Al-Rajhi, Brabec take first Dakar stage wins

Al-Rajhi, Brabec take first Dakar stage wins

Off Road

Al-Rajhi, Brabec take first Dakar stage wins

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The Dakar Rally launched its second week in Saudi Arabia with the 453km/282-mile special stage 7 from Ha’il to Sakaka consisting primarily of hard dunes and fast tracks, which produced first-time stage winners in the car and bike ranks.

In the former, Saudi’s own Yazeed Al Rajhi took the spoils with his privateer Toyota, leading home overall leader Stephane Peterhansel (MINI JCW buggy) by 48 seconds after the Frenchman lost the lead when his MINI suffered a broken a wheel and lost five minutes to repair work. He still led home teammate Carlos Sainz and Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser All-Attiyah in third and fourth places, however, and so Peterhansel stretched his overall advantage to 7m53s over Al-Attiyah and 41m06s over Sainz.

“It was a nice stage. We did our best, although we suffered two punctures. We still managed to push hard and we were motivated because we were level with Carlos when we had a flat tire after 40km,” related Al Rajhi, who is not in contention for the overall win after numerous delays in previous stages. “Navigating wasn’t too hard for us. Now, I just want to do well every day, that’s our goal.”

While happy to have extended his lead, Peterhansel regretted having missed a chance to deal even further damage to his pursuers.

“I hit a rock with 40km to go and broke a rim,” he related. We spent a long time changing the wheel, it was quite hard. It’s a pity because we were going quite fast at the intermediate time checks and we could have put more time into our rivals today, but we let the opportunity slip away.”

Although he topped the unofficial prologue stage, reigning bike champion Ricky Brabec hadn’t won an official stage in the opening week, but the American rider changed that today. Brabec led home his Monster Energy Honda teammate Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo by 2m07s to pull himself up to eighth overall, although he’s still nearly 15 minutes off the lead, which is now held by Cornejo Florimo by one second (!) over Toby Price, who slipped back to second with a seventh-place finish Sunday.

“I’m not sure about getting back a whole lotta time,” admitted Brabec. “Toby’s still behind me (for tomorrow’s start). We’re gonna try and stay focused and make it through tomorrow to get back to a mechanic.

“I don’t know if this Dakar is about strategy. I think the strategy is to not open! I think everyone that’s opening is just losing a little bit of time. There’s five days left and we’re gonna try just to finish in the top 7 every day and see if we can make up a little bit of time.”

Perhaps the best way to gain ground, then, is to have a mediocre stage while your top competitors have a worse one — which is what happened to America’s Seth Quintero (pictured above). After becoming the youngest Dakar stage winner ever by setting the pace on stage 6 in the lightweight vehicle category for Red Bull Off-Road Team USA, the 18-year-old finished only seventh today but still moved from third to second overall behind Monster Energy Can-Am racer Aron Domzala. He swapped places with fellow American Austin Jones, who placed ninth in stage 7. Quintero finished one place behind Domzala, however, and so lost 15s to the leader. He now trails the Pole by 8m41s.

Manuel Andujar padded his lead in the quad division by winning the stage by 3m05s, and now enjoys a lead of nearly 21 minutes. Dimitry Sotnikov is even better placed in the truck division, leading by nearly 46m after another crushing stage win — his fifth among the seven to date — for the Kamaz team.

The day ended on a sad note with the news that Dakar legend Hubert Auriol had died at age 68 after a long illness. Auriol won the Dakar three times, first on a bike (1981 and 1983) and then in a car (1992), and served as the event’s race director for almost a decade. He inspired generations of riders and drivers and has been an integral part of the rally throughout its history.

Hubert Auriol

Although of French origin, Auriol was a native of Addis Abeba and soon came to be known as “The African.” He gained fame for his epic duels with Cyril Neveu in what was then the Paris Dakar Rally — particularly in 1987, when he lost after breaking both ankles in the penultimate stage. Following a switch to the car class, the 1992 edition saw Auriol become the first competitor to win in two different categories, a feat he achieved together with his navigator Philippe Monnet. After Auriol’s final participation as a driver, when he finished as runner-up in 1994, he became the director of the event and stayed at the helm until 2003.

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