a lot. Then the other riders arrived, and we were able to finish the day without further problems. Now we need to see how the knee holds up, but without a doubt, the cancellation of the stage tomorrow will be a great help. Let’s move on. We still have options with the desert stages, and we will try to get the best out of our possibilities in this race.
Things were worse for Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Rally rider Pablo Quintanilla, who saw his chances for a podium result in the 2018 Dakar Rally take a serious hit after he suffered bike trouble and finished over 28 minutes out of the overall lead.
“It was a disappointing day for me,” Quintanilla said. “I started really well. My goal was to push in order to make up some time to the leaders in the overall standings. [Then] 220 kilometers into the timed special I had an issue with my rear axle. I stopped and lost more than one-hour trying to get going again. This Dakar hasn’t been the best for me, but I now focus on giving my best in the coming stages. We’ve worked hard all year for this race, so it’s disappointing for all the team for things like that to happen. It is what is, and we’ll continue racing until the end. I still have the opportunity to get some good stage results while improving my speed and navigation, that’s my focus now.”
American rider Andrew Short enjoyed the best finish yet in his Dakar Rally debut, finishing 23rd, which moved him inside the top 20 overall. The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Rally rider is now 17th overall.
“These last two days have been really tough physically and mentally, so I’m really happy we got this first marathons stage done. Yesterday I had a few small crashes in the mud and also stopped a few times to assist other riders. I’m really fast in the sand sections, and I need to improve my speed in the faster tracks. Overall, today I had a good stage. I stopped and tried to help Pablo with the issue he had, so I lost a bit of time there. For me the goal is to continue day-by-day. This race is really exhausting mentally and physically. We are all sore and beat up right now, but we need to focus on the stages to come.”
2018 Dakar Rally
Uyuni, Bolivia, to Tupiza, Bolivia
Results: January 14, 2018 (Stage 8 of 14)
1. Antoine Meo (FRA)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / 5 hours, 24 minutes, 1 second
2. Ricky Brabec (USA)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +00:01:08
3. Toby Price (AUS)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:02:45
4. Kevin Benavides (ARG)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +00:05:52
5. Stefan Svitko (SLO)-Slovnaft Team / +00:06:46
6. Matthias Walkner (AUT)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:07:00
7. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA)-Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team / +00:08:44
8. Joan Barreda (SPA)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +00:12:00
9. Laia Sanz (SPA)-KTM Factory Racing Team / +00:14:15
10. Armand Monleon (SPA)-Daming Racing Team / +00:15:15
2018 Dakar Rally Overall Standings (after stage 8 of 14)
1. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA(-Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team / 27 hours, 22 minutes and 3 seconds
2. Kevin Benavides (ARG)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +00:00:22
3. Matthias Walkner (AUT)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:06:34
4. Toby Price (AUS)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:07:35
5. Joan Barreda (SPA)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +00:08:01
6. Antoine Meo (FRA)-Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Team / +00:09:56
7. Stefan Svitko (SLO)-Slovnaft Team / +00:31:55
8. Ricky Brabec (USA)-Monster Energy Honda Team / +00:31:58
9. Gerard Farres (SPA)-Himoinsa Team / +00:45:52
10. Johnny Aubert (FRA)-Gas Gas Racing / +01:10:02