Tuesday’s eighth of ten Dakar 2019 stages ran up Peru’s desert coast from San Juan de Marcona to Pisco as the race headed back to the dunes of Ica off a mixed start, with the top ten motorcycles, top ten cars and top five trucks starting the 359km special together. It was foggy at the start and hot — up to 40°C as the race started and the action was to prove just as sizzling.
In the cars, Carlos Sainz was quick out of the blocks to lead the way in his Mini, but he got stuck in the dune sand and lost a significant amount of time to get out, leaving overall leader, SA-built Toyota’s Qatari Nasser Al Attiyah in the lead ahead of his closest rival for the win, Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel’s Mini, the charging rally legend Sebastien Loeb’s Peugeot, Giniel de Villiers’ second SA-built Hilux and the Minis of Pole Jakob Przygonski and Spaniard Nani Roma.
The positions shuffled behind Attiyah, who handled the dunes brilliantly to open up a sizeable gap, but Loeb, running well behind in the split field delivered a late surprise to win the stage, his fourth day win of 2019, by five minutes from Al Attiyah, the battling de Villiers and Przygonski, Roma and Czech Martin Prokop's Ford. Still, Al Attiyah opened his overall lead up to 46 minutes, now over Roma, with Loeb just sixteen seconds adrift in third and Peterhansel fourth a further 6 minutes adrift. Toyota is now tantalisingly close to that first dreamy first Dakar win with just two days of the 2019 race left to run...
South African Dakar rookies Shameer Variawa and Zaheer Bodhanya enjoyed a far better stage on Monday after emergency repairs following their troubled 3am finish the previous day, powering their SVR Red Lined Nissan Navara to fifth in the Marathon class and they were looking good as we closed for press on Tuesday, as they continued to chase their dream of a first time Dakar finish.
The bike stage also started with a bang - quite literally for overall leader, Californian Ricky Brabec, whose luck deserted him yet again as his Honda blew its engine for the second year in a row. That left the road open for Aussie Toby Price (KTM) to lead the way from Chilean Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) and the KTMs of Brit Sam Sunderland and Austrian Matthias Walkner. Biggest news were the Southern African rookies once again well into the top twenty as Ross Branch ran 12th on his KTM and Kenny Gilbert 19th on his Husqvarna.
There was a sting in the tail as 2018 winner Walkner put one over his rivals to take the stage from Quintanilla, Price, Sunderland and US rider Andrew Short (Husqvarna). That provisionally left Price leading Quintanilla bu just a minute with Walkner and Sunderland Adrien van Beveren’s Yamaha in fifth and within 10 minutes of Price. Can Husqvarna or Yamaha stop the KTM from a historic 18th consecutive Dakar victory?
Botswana's rookie leader Branch rode home 17th to move up to a brilliant 14th overall, while Pretoria rider Gilbert ended the day 23rd to move up to 23rd overall and 21st overall as he also moved up a place to third among the rookies. Port Edward Original no service class rider Stuart Gregory continued to deliver a consistent ride as we wrote, after starting the day 78th.
Dominant Argentine quad leader Nicolas Cavigliasso continued to dominate the quads, while truck leader Russian Eduard Nikolaiev (Kamaz) sat back to watch his rivals fight over the stage win as he nursed an hour’s advantage overall with SA crew member Sean Berriman 16th in Berhringer’s MAN as we wrote.
Wednesday's penultimate stage around Pisco is in effect the last chance for anyone to make a significant difference as Thursday’s last day to Lima is perhaps too short to make a difference…