Dakar racers faced a tough 456-kilometre timed special stage today, but it wasn’t just the length that wore them down. The terrain was rough, and the navigation was very tricky.
Don’t take my word for it, though—Honda’s Kevin Benavides won the stage, and here’s how he described it: “It was a really hard day for me. At the beginning I got lost like all the riders, but after that I started to push a lot. On one dune I jumped, a big jump, and I crashed because I hit another big one with the front wheel. I banged my head like this and broke the GPS and everything. I cut myself too and started to lose a lot of blood. There was also some pain around my ankle. In the end, I continued and kept pushing with a lot of pain, so, yeah, it was really hard for me today.“
Now, Benavides is hobbling around the paddock with his face all bandaged up, looking like Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. That’s what happens when you smash the bike’s nav tower with your face!
Benavides wasn’t the only one who found Stage 5 exceptionally difficult. Teammate Ignacio Cornejo, who finished second on the day, said “It’s a long time since I can remember a stage as tough as this one. There was everything: rocks, trails, dunes, fast parts, tricky navigation.” He didn’t make the same navigation error that most riders did through the special stage’s early checkpoints, and was able to rise quickly through the standings as a result.
Good for him—Cornejo has been one of Honda’s most solid performers for the past few years, and if he gets a podium, maybe he’ll get some much-deserved recognition.
Going down through today’s finishers, Toby Price (KTM) managed third, despite some nav trouble, and that puts him in fourth overall. Price might have gotten lost a bit in this rally, but he’s still putting in a great race, and doing well at conserving his rear tires. That’s important, as the elite riders are limited to six rear tires for the race, or they get a penalty for putting on new rubber.
Supposedly, this is going to slow riders down, and making the race safer, but that doesn’t seem to actually be happening. The flat-out riders are still flat-out. KTM’s Sam Sunderland said the top riders averaged 126 km/h through Stage 4’s special. The riders that are usually easy on their equipment seem to be managing their tires fine, and others are either burning their tread off, or finding big holes in the carcasses from branches, rocks, etc.
In closing, two riders to note in Stage 5’s timesheet: Lorenzo Santolino seems to be putting a series of steady rides in, aboard that Sherco factory machine. Sherco seems like it’s in good hands, after going through some major personnel changes the past few years, and Santolino may well get a top-10 finish.
And, check out Ross Branch, in ninth. Branch, who rode for BAS Dakar last year, is proving he deserves that factory team seat with Yamaha. He’s currently their only top-10 rider, and no doubt Yamaha is very happy he came on board over the off-season. If COVID-19 hadn’t interfered with the normal rally raid racing season, Branch could have been even more at ease on board the WR rally bike; even now, he’s looking like a podium threat.
Good thing for Yamaha, as Adrien Van Beveren is now plummeting thanks to nav errors, and Jamie McCanney was taken out of the race today, thanks to a mechanical. Tough times again for Yamaha!
Dakar, Stage 5 rankings
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, 05H 09′ 50”
- Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, 05H 10′ 50” (+ 00H 01′ 00”)
- Toby Price, KTM, 05H 11′ 10” (+ 00H 01′ 20”)
- Lorenzo Santolino, Sherco, 05H 12′ 19” (+ 00H 02′ 29”)
- Sam Sunderland, KTM, 05H 14′ 07” (+ 00H 04′ 17”)
- Xavier de Soultrait, HT Rally, 05H 17′ 45” (+ 00H 07′ 55”)
- Skyler Howes, BAS Dakar, 05H 20′ 33” (+ 00H 10′ 43”)
- Matthias Walkner, KTM, 05H 20′ 53” (+ 00H 11′ 03”)
- Ross Branch, Yamaha, 05H 20′ 55” (+ 00H 11′ 05”)
- Pablo Quintanilla, Husqvarna, 05H 22′ 05” (+ 00H 12′ 15”)
Dakar, overall rankings
- Kevin Benavides, Honda, 20H 15′ 39” (00H 02′ 00” penalty)
- Xavier de Soultrait, HT Rally, 20H 18′ 10” (+ 00H 02′ 31”)
- Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Honda, 20H 19′ 21” (+ 00H 03′ 42”)
- Toby Price, KTM, 20H 19′ 22” (+ 00H 03′ 43”)
- Sam Sunderland, 20H 21′ 45” (+ 00H 06′ 06”)
- Lorenzo Santolino, Sherco, 20H 25′ 10” (+ 00H 09′ 31”)
- Skyler Howes, BAS Dakar, 20H 26′ 24” (+ 00H 10′ 45”) (00H 01′ 00” penalty)
- Ross Branch, Yamaha, 20H 26′ 44” (+ 00H 11′ 05”) ( 00H 01′ 00” penalty)
- Joan Barreda, Honda, 20H 29′ 41” (+ 00H 14′ 02”)
- Luciano Benavides, Husqvarna, 20H 30′ 09” (+ 00H 14′ 30”) (00H 01′ 00” penalty)