After six gruelling days of riding
and driving through Peru’s vast sand dunes and having entered the beautiful
landscape of Bolivia, the Dakar Rally 2018 is left with 110 bikes, 41 quads, 71
cars and SxS, and 30 trucks. They reached La Paz in Bolivia for the rest day
which was on January 12. It was time to rest, eat, drink and not to forget,
Led by Argentinean Kevin
Benavides, the bike race arrived in La Paz with a top 10 within less than 30 minutes
of the leader. In the car category, the cull was more dramatic: Stéphane
isolated himself from most of
his rivals, but now is faced with a duel against his team-mate Carlos Sainz,his
nearest pursuer in the general standings.
Bikes: The specialists stand out
A wind of change blew through
the bike category during the first part of the Dakar 2018. The specific
sequencing of the difficulties, with stages including extremely demanding
dunes, made it possible for the specialists to stand out. Such was the case for
title holder Sam Sunderland, until an awkward landing after a jump resulted in
another withdrawal. In particular, the sensation was made by Adrien van
Beveren, who had already given promising signs on his first two Dakar rallies.
He has further improved his status this past week in Peru, part of which he
spent at the top of the general standings. A sand specialist, the Frenchman,
accompanied by Yamaha team-mate Xavier de Soultrait, took advantage of terrain
best suited to him.
On arriving in Bolivia, Van
Beveren lost first place to Kevin Benivades, whose comeback is living up to the
hopes of his aficionados, already delighted to see an Argentinean lead the bike
category for the very first time. The man from Salta has become the key asset
for the Honda team, who can still count on Joan Barreda (in 4th position).
During his two special stage victories, the Spaniard demonstrated that he is
still the quickest in the pack… but he is also one of the most vulnerable.
“Bang-Bang” fell foul of fortune with a major navigation error on stage 3: if
he makes another one, he will no longer be in the reckoning for overall
triumph. There are still many legitimate pretenders and KTM are far from giving
up the ghost. Matthias Walkner (in 3rd) is displaying exemplary consistency,
while Toby Price (in 5th) is efficiently making sure of the essentials. To
extend its domination over the event, the Austrian firm is also counting on
Antoine Meo (in 7th), who won the last special before the rest day.
Quads: one man left standing
Ignacio Casale started the
rally like a boss, with three consecutive stage victories that caused panic
among his rivals. Title holder Sergey Karyakin, perhaps a little too eager to
avoid losing ground, exited the race with a broken arm, whilst Rafal Sonik
fractured his shin. However, for the Chilean, who let his expertise in the
dunes do the talking, the road is not yet totally clear and the Argentineans
Jeremias González and Pablo Copetti could take advantage of riding in front of
a home crowd next week.
Cars: the master has spoken
In general, the gaps open up
during the second week, but this year the unforgiving Peruvian dunes put paid
to NaniRoma’s hopes of victory when he left the rally injured after rolling his
car over and over on the way to San Juan de Marcona. Sébastien Loeb was very
prominent following his 2nd place in 2017, but abdicated from the race due to a
mistake and crash that put his co-pilot out of service in the Tanaka Desert,
the day after his 10th and most probably last stage victory on the Dakar! Cyril
Despres is still in the race, but due to the hours he lost repairing a wheel
ripped off after hitting a rock on the 4th stage, he is definitively distanced.
In the X-Raid team, Mikko Hirvonen and Yazeed Al
Rajhi also suffered severe
mishaps. As for Toyota, even Nasser Al Attiyah and Giniel De Villiers have lost
precious dozens of minutes, which compromises their chances of outright triumph
In the meantime, “Peter” has
proceeded smoothly and the others made one blunder after another. With his
co-pilot Jean-Paul Cottret, the crew enjoyed a faultless week. The road to a
14th title seems wide open for him… but nothing is ever that simple on the
Dakar. After all, while he has distanced most of his rivals (Ten Brinke is 3rd,
1 hour and 20 minutes behind, whilst Al Attiyah in 4th trails by 1 hour and 24
minutes), he still has to win a duel with Carlos Sainz, lying in wait “only” 27
minutes back. After five consecutive withdrawals, “El Matador” seems to have
regained his consistency. He finished the first week of the Dakar with a
thirtieth career stage victory on the rally. Next week promises to be exciting.
Among the 11 Side-by-Sides
that started in Lima, 10 are still in the race at La Paz. The category is
dominated by the two Can-Am buggies driven by Brazilian Reinaldo Varela and
Peruvian Juan-Carlos Uribe. Frenchman Patrice Garrouste in his Polaris buggy
for the X-Treme Plus team is the other man in the provisional podium places.
Trucks: Villagra in
Nikolaev’s rear-view mirror
The question of whether the
Kamaz trucks cannot be beaten is regularly asked on the Dakar. For the moment,
it would indeed seem that they cannot, with the general standings dominated by
Eduard Nikolaev. The two times winner has stamped his authority on the race,
with three stage victories out of six. However, he is not enjoying the usual
collective support from his team-mates. Indeed, Federico Villagra is on his
tail (52 minutes behind, all the same!). The Argentinean has won two specials
and is showing the sort of racing maturity that could witness him causing
problems for the Russian rally leader.
Source: Dakar Rally 2018 media room
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