Carlos Sainz started the second half of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia the same way he spent much of its first half — out front and in control. The JCW X-Raid Mini buggy driver finished the 339-mile stage from Riyadh to Wadi Al Dawasir 2m12s in front of the Toyota 4×4 of Nasser Al-Attiyah, and stretched his overall lead of the event to 10m over the Qatari. Sainz’s Mini teammate Stephane Peterhansel remained third overall after finishing in that position again today, 42s behind Al-Attiyah.
However, the racing was overshadowed by the tragic death of motorcycle competitor Paulo Goncalves, who succumbed to injuries suffered in a fall during today’s special. When reached by a medical helicopter the 40-year-old veteran was unconscious and going into cardiac arrest. Following resuscitation efforts at the scene, he was airlifted to nearby Layla Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Goncalves was taking part in his 13th Dakar. He made his debut in 2006 and had finished four times in the top 10, including an impressive performance as runner-up to Marc Coma in 2015. He is the first competitor to die in the Dakar Rally since Polish motorcyclist Michal Hernik in 2015.
“It was a nice stage from the sporting point of view, but from the moment I saw the (Goncalves) crash, I was unable to focus,” admitted Quad class overall leader Ignacio Casale, who summed up the general view after finishing third today. “I spent the rest of the stage thinking about it. The result doesn’t really matter today. I did a good stage, I’m first (overall) but I don’t feel well. I just want to go to the bivouac, rest and gather my wits to do well tomorrow.”
Similarly, Ricky Brabec lost some ground to teammate Joan Barreda, who finished second on the stage to Kevin Benavides (who is already out of contention), but the American remains in control of the general classification among the bikes, leading Pablo Quintanilla by 24m48s in his bid to bring Honda its first Dakar win in 30 years
“Today was so fast! It was crazy. Unfortunately, I started first, so it’s a given to lose some time today,” he said. “Joan caught me at km 170 and then from there we rode together all day. It’s pretty nice to have a teammate to ride with every day and help navigate. I think Joan won the stage, but we’re another day closer to the finish, so I’m happy. I’m just gonna regroup for tomorrow. It’s hard to tell where your time is because we have a 15-minute neutralization and Toby (Price) started really far back.”
The event also has another American leader: Casey Currie took over at the top of the SSV class from Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez, who struggled at the end of the stage, losing 53 minutes to stage winner Blade Hildebrand, who is running under “Dakar Experience” rules after withdrawing on Stage 2. He finished 11m up on his fellow American Currie, who now has a healthy lead over 32m over the Chilean.
Tomorrow’s loop takes the competitors south and mostly out of the sand dunes into mountain canyons.