BRABEC IN COMMAND
As the Dakar Rally reaches the halfway point – and the all-important rest day – it’s Monster Energy Honda’s Ricky Brabec who leads. In fact Brabec has maintained the overall lead since stage three. Reason being, Brabec’s been able to do what no other rider has yet managed in this rally, which is to properly limit the time losses on the day’s he’s had to lead out. Breaking trail has not cost Brabec his lead, as it has others, and this is significant.
While the Monster Energy Honda team had in the early stages been able to almost keep a lock-out on the top of the leaderboard – thanks to strong performances from teammates Kevin Benavides, Joan Barreda and ‘Nacho’ Cornejo – as of the sixth stage the fight back from the Mattighofen set (KTM/Husqvarna) looks to be well underway.
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla has been strong throughout this rally and by keeping in the top five each stage he’s stayed in contention. Meanwhile Red Bull KTM’s Toby Price has won two stages, but the downsides of stage wins has been the handicap of trail blazing the next stage, and the time losses here have cost the Australian (more than they have cost Brabec). Meanwhile Matthias Walkner is only just outside the top-five and certainly within striking distance.
Here’s why Brabec leads.
Stage 1: 2nd, 5-seconds behind Price.
Stage 2: 12th, 8’45” behind Ross Branch (while fellow stage lead-out Price lost 12’13”).
Stage 3: 1st, with Price 8’35” behind, takes over the rally lead by 4’43”.
Stage 4: 5th and only 2’48” behind winner Cornejo despite leading out, his overall lead is cut to 2’30” over Kevin Benavides.
Stage 5: 4th, 3’03” behind winner Price, but extends overall lead to 9’06” now over Price.
Stage 6: 1st, and Price finishes 11th having lost 16’33”, Brabec extends overall lead to 20’56”
Brabec and Price have two stage wins each. Significantly on the two days the two have been effectively lead-outs (we’re counting Brabec’s 2nd place going into stage two here) they’ve lost to that day’s stage winners 11’33” for Brabec and 28’46” for Price. It’s this damage limitation that’s giving Brabec the advantage. It could be he’s emerging as the new fast navigator of the modern era (much as Despres/Coma were a decade or so ago).
As ever the rally is unforgiving and crashing out has been a theme, perhaps not helped by the stony terrain and enforced high-speeds coming from the front-runners. So we’ve lost some fancied names as a consequence. Monster Energy Yamaha lost their second top rider in as many stages, Xavier de Soultrait having to abandon in stage four when the wrist injury he picked up in stage three was just two much to ride with. Red Bull KTM’s Sam Sunderland suffered a high speed crash later in that stage sustaining back injuries. While in stage six TVS Sherco’s Johnny Aubert also crashed heavily within site of the stage finish, worryingly sustaining head and rib injuries.
Stage six saw Monster Energy Honda’s Kevin Benavides a near non-finisher when his engine ‘broke’ (according to Dakar.com). He eventually finished over three and half hours later after being towed to the finish by another competitor.
The concern here is whether this is continuation of the engine failure issue that took Brabec out the 2019 Dakar while leading in the eighth stage (of ten). Is Honda confident that the CRF motor can go 12 stages? We raise this because an engine swap is allowed, albeit it comes with a 15-minute penalty. So with Brabec enjoying a 20’56” lead would it be worth Honda making the engine swap now? He’d have a brand new motor for the second half of the event and still have a near six-minute lead over Quintanilla and near 11-minute lead over Price…
For sure, the team managers will be flow-charting the rest of the rally and looking at their strategies to get their riders into the best possible positions for the final stage.
THE MANUFACTURERS’ POSITIONS
Honda. Up until Benavides’ breakdown, Honda had all four top men still right in there. But even with Benavides effectively out (but able to ride ‘sweep’ for the team – which could be super-useful in the event of mechanicals) three riders in the top five, and the lead, is a great position to be in. A seriously on-form team.
KTM. With Sunderland’s departure KTM is a man down. Lying third, sixth and seventh isn’t great, but we’re only at half distance and KTM have been in this position countless times before. Cool heads.
Husqvarna. Quintanilla’s second place position is a strong performance (just as he produced in 2019) and he’s a threat for the win. Teammate Andrew Short meanwhile, after a seemingly cautious start, looks to be improving with every stage, now 12th he could climb well into the top-10 before the finish.
Yamaha. Losing Van Beveren and de Soultrait effectively ends their bid for victory. But their second tier of runners look to be having a very good run. Franco Caimi has just made the top-10, satellite (Australian Yamaha) rider Rodney Faggotter is likewise looking strong in 13th while the team’s understudy, the rookie Jamie McCanney has been carefully learning the game, but rising up the rankings all the time, now 22nd.
Sherco. Johnny Aubert’s exit is a blow (and a worry – we’re hoping he’s okay) but the team is doing well nonetheless, not stealing any headlines perhaps but with Adrien Metge 11th and Lorenzo Santolini 14th they’re doing well.
Matthias Walkner on stage six (he finished third):
“It was a very intense stage today – very long and maybe 80 percent full gas the whole way. It was tough both physically and mentally and I’m glad of the rest day tomorrow
First in the general is amazing. We are sitting in a good spot for tomorrow to push. We will try and catch the main group and not lose too much time. Right now we are taking it day by day. It’s too hard to have a strategy. There’s a lot of racing left to do. We are going to go day by day and hope for good results each day.
Johnny Aubert, after stage 5:
Today was really good until the 62 km where I crashed hard and broke all the navigation system. But I started again and had a good speed. Then I found Sunderland on the groun, he crashed just in front of me so I stopped to stay with him. Not easy to be focus after all that..
Pablo Quitanilla, after stage 5:
Riding 200 kilometres in the dunes was hard – you are on the pegs the whole way and there’s no time to rest. It seems stage six will be similar.”
2020 Dakar Rally
Positions after six stages
1.Ricky Brabec Monster Energy Honda / USA 23:43.47
2. Pablo Quintanilla Rockstar Energy Husqvarna / CHL +20.56
3. Toby Price Red Bull KTM / AUS +25.39
4. Jose Cornejo Monster Energy Honda / CHL +25.41
5. Joan Barreda Bort Monster Energy Honda / ESP +32.58
6. Matthias Walkner Red Bull KTM / AUT +33.39
7. Luciano Benavides Red Bull KTM / ARG +39.02
8. Skyler Howes KLYMCIW Racing / USA + 1:04.50
9. Stefan Svitko Slovnaft Rally / SLO +1:07.49
10. Franco Caimi Monster Energy Yamaha / ARG +1:10.24