Dakar, Stage Eight: Big Red’s nightmare

Racers struggle across the salt. Photo: Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool

Photo: Photo: Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pool

There’s only one way to describe Honda’s fortunes in Stage Eight of the 2015 Dakar Rally: The stage was a nightmare. KTM, on the other hand, has to be happy, since two of their riders made the podium.

At the start of the day, things looked like they might even out for Big Red after the close call of Stage Seven, when Joan Barreda crashed, destroying his handlebars but miraculously finishing without losing too much time.

Overnight, Barreda fixed his machine; the story was, he welded his mangled bars together and then traded them to fellow Honda rider Demian Guiral. After all, Guiral was hardly a podium threat anyway, and Barreda’s team knew he had the best chance of dethroning the reigning champ, KTM’s Marc Coma. Guiral might lose some time, but surely he could take it easy and complete the stage.

A day later, Guiral is out, and Barreda, along with Honda’s Helder Rodrigues and Israel Esquerre are all so far back that a podium is a hopeless dream.

The day went sideways right from the start, thanks to a combination of low temperatures and wet conditions from rain over the last few days. The stage had riders blasting across the Bolivian salt flats. There was just one problem: Those salt flats were covered in water – some riders complained of plowing through salty water a half-metre deep.

Within a few hours, several riders had dropped out due to hypothermia, and several more had dropped out after the salt water destroyed their bikes in one way or another. The foul conditions took no mercy on anyone – top competitors and backmarkers alike dropped off in the saline slush. The stage was shortened, but that wasn’t enough to save many riders.

The biggest news was Joan Barreda’s woes; Barreda’s machine conked out on him due to electrical woes, and his bike ended up getting towed for much of the day by teammate Jeremias Israel Esquerre. They crossed the finish line over three hours behind winner Pablo Quintanilla.

Yamaha finally got a rider up to second place in the stage, with Juan Pedrero Garcia earning the spot. KTM’s Stefan Svitko was third. Toby Price (KTM) was fourth and the fifth spot went to Laia Sanz. She was Honda’s top rider for the day, and had a cheery smile through all the foul weather, positively beaming in the bivouac after the stage. She’s sitting in ninth overall now, and the trials champ’s smooth control might put her even further up the standings yet.

Although KTM had to be happy their toughest competition was virtually eliminated, they lost Jordi Viladoms; it’s thought he suffered engine failure due to the salt. According to Radio Maray, Viladoms complained race directors didn’t have enough concern for riders’ safety today, and the stage shouldn’t have run.

Although he’s now the series leader, KTM’S Marc Coma was also quite angry with race management after the stage; he was seen chewing them out, and said “It was too difficult on the salt lake, there was the altitude, the cold, everything mixed in.”

Rumours from the bivouac suggest Coma is going to swap out his engine tonight, taking the 15-minute penalty to avoid Viladoms’ fate. That would actually drop him into fourth place overall and give Paulo Goncalves (Honda) the lead. But every rider has got to be wondering about his engine after riding through the miles of salty sludge today, and if Coma changes his engine, the other well-supported teams might follow suit.

So, after the marathon stage and today’s debacle in the salt water, this year’s Dakar has gotten a big shake-up. While Barreda and his two Honda helpers won’t be challenging for podium spots this year, they still earned a lot of respect with their gutsy slog across terrible terrain. Sooner or later, luck will go Barreda’s way, and he’ll win the rally; for now, he just has to concentrate on finishing in one piece, and hopefully earn a few more stage wins along the way.

Check out the bike rankings under the photo gallery to see how the top 10 positions have shuffled since yesterday.


Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.

Dakar 2015 : Bike rankings after Stage 8

1. Coma (KTM) – 25:40:48

2. Goncalves (Honda) – 29:00:23 (00:09:11)

3. Quintanilla (KTM) – 29:02:23 (00:11:11)

4.  Price (KTM) – 29:07:08 (00:15:56)

5. Svitko (KTM) – 29:17:42 (00:26:30)

6. Faria (KTM) – 29:25:46 (00:34:34)

7. Duclos (Sherco) – 29:49:20 (00:58:08) (00:15:00 penalty)

8. Casteau (KTM) – 30:02:00 (01:10:48)

9. Sanz (Honda) – 30:10:03 (01:18:51)

10. Jakes (KTM) – 30:38:59 (01:47:47)

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