The Dakar Rally Proves Unpredictable Once More with Fresh Winners and Withdrawals
Special Stage Three offered racers a mix of geographical features, bringing the men and women of Dakar to the shores of the Pacific and back inland down another long, windy route. Expected to be a great navigational challenge, this section led to some exciting and unexpected outcomes.
It was the only cloud-cover the event had seen yet. A welcome change from the unrelenting sun. But early morning fog enveloped the view in some parts of the course for some time, only to be replaced by an extreme amount of dust, as many riders reported. Quite silty, the situation was likely made worse due the cars departing prior to the bikes and quads, creating additional hurdles to overcome. For those who could focus on the rare window of clarity appearing between the shroud of dirt, navigating the rocky terrain past their blind opponents was, if not easy, possible.
“It was very dusty and kind of sketchy and rocky. But if you got out of the dust, you could see just enough to avoid the rocks. So, I was pinning it… full Hare and Hound. [Like in] Baja. Exactly like everything I’ve ever raced before. The whole first 70 kilometers were like that… I passed so many people, so quickly.” – Skyler Howes #73, Garrett Off-Road Racing Team, USA
Tough day at the office for a handful of top seeded riders in the Bikes category on the 331 KM Special Stage to Arequipa, Peru. Joan Barreda Bort (#5), who looked to be a contender for the overall win, had to pull out of the race after a long struggle to escape a basin where he and his motorbike had been stuck for several hours. This of course helps clear the way – just a bit – for his most worthy adversaries. With new riders finishing in the primary five positions, we’re reminded every round at the world’s most infamous off-road rally starts a fresh battle where anyone can make it to the winner’s circle and the shoe-ins can fall from drastic heights. Xavier de Soultrait (#18) secured his first Dakar stage win just seconds, 15 to be precise, ahead of overall leader Pablo Quintanilla (#6). Kevin Benavides (#47) and Adrien Van Beveren (#4) fought miraculously through the crowd to snatch up 3rd and 4th in the stage.
Meanwhile, stage opener Matthias Walkner (#1) lost his way, supposedly taking Barreda, American Ricky Brabec (#15) and a few others with him while Yamaha’s Soultrait gapped everyone else by over six mins at the midway point. Brabec and Walkner were off by as much as 24 and 29 mins respectively at the gas stop.
Despite the loss in time, Brabec still earned a respectable 13th place at the finish, while US rider Andrew Short (#29) was quite steadfast at 12th. Skyler Howes (#73) keeps clawing his way to the top, even battling Brabec for a while before landing 17th in line. Keep in mind, the Dakar Rally is only the third navigation rally the rookie Howes has ever competed in. Two of which – the Sonora Rally and BAJA RALLY – he won, overall. Grassroots racer Nathan Rafferty (#104) too moves fluidly up the rankings taking 70th today. But the real Cinderella Story was of privateer racer, Garrett Poucher (#71), making a major comeback starting 120th in the lineup and ending the round at 28th. About 75 kilometers from the final of Special Stage Two, Poucher had suffered a malfunction which in his words, “disintegrated my bib and soon [thereafter] ripped off my rear tire.” But he pushed onward, completing both the special and liaison stages, qualifying to race the following morning. And race he did, as he jumped 92 spots which puts him at 79th in the General Classification.
At the conclusion of Day 3 of racing, in the General Classification (overall) for Motorcycles, there sits two Americans in the Top Ten: Brabec at 7th, Short at 10th; one just outside of the premiere 20: Howes with the 21st seed; and two Americans in the in the top 100: Rafferty in 77th and of course Poucher sitting at 79th. Not bad for the often-under-represented United States! But it might be too soon to make this same statement about the cars? Casey Currie in SxS #343 made another huge leap to 4th place, the US drivers, Blade Hildebrand (#367) and Cole Potts (#346) crossed the finish line at 27th and 56th. Though, we’re left to wonder, where’s off-road legend, Robby Gordon (#316)? The answer is yet to be determined…
12th Andrew Short #29 – 04h 22’ 52”; 10th in the General Classification
13th Ricky Brabec #15 – 04h 27’ 43”; 7th in the General Classification
17th Skyler Howes #73 – 04h 38’ 28”; 21st in the General Classification
28th Garrett Poucher #71 – 05h 03’ 24”; 79th in the General Classification
70th Nathan Rafferty #104 – 06h 08’ 30”; 77th in the General Classification
Top Ten Stage Finishers in Motorcycles
1st Xavier de Soultrait #18 – 04h 07’ 42”; 6th in the General Classification
2nd Pablo Quintanillo #6 – 04h 07’ 57”; 1st in the General Classification
3rd Kevin Benavides #47 – 04h 10’ 19”; 2nd in the General Classification
4th Adrien Van Beveren #4 – 04h 14’ 24”; 4th in the General Classification
5th Sam Sunderland #14 – 04h 16’ 08”; 3rd in the General Classification
6th Paulo Goncalves #2 – 04h 17’ 13”; 9th in the General Classification
7th Stefan Svitko #11 – 04h 18’ 32”; 11th in the General Classification
8th Oriol Mena #7 – 04h 18’ 57”; 12th in the General Classification
9th Toby Price #3 – 04h 21’ 58”; 5th in the General Classification
10th Michael Metge #16 – 04h 22’ 27”; 26th in the General Classification
Tomorrow, January 10th to 11th sets off the Marathon stage sending racers on a loop around Arequipa before splitting Cars/Trucks/SxS off to Tacna and Motorbikes and Quads to Moquegua.
By Kyra Sacdalan, Justin W. Coffey. www.westx1000.com