2021 Dakar, Stage 3

Photo: Skyler Howes/Facebook

Right off the bat here, I feel like I owe Yamaha at least half an apology, maybe a whole one. Yesterday, I disparaged the team after ace rider Andrew Short exited the rally due to a mechanical; I said it was another par-for-the-course breakdown for the Yamaha Dakar squad.

That’s half-true, because the team has had some high-profile breakdowns in the past few years. But this time, it looks like the breakdown came after the Dakar organizers gave Short some bad fuel. As per Yamaha’s press release: “Subsequent inspection of the bike on its return to the bivouac identified the problem as contaminated fuel, with a significant amount of water found to be present in both the fuel tank and the fuel pump on Short’s bike.

Still, that sounds strange. Given what’s at stake, you’d think Yamaha could have carried out a fuel injector swap, or even a whole engine swap in the desert—it’s been done before. Short himself said he tried every jury-rig repair he could, to stay in the game. But for whatever reason, they packed it in, and it seems as if the organizers are to blame (it’s possible they forced him into the helo for safety reasons).

Yikes. You’d think, with the amount of money the ASO charges to participate in the rally, that they’d at least be able to figure out the fuelling problem. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, and Short wasn’t the only one affected either. He’s the only one we know who had to drop out as a result, but this is supposedly the reason for Toby Price’s fuel tank issues in Stage 2 that cost him so much time.

Yamaha says it asked the organizers to re-seed Short for Stage 3, as the breakdown was the ASO’s fault, but the officials refused to allow it. That sounds typical of the ASO, which is known for being difficult, nay, impossible to deal with. No doubt Yamaha will have some choice words with them behind closed doors at some point in the near future. It’s appalling to treat the stars of the series, and the core manufacturers, with such disrespect. Every time something like this happens, it gives the major players one more reason to start taking the Africa ECO race more seriously. Don’t be shocked if someday the ASO loses a top team over something like this. 

On to the day’s actual racing. On Stage 3, KTM’s Toby Price and Matthias Walkner had a lot of ground to make up, thanks to mechanical woes the day before. Price won the stage, after dueling with Honda’s Kevin Benavides for the day. Walkner was third. That puts both the riders wayyyy up the standings; Price moves up 11 places to fourth overall, while Walkner is in 39th. Given his bad luck with the fragged clutch, he’s lucky to be in it at all; he basically says he’s in it for fun now, with nothing to lose. Expect him to crack the top 20 for sure, as attrition and his natural talent should propel him up the ranks quickly.

So, at the day’s end, guess who’s sitting atop the standings? It’s none other than American privateer Skyler Howes, who had to sell T-shirts and pull off other fundraisers so he could just get a seat on the Bas Dakar team this year. Howes will find it difficult to stay on top, but he’s got to be filled with well-deserved pride now. Bet a factory team will finally come to sign him up next year!


Return of a legend

Longtime Dakar watchers might remember Franco Picco from the 1980s. The Italian rider was one of the original dune-bashing legends from the race’s African days, and now he’s back–at age 65.

It’s his 27th Dakar race; Picco last competed in 2017, earning an 85th in the Motorcycle rankings (he’s also raced a quad and cars at Dakar). Last year’s footage from Saudi Arabia was enough to tempt him back. He’s sitting in a very respectable 59th overall right now, a far cry from his podiums from the 1980s, but also a lot farther ahead than other, younger riders. 

I still run because I enjoy it and because I am curious to discover new places,” says his bio at the Dakar website. “They were also skeptical about signing up when I applied, they thought that with my age it would be too hard to ride a motorcycle, but in rallies experience matters as much as athletic prowess and in the end they gave up. I asked to run with 65 as a number just to remind myself that I am 65 and that I have to be careful. But in my various participations I have also seen many younger men stop for some inconveniences, even trivial ones, so in the worst case I will exploit my strengths: navigation skills, effort management skills and mechanical knowledge.” Looks like that plan is working for him so far!

Dakar, Stage 3 rankings

  1. Toby Price, KTM, 03H 33′ 23”
  2. Kevin Benavides, Honda, 03H 34′ 39” (+ 00H 01′ 16”)
  3. Matthias Walkner, KTM, 03H 35′ 59” (+ 00H 02′ 36”)
  4. Skyler Howes, Bas Dakar, 03H 39′ 39” (+ 00H 06′ 16”)
  5. Sam Sunderland, KTM, 03H 41′ 47” (+ 00H 08′ 24”)
  6. Xavier de Soultrait, HT Rally, 03H 42′ 13” (+ 00H 08′ 50”)
  7. Franco Caimi, Yamaha, 03H 43′ 27” (+ 00H 10′ 04”)
  8. Daniel Sanders, KTM, 03H 44′ 45” (+ 00H 11′ 22”)
  9. Rui Goncalves, Sherco, 03H 45′ 42” (+ 00H 12′ 19”) 
  10. Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, 03H 46′ 32” (+ 00H 13′ 09”)

Dakar, overall rankings

  1. Skyler Howes, Bas Dakar, 12H 04′ 48”
  2. Kevin Benavides, Honda, 12H 05′ 21” (+ 00H 00′ 33”)
  3. Xavier de Soultrait, HT Rally Raid, 12H 06′ 16” (+ 00H 01′ 28”)
  4. Toby Price, KTM, 12H 06′ 40” ( + 00H 01′ 52”)
  5. Sam Sunderland, KTM, 12H 10′ 15” (+ 00H 05′ 27”)
  6. Ross Branch, Yamaha, 12H 12′ 02” (+ 00H 07′ 14”)
  7. Luciano Benavides, Husqvarna, 12H 12′ 44” (+ 00H 07′ 56”) (00H 01′ 00” penalty)
  8. Joan Barreda, Honda, 12H 13′ 50” (+ 00H 09′ 02”)
  9. Adrien Van Beveren, Yamaha, 12H 13′ 57′ (+ 00H 09′ 09”)
  10. Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, 12H 14′ 12” (+ 00H 09′ 24”)

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