2021 Dakar, Stage 2

Ross Branch's 4th on the stage moves him to third overall. He's the real deal, it seems. Photo: Yamaha

“Life moves pretty fast,” Ferris Bueller once said, and that’s especially true at the Dakar Rally. Only a day after defending champion Ricky Brabec went from hero to zero, thanks to a navigation error, the Honda rider is back in contention for a podium spot.

Stage 1 saw Australia’s Toby Price ride his KTM to victory. The mulleted madman had to dial things a back in Stage 2, as he had plenty working against him. First, he was opening the track on the day, meaning he was the first rider to navigate through the 457-kilometre timed special. Everyone riding behind him was able to benefit from his nav work, following his tracks.

Second, Price also needed to conserve his rear tire. This year, riders in Dakar’s Elite class are restricted to only 6 rear tires for the whole race, and then they get time penalties for spooning on new rubber. Price wanted to avoid that, so he dialed back the speed. Then 300 kilometres into the stage, his rear gas tanks got buggered up, so Price had to ride even more cautiously, to preserve the fuel in his front tanks. He ended in 28th on the day, uncharacteristically far back.

It could have been worse, though, as he’s still in it, at 15th overall. Teammate Matthias Walkner had a disaster when his clutch failed in the desert; he attempted a self-repair, even bumming some spare parts off a passing Malle Moto racer, but nothing worked, and he ended up with small parts lost in his crankcase. Yikes! Walkner was able to eventually finish the stage without his clutch, losing about two hours and 15 minutes in the incident. Don’t be surprised if he also gets a new engine installed, costing him another 15 minutes in penalties.

But, even with Walkner’s disaster, he’s still in the race. That’s not true for Andrew Short. The US-based rider had an early exit in his first year racing with Yamaha. Short would have been a podium threat, based on previous years’ promise, if his bike held together. Unfortunately, the Yamaha refused to re-start after a gas stop, and Short ended up having to go home early. Tough luck indeed, and certainly not the way you’d want to start your new relationship with an organization.

Franco Caimi, perhaps Yamaha’s most consistent rider, also had bike problems, but he patched his clutch up himself and only lost a half hour.

This is all sadly typical of the Yamaha team’s disappointing Dakar efforts. The riders themselves are smart and capable, but every year, the team is plagued by mechanical woes. They don’t get the same publicity as some of Honda’s epic meltdowns of the last decade, but there’s a reason why so many privateers choose KTM-based bikes instead of Japanese. KTMs seem to hold up better (and Husqvarnas, by extension, as they’re the same thing). Although, Walkner might disagree right now …

As for Honda: Joan Barreda took the stage win. Barreda has more stage wins than any other competitor at Dakar this year, and although he’s getting older, he’s still got the raw speed that will blow everyone else away, if he doesn’t crash or get lost. Barreda’s win puts him atop the standings, but it’s going to be tough for him to stay there, based on past years’ observation. He takes a lot of risks, and is hard on his machinery.

Brabec took his factory Honda to second overall in the stage. A day after an absolutely wretched navigation error, he’s back in second overall. Such is life in the desert.

Dakar, Stage 2 rankings

  1. Joan Barreda, Honda, 04H 17′ 56”
  2. Ricky Brabec, Honda, 04H 21′ 51” (+ 00H 03′ 55”)
  3. Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, 04H 23′ 58” (+ 00H 06′ 02”)
  4. Ross Branch, Yamaha, 04H 29′ 50” (+ 00H 11′ 54”)
  5. Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, 04H 30′ 02” (+ 00H 12′ 06”)
  6. Adrien Van Beveren, Yamaha, 04H 30′ 38” (+ 00H 12′ 42”)
  7. Stefan Svitko, Slovnaft, 04H 32′ 11” (+ 00H 14′ 15”)
  8. Luciano Benavides, Husqvarna, 04H 33′ 17” (+ 00H 15′ 21”)
  9. Daniel Sanders, KTM, 04H 34′ 27” (+ 00H 16′ 31”) 
  10. Xavier de Soultrait, HT Rally, 04H 35′ 20” (+ 00H 17′ 24”)

Dakar, overall rankings

  1. Joan Barreda, Honda, 08H 15′ 38”
  2. Ricky Brabec, Honda, 08H 22′ 01” (+ 00H 06′ 23”)
  3. Ross Branch, Yamaha, 08H 22′ 15” (+ 00H 06′ 37”)
  4. Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, 08H 22′ 54” ( + 00H 07′ 16”’)
  5. Xavier de Soultrait, HT Rally, 08H 24′ 03” (+ 00H 08′ 25”)
  6. Adrien Van Beveren, Yamaha, 08H 24′ 12” (+ 00H 08′ 34”)
  7. Luciano Benavides, Husqvarna, 08H 24′ 45” (+ 00H 09′ 07”) (00H 01′ 00” penalty)
  8. Skyler Howes, Bas Dakar, 08H 25′ 09” (+ 00H 09′ 31”)
  9. Stefan Svitko, Slovnaft, 08H 26′ 01” (+ 00H 10′ 23”)
  10. Lorenzo Santolino, Sherco, 08H 26′ 29” (+ 00H 10′ 51”)

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