2019 DAKAR: Racers Barely Stay Afloat During a Punishing Special Stage 6

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As a Tidal Wave of Sand Washes Away the Competition

839 kilometers extending from Arequipa to San Juan de Marcona, zig-zagging inland to the coast, were lined with spectators. Their vehicles scattered across an open desert – raising the earth as they sped with purpose to catch a glimpse of the coming challengers. Some of those racers never appeared, however. While others rolled in bruised and battle worn – still unsure they could continue over the coming days.

“I’m very sad, and disappointed, to say that this is the end of my Dakar. On Special Stage Six… I guess it all started after Special Stage Three…There was a little kid on a moped…and he didn’t look…he just turned in front of me. And there’s nowhere to go; there’s nothing I could do, so I just grabbed as much brake as I could grab, and it threw me to the ground, hard. Which in hindsight is probably the best thing that could have happened, because if I would have hit the kid, I’m certain I would have killed him.” – Rookie Skyler Howes #72, Garrett Off-Road Racing team, USA

Anyone following Dakar might know, Howes’ race didn’t end after SS3. He rested his injured shoulder – which he’d suffered from the aforementioned crash, took some pain pills and woke up the next day for the Marathon Stages. Part One, his performance was respectable, but not up to his liking. Part Two, though, blew everyone out of the water, as the privateer is not only exceeding expectations for his third rally effort, ever, but he managed to place in the Top Ten during Special Stage Five. As is the case when competing with a fresh injury, Skyler’s shoulder wouldn’t stay in place for long. Within 30 kilometers of entering Special Stage Six, a minor crash caused his shoulder to dislocate. He reset it and continued onward. It was a sharp ledge in the unforgiving dunes which ultimately ended his ride, subsequently dislocating his shoulder for the second time.

Those first off the line were flummoxed by the complicated navigation. Errors allowed the latter top tier to catch up – possibly following or learning from their freshly laid tracks. Alas, the race on Sunday was difficult for everyone. Treacherous waves of soft, unruly sand, fickle weather and lacking visibility, plus, the pièce de résistance: a daunting ascent up a steep, Everest-sized cliff made of khaki-colored granules which don’t pack down but part ways like the Red Sea. (Poignant…? More like frustrating.) Before racers had a chance to reach the climax, they endured sand hills relatively smaller, but apparently not much less difficult to overcome. Even Xavier de Soultrait (#18), dubbed the “King of Dunes” among comrades, struggled to ride over some of those obstacles – making two or three passes at a climb. Still, a few challengers came out victorious. Pablo Quintanilla (#6) nabbed a stage win sneaking him just passed Monster Energy Honda Team rider Ricky Brabec (#15) in the General Standings where Pablo now sits at Number One just four minutes ahead of the American.

"It was a hard stage. I attacked from the beginning, caught Kevin [Benavides] and overtook him. At KM 290, I had a problem with the road book and was unable to read it, so I had to follow Kevin. We were near the finish when I got a fuel running. In the end, it was a blessing in disguise to have to ride behind because, if I'd kept on attacking at the same pace, I would've run out of petrol. In the end, it was a tough and stressful day, but it's a fantastic finish." – Stage Six Winner, Pablo Quintanilla #6, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Team, CHL

Anything can happen during a special stage. Something miraculous or catastrophic. Out the gate or moments from the finish, even a minuscule incident can change a competitor's destiny in an instant. Something every man and woman coming to Dakar know: all their efforts – the training, prepping, raising money, competing – could be for nothing. But can they ever really know what's coming until they learn it the hardest way? Today, one unfortunate fellow flew up over a dune and landed so abruptly, he broke both of his ankles. And a front runner, Lorenzo Santolino (#63), sustained a bad crash early on, which took him out of contention, though he is said not to have any fractures.

There are those who experience this fate before they even set rubber onto the racecourse. And others, seconds from victory. It's how this rally business goes. The name of the game. It's enough to break a man's spirit. To bring those who are toughest to tears. But after the dust settles and the fallen pick themselves back up, the true test of character is in the grace with which one moves on. Because if we’ve learned anything from rally racing, the greatness of man is not measured by the number of his successes, but in how he conducts himself when facing failure. To sum it up, as eloquently stated in the novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain: "There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose."

KEY POINTS:

  • [Jose Ignacio] Cornejo [Florimo] (#10), who moved up to second place after race authorities returned the time that he had spent assisting fallen rider Paulo Gonçalves in stage five, ended up opening the way for several kilometers. As a consequence of this disadvantageous position the Chilean dropped time but managed to keep pace with his adversaries. (Statement courtesy of the ASO.)

  • A recent injury to Toby Price’s right wrist hasn’t seemed to slow him down over these last six specials. Though it’s supposedly "…getting worse. It's going to be hard, but we're just trying to keep pace. We've still got four days to go. We'll see what happens." Still positive, for good reason, Price (#3) has managed to hold onto his third overall position.

  • Reportedly, Laia Sanz (#17) and teammate Price had waged a bet at the 2019 Dakar Rally. If Toby finishes in the top five, he will receive a five-second kiss from Laia. While Laia can cut Toby’s “ungainly” mullet if she ends in the top 15.

Rankings of Americans after SS6

  • 6th Ricky Brabec #15 – 03h 58’ 17”; 2nd in the General Classification

  • 8th Andrew Short #29 – 04h 04’ 41”; 10th in the General Classification

  • 47th Garrett Poucher #71 – 06h 41’ 50”; 46th in the General Classification

  • 54th Nathan Rafferty #104 – 07h 23’ 33”; 53rd in the General Classification

  • DNF Skyler Howes #73

Top Ten Stage Finishers in Motorcycles

  • 1st Pablo Quintanilla #6 – 03h 50’ 47”; 1st in the General Classification

  • 2nd Kevin Benavides #47 – 03h 52’ 39”; 4th in the General Classification

  • 3rd Matthias Walkner #1 – 03h 55’ 08”; 6th in the General Classification

  • 4th Toby Price #3 – 03h 55’ 35”; 3rd in the General Classification

  • 5th Adrien Van Beveren #4 – 03h 56’ 18”; 5th in the General Classification

  • 6th Ricky Brabec #15 – 03h 58’ 17”; 2nd in the General Classification

  • 7th Stefan Svitko #11 – 03h 59’ 07”; 8th in the General Classification

  • 8th Andrew Short #29 – 04h 04’ 41”; 10th in the General Classification

  • 9th Luciano Benavides #77 – 04 06’ 00”; 11th in the General Classification

  • 10th Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo #10 – 04h 12’ 34”; 12th in the General Classification

By Kyra Sacdalan, Justin W. Coffey. www.westx1000.com

Chris Glaspell

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