There have been many changes at the Dakar Rally over the past few years, with the change in locale the most obvious.
However, when the race moved to Saudi Arabia, organizers also decided to tweak smaller details—most notably, they’ve ended the reign of the mapmen, and it’s really showing now.
In previous years, Dakar racers received the next day’s route well ahead of the day’s start. This allowed richer teams to analyze the map, and figure out time-saving shortcuts between checkpoints. Obviously, cash-strapped privateers couldn’t afford these mapmen, and as a result, the biggest organizations dominated competition almost every day.
This year, Dakar organizers are only presenting the day’s route just before racing starts, leaving no time for mapmen to analyze the course. The result? More than ever, success depends on not just riding skill, but also clever navigation skills. It’s not that the winners are going slower, it’s that some riders are getting lost and paying dearly. And as a result, we saw Skyler Howes of the lesser-funded Bas Dakar team atop the standings yesterday. Today, it’s Xavier de Soultrait of the HT Rally team.
Seeing two riders from second-tier teams atop the standings two days in a row just wouldn’t have happened in other years, but you can bet de Soultrait is especially chuffed. He’s riding a Husqvarna now, which means he’s on a properly built rally machine, unlike the Yamahas he rode before, which were tough but not as robust as KTM-based bikes (remember, Husqvarna machines at Dakar are all based off KTM, just as GasGas’ bikes are).
It’s doubtful Howes or de Soultrait or other factory rider will be the ultimate winner, but who knows? They’re certainly putting up a tough scrap, and some previously-dominant riders like Toby Price have struggled so far this year.
Honda’s Joan Barreda won today’s stage, putting in an impressive effort and continuing the yo-yo effect that Honda’s struggled with this year. In the first four stages, Honda’s had big wins and big losses, and is no doubt hoping for things to even out. Word on the street is that Barreda is already on his third tire of the race. With elite racers limited to six tires before incurring a penalty, it seems likely Bam Bam is going to have to either dial back his speed, or get ready to make up extra time to pay for a tire change.
As the Dakar Rally rolls on, the race’s risks are starting to catch up to all the classes, with footage and photos of epic wrecks coming through now. Unfortunately, the mayhem has also come to to the bike class, and Hero factory rider CS Santosh is reportedly in an artificially-induced coma as medical staff tries to patch him up after a crash.
Reportedly, Santosh (who’s been riding for the Hero team for a while now) was involved in a crash with another rider, suffering several broken bones, and was only kept alive by a third rider who happened on the scene and performed CPR. It sounds bad, but hopefully he’ll pull through and be back next year.
Dakar, Stage 4 rankings
- Joan Barreda Bort, Honda, 02H 46′ 50”
- Daniel Sanders, KTM, 02H 52′ 59” (+ 00H 06′ 09”)
- Luciano Benavides, Husqvarna, 02H 53′ 12” (+ 00H 06′ 22”)
- Ross Branch, Yamaha, 02H 53′ 47” (+ 00H 06′ 57”) ( 00H 01′ 00” penalty)
- Xavier de Soultrait, HT Rally, 02H 54′ 09” (+ 00H 07′ 19”)
- Joaquim Rodrigues, Hero, 02H 54′ 11” (+ 00H 07′ 21”)
- Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, 02H 54′ 19” (+ 00H 07′ 29”)
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, 02H 54′ 24” (+ 00H 07′ 34”)
- Stefan Svitko, Slovnaft, 02H 55′ 36” (+ 00H 08′ 46”)
- Adrien Van Beveren, Yamaha, 02H 56′ 12” (+ 00H 09′ 22”)
Dakar, overall rankings
- Xavier de Soultrait, HT Rally, 15H 00′ 25”
- Joan Barreda, Honda, 15H 00′ 40” (+ 00H 00′ 15”)
- Ross Branch, Yamaha, 15H 05′ 49” (+ 00H 05′ 24”) (00H 01′ 00” penalty)
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, 15H 05′ 49” (+ 00H 05′ 24”) ( 00H 02′ 00” penalty)
- Skyler Howes, Bas Dakar, 15H 05′ 51” (+ 00H 05′ 26”) (00H 01′ 00” penalty)
- Luciano Benavides, Husqvarna, 15H 05′ 56” (+ 00H 05′ 31”) (00H 01′ 00” penalty)
- Sam Sunderland, KTM, 15H 07′ 38” (+ 00H 07′ 13”)
- Toby Price, KTM, 15H 08′ 12” (+ 00H 07′ 47”)
- Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, 15H 08′ 31″ (+ 00H 08′ 06”)
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, 15H 09′ 56” (+ 00H 09′ 31”)