2019 DAKAR: SS7, It's All Downhill from Here


Only Three Days Left, But Can We Trust that It’ll Be Smooth Sailing?

No matter what the outcome this Thursday, the finale of the 2019 Dakar Rally will make history. Whether we see four Americans seeded under 50th. Two US riders in the Top Ten. One standing on the podium with our National Anthem playing in the background. Or, some other combination of conclusions… It will be a proud moment. Because of those 12 individuals competing, all have fought valiantly.

Special Stage Seven offered yet another 800-ft mountain of sand. Only this time, the racers pointed their headlights downward, surfing the face of this tsunami-sized cliff. From a spectator’s point of view, the vehicles looked as if they were gliding – pushing apart the soft terrain like wake from a ship as they dove towards level plains at alarming speeds. A driver with lesser experience might begin to doubt themselves at the halfway point then, foolishly, hit the brakes, slowing the rear wheels and sliding sideways until the inside tires – now perpendicular to their original path – dig deep enough to catch and thrust the vessel into a tumbling descent. Terrifying. But exhilarating. Because the secret to overcoming the dunes, is gas. Just like the key to an epic fail… Also gas.

“Today was really, really tough. You know, it was 323K’s of what we’ve already ridden, so the track got really rough and ratted up. And the cars and the trucks obviously brought up all the rocks, so it was really dangerous…” (Pause) “I started enjoying halfway through when we got into the dunes. It was a little more fun, a little bit more technical on the navigational side of things. …All in all, you know, we stayed in one piece, kept the bike together, which is the main thing. And we’re still enjoying the rally. Still good to be in the mix of things. And looking forward to the last couple of days.” – 17th overall, Ross Branch #114, BAS Dakar Team, BWA

Understandably, Pablo Quintanilla’s (#6) performance was less than ideal for the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team rider. But as first out the gate, he faced both the typical disadvantage in that he had no tracks to follow. And the added dangers left behind from the previous days of rallying. Grassroots racer, Garrett Poucher (#71), has had a few of his misfortunes go viral. Many of us have seen the video(s) of Poucher forcing a stage finish on a rubber-less rim. Or more recently the picture of him going full ostrich, head buried in the sand, bike swinging overhead in a direction that could only lead to “more ouch.” Yet, each day Poucher has pushed himself to the end and continues to force himself up the ladder – today clinching 36th in the stage. Fellow Yankee Nathan Rafferty (#104) has also had his fair share of mishaps which he too has had to overcome, which the BAS Dakar Team racer described in full on Instagram:

“Spent the whole night stressing as the organizers said today’s 100KM dune section was even tougher [than in Special Stage Six]…Turns out the dunes today weren’t nearly as tough as yesterday…Thought I did have the worst…wreck of my life…[with] what I thought might be a broken wrist. In the end, I slipped a few places today but am happy to still be upright.”

Ricky Brabec (#15) may not have won the stage, but he’s back on top in the general standings. Adrien Van Beveren (#4) continues to hold his spot in line, keeping a close eye on the podium with less than 9 minutes away from snagging the spotlight from Ricky. While the other fast-guys are as little as four minutes from tasting victory. Countryman and comrade, Andrew Short (#29), has decided to step up from 10th to 9th in the general standings with a tactic which won the Tortoise his race. Could Short surprise the world, slowly but surely – casually making his way to the podium? Will Brabec hold onto the first seed over the remaining three specials and do what’s so far been the impossible for Americans: arriving to Lima a winner and leaving it a legend.

"I was just catching up with the group on the dunes when I saw them turning around in circles. I realized they were unable to find the WP, so I pulled away and validated the waypoint, but Matthias saw me, and the rest followed him. I could've hit the jackpot today, but unfortunately, they saw me. I still managed to put time into everyone except Ricky, so it was a good day. It wasn't easy to hide that I'd validated the waypoint. We're getting near the finish, so we have to stay focused. I'm doing my best every day and I really hope it's going to pay off." – Adrien Van Beveren #4, Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team, FRA.

2019 could wind up a most historic year for American motorsports enthusiasts. With two of their own firmly seeded in the Top Ten, one of which is favorite to take the championship. Not only that, but the few US privateers in the Moto class have been exceeding expectations, all of whom are elevating to new heights – and positions – each stage, with only minor setbacks. What we can expect over the next few stages? As with every special so far, we can expect nothing… But blood, sweat, tears… and triumphs.

Rankings of Americans after SS7

  • 3rd Ricky Brabec #15 – 03h 58’ 11”; 1st in the General Classification

  • 6th Andrew Short #29 – 04h 03’ 10”; 9th in the General Classification

  • 36th Garrett Poucher #71 – 05h 00’ 41”; 45th in the General Classification

  • 72nd Nathan Rafferty #104 – 06h 42’ 28”; 57th in the General Classification

  • DNF Skyler Howes #73

Top Ten Stage Finishers

  • 1st Sam Sunderland #14 – 03h 51’ 41”; 4th in the General Classification

  • 2nd Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo #10 – 03h 53’ 32”; 12th in the General Classification

  • 3rd Ricky Brabec #15 – 03h 58’ 11”; 1st in the General Classification

  • 4th Adrien Van Beveren #4 – 04h 01’ 21”; 2nd in the General Classification

  • 5th Luciano Benavides #77 – 04 03’ 00”; 11th in the General Classification

  • 6th Andrew Short #29 – 04h 03’ 10”; 9th in the General Classification

  • 7th Xavier de Soultrait #18 – 04h 04’ 53”; 10th in the General Classification

  • 8th Toby Price #3 – 04h 06’ 00”; 3rd in the General Classification

  • 9th Stefan Svitko #11 – 04h 08’ 02”; 8th in the General Classification

  • 10th Matthias Walkner #1 – 04h 08’ 19”; 7th in the General Classification

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

Chris Glaspell

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