2022 Dakar Stage 8: The end game

Sam Sunderland was atop the heap in Stage 8, and that also moves him to the front of the standings. Yamaha's Adrien Van Beveren now drops to third overall. Photo: GasGas/Facebook

We’re getting down to the last third of the Dakar Rally now, and the grind is catching up. Riders at the back of the pack are being knocked out due to breakdowns or injuries, and even the elite riders are being picked off as the crack-ups accumulate. The guys who profit under this environment are the steady-goers, the ones who avoid massive crashes, going just fast enough to win.

It seems Sam Sunderland has learned his lesson after some massive crashes earlier in his career, and is now trying to follow that pattern. The GasGas (ex-KTM factory) rider took the win in Stage 8, and now leads overall. Pablo Quintanilla followed in second, no doubt a pleasing sign to his new Honda masters. Third place went to Matthias Walkner, who’s long followed the race-smart formula for KTM.

Generally speaking, you’ll see these guys in the top 10, often in the top five at every Dakar, unless an unavoidable mechanical takes them out. Why? Because they are the complete package. Importantly, their navigation is good enough that they don’t get completely lost, and have to make up massive amounts of time. They also tend to be easy on their machinery. It’s guys like Joan Barreda (Honda) that end up making things worse for themselves, by losing a lot of time to a breakdown or getting lost. Although Barreda has the skill to catch up, that mad rush to make up time exposes him to more risk, and that almost always catches up to him.

He’s putting up an impressive result this year, though, especially when you consider that many thought Honda would can him at 2021’s end. Barreda is racing hard with a broken collarbone; supposedly, he’s counting on the massive, painful swelling to keep him stuck together long enough to finish the race. If he makes it to the last day, no doubt he’s going to be a very happy guy once he gets the treatment he really needs. He was 10th on today’s stage, and currently sits fifth overall, about 15 minutes back of the lead, and that means he actually has a chance at a podium still. Nobody would have expected that, after his shoulder-smashing crash that gave him his fracture.

Another elite rider who crashed, and returned with injury, is gone—Ross Branch, who can’t catch a break since he moved to Yamaha, had to abandon the race as a hematoma on his leg was interfering with his nerves. He’d crashed in Stage 6, returned for Stage 7 with a massive penalty, and now he’s gone for the rest of the Dakar. Hopefully Branch is well enough to race in FIM’s Cross Country series this summer, building up experience so he’s healthy enough to return for Yamaha at the 2023 Dakar.

American Ricky Brabec (the 2020 Dakar winner) was fourth overall today, but with a massive nav error early in the race, he’s stuck in 13th overall, almost 40 minutes back. Too bad, but it’s the second year in a row that Brabec derailed his chances with a navigation mistake. He’ll be lucky to crack a top-five at this point, although it’s not impossible.

Although privateer Stefan Svitko was 11th overall on the stage, his solid performances so far mean he’s still eighth overall. The tough Slovak rider is almost always the top privateer rider, and it’s a shame that he was never able to make it to a factory team. He’s 22 minutes off third place right now, and an unlikely podium contender, but he’s the last privateer to finish in the top three. We may see that again this year.

In the women’s category, Mirjam Pol is taking over Laia Sanz’s spot in first. She’s nowhere near as fast as Sanz was; Pol is in 49th overall today, while Sanz would have been a top-20, probably. Speaking of Sanz, she’s doing well in the Cars category, with Maurizio Gerini in the X-Raid Mini car, at 23rd overall in her debut.

Back to the bike category. If the past few years are any indication, we will see a few more of the top-15 riders drop out due to mechanicals or crashes. However, the management of the up-and-down dynamic is also as important as keeping your bike and body together, at this point. If you win a stage, then you’ll inevitably lose time the next day, as you open the stage for other riders, who can save time by following your tracks instead of relying on their own navigation. Sunderland is on top of the standings today, but tomorrow, it’ll likely be someone else. Only true alien-level riders are capable of leading the pack while opening navigation, and Sunderland hasn’t shown he’s capable of that yet.

2022 DAKAR STAGE 8 RANKINGS

1 3
(gbr) SAM SUNDERLAND
GASGAS FACTORY RACING 03h 48′ 02”
2 7
(chl) PABLO QUINTANILLA
MONSTER ENERGY HONDA 03h 50′ 55” + 00h 02′ 53”
3 52
(aut) MATTHIAS WALKNER
RED BULL KTM FACTORY RACING 03h 52′ 13” + 00h 04′ 11”
4 2
(usa) RICKY BRABEC
MONSTER ENERGY HONDA 03h 54′ 46” + 00h 06′ 44”
5 43
(usa) MASON KLEIN
BAS DAKAR KTM RACING TEAM 03h 56′ 10” + 00h 08′ 08”
6 18
(aus) TOBY PRICE
RED BULL KTM FACTORY RACING 03h 56′ 41” + 00h 08′ 39”
7 77
(arg) LUCIANO BENAVIDES
HUSQVARNA FACTORY RACING 03h 57′ 34” + 00h 09′ 32”
8 27
(prt) JOAQUIM RODRIGUES
HERO MOTOSPORTS TEAM RALLY 03h 58′ 00” + 00h 09′ 58”
9 42
(fra) ADRIEN VAN BEVEREN
MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA RALLY TEAM 03h 58′ 23” + 00h 10′ 21”
10 88
(esp) JOAN BARREDA BORT
MONSTER ENERGY HONDA 03h 59′ 45” + 00h 11′ 43”

 

2022 DAKAR TOP 10 RANKINGS AFTER STAGE 8

1 3
(gbr) SAM SUNDERLAND
GASGAS FACTORY RACING 27h 38′ 42”
2 52
(aut) MATTHIAS WALKNER
RED BULL KTM FACTORY RACING 27h 42′ 27” + 00h 03′ 45”
3 42
(fra) ADRIEN VAN BEVEREN
MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA RALLY TEAM 27h 43′ 25” + 00h 04′ 43”
4 7
(chl) PABLO QUINTANILLA
MONSTER ENERGY HONDA 27h 44′ 12” + 00h 05′ 30”
5 88
(esp) JOAN BARREDA BORT
MONSTER ENERGY HONDA 27h 53′ 20” + 00h 14′ 38” 00h 01′ 00”
6 1
(arg) KEVIN BENAVIDES
RED BULL KTM FACTORY RACING 27h 53′ 29” + 00h 14′ 47”
7 15
(esp) LORENZO SANTOLINO
SHERCO FACTORY 27h 59′ 51” + 00h 21′ 09”
8 142
(svk) STEFAN SVITKO
SLOVNAFT RALLY TEAM 28h 05′ 33” + 00h 26′ 51”
9 18
(aus) TOBY PRICE
RED BULL KTM FACTORY RACING 28h 11′ 12” + 00h 32′ 30” 00h 06′ 00”
10 43
(usa) MASON KLEIN
BAS DAKAR KTM RACING TEAM 28h 14′ 08” + 00h 35′ 26”

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