Honda had another decent day for Stage 4, with Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo winning the special (which was more than 400 kilometres long!). Another Honda rider, Kevin Benavides, finished second, and BAS Dakar’s Ross Branch (a KTM rider, but not on the factory team) was third.
It’s once again evidence that Honda’s finally turning its Dakar program around, no doubt largely due to the management of Ruben Faria. Now, Honda’s second-tier riders are taking the forefront, as both Florimo and Benavides were basically water carriers in the South American events. Now, they’re front-runners.
Not that Joan Barreda Bort isn’t there as well; he’s racing injured, and has had a couple of crack-ups so far (see below), but has avoided his usual frantic antics to this point.
???????? @joanbangbang88 has crashed on today’s course. His bike took a hit and he says his ribs hurt but he keeps going
+ info ➡️ https://t.co/qTNrMHIKg1#Dakar2020 pic.twitter.com/VTEwvem2o2
— DAKAR RALLY (@dakar) January 8, 2020
At this point, it’s also worth acknowledging the incredible grit Ross Branch has displayed to finish third, considering his massive crash in Stage 3. He’s looking like he’ll move a decent leap back up the standings, even if he isn’t likely an overall winner at this point.
Same goes for Paulo Goncalves. Everyone thought the Hero factory rider was finished after his engine malfunctioned yesterday. Turns out that, away from the watchful eye of the media cameras, Goncalves was somehow able to patch his bike together in the desert and make it to the bivouac after dark. He was back out on the course today, and nailed fourth in the stage! He’s not going to take the top spot now, outside of divine intervention, but given the attrition rate so far, he’s likely going to have a very respectable finish.
And speaking of that attrition rate: Although we haven’t seen official confirmation, the word on the street is that Xavier de Soultrait is out. The Yamaha rider had a bad spill yesterday resulting in a gaping wound to his forearm. No doubt the banging around in the desert today took a further toll.
That’s a bad day for both de Soultrait and Yamaha, but KTM’s factory squad also fared poorly. Its highest-ranked rider was Toby Price in sixth. The usually-steady Matthias Walkner got off-track and lost huge time. Initially, it appeared as if Sam Sunderland was going to win the stage, but he was slapped with a huge five-minute penalty for speeding.
But in the weird world of Dakar, even a penalty can work out to a rider’s advantage. Sunderland’s penalty now means he doesn’t have to open the course in the dune-heavy stage tomorrow; he should be able to reel in a fair amount of time back from the leading Hondas, as they’re forced to perform tricky navigation and he can simply follow their tracks.
Finally—let’s give some props to the Sherco TVS team. Chronically underfunded, Sherco continues to field a factory effort at Dakar every year, and once the early-stage woes weed out the wildest competition, it puts up a decent fight. That was the case today, with Johnny Aubert taking his Sherco to seventh, and Lorenzo Santolino ending the day in tenth. Good stuff!
Dakar 2020 Stage 4 results
1. Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda
2. Kevin Benavides, Honda, + 00:00:35
3. Ross Branch, BAS Dakar, + 00:00:55
4. Paulo Goncalves, Hero, + 00:02:11
5. Ricky Brabec, Honda, + 00:02:48
6. Toby Price, KTM, + 00:02:59
7. Johnny Aubert, Sherco, + 00:03:52
8. Sam Sunderland, KTM, + 00:04:49 (00:05:00 penalty)
9. Skyler Howers, Klymciw, + 00:04:52
10. Lorenzo Santolino, Sherco, + 00:06:24
1. Ricky Brabec, Honda
2. Kevin Benavides, Honda + 00:02:30
3. Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, + 00:08:31 (00:01:00 penalty)
4. Toby Price, KTM, + 00:12:09 (00:02:00 penalty)
5. Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, + 00:17:52
6. Sam Sunderland, KTM, + 00:19:11 (00:05:00 penalty)
7. Joan Barreda Bort, Honda, + 00:25:20
8. Luciano Benavides, KTM, + 00:26:30
9. Matthias Walkner, KTM, + 00:27:03
10. Skyler Howes, Klymciw, + 00:34:28
It looks like the top riders are still trying to race at the speed they’re used to with pre-stage roadbook prep and getting in trouble while the “lesser” riders that are used to navigating on the fly are reaping the benefits of a “slower” pace.
I think that’s probably a pretty accurate guess. I’d also say that the KTM team reaped massive benefits, disproportionately from everyone else, from top mapmen in the past, and now that’s been cut back considerably.