Salta to Belen
Special sections: 393km Total: 766km
The second part of the rally will see many changes with the coming of the dunes and other terrain. The experts in dunes crossing will have an opportunity to demonstrate their skills and will gain big advantages. They will also notice the navigational difficulties which have been introduced this year to complicate their existence. Competitors typically lose tons of time from being stuck in the sand.
The Dunes did not disapoint today! In the cars Al Attiyah narrowly beat Sainz by 12 seconds after nearly 400 km of racing. While Loeb and Peterhansel losing a lot of time today. But Peterhansel still maintains the lead with Loeb out of the general classification hunt. I would have thought that Robby Gordon would try to make some headway, but he is apparently having difficulties staying with the Europeans.
Meanwhile in the bikes, Toby Price is doing just as I predicted, make a calculated move in the dunes and put over 2 minutes on Goncalves. Toby will be hard to beat from here on out. In only his second Dakar, he stands a good chance to take it. This will be huge for the Red Bull KTM organization to have an Australian (non-European) win the Dakar. Hopefully this will open the doors to other aspiring racers from the Americas and other countries.
I saw Danny Laporte at the Anaheim supercross and he likes what he is seeing at the Dakar. We spoke about the the Dakar. No American has ever won the Dakar Rally but we have had three podium finishers: (2nd place) Danny Laporte in 1992, (3rd place) Jimmy Lewis in 2000 and (3rd place) Chris Blais in 2007. USA has had a handful of American top ten finishers and stage winners in recent years that include Johnny Campbell, Quinn Cody, Jonah Street and the late Kurt Caselli.
With Meo 28 minutes back its going to be interesting who steps it up to challenge Price. Meanwhile, Alain Duclos is still hanging in the top ten and Ricky Brabec has moved up to 13th and is easily within striking distance of the top 5. I am pretty sure that he is getting team orders to stay put and follow Goncalves into the finish. American Adam Blythe is now 29th, Alexander Smith is 45th, and CR Gittere is still in the top 80 (at the time of this writing).
Things change in the Dakar quickly and the tension builds for the teams as they approach the finish. I guarantee there is a not a lot of talking between competitors right now as the racers like to hold the cards close to their chest.
Below are some dune shots from the Sahara desert. Just imagine being fatigued already and having to pick the motorcycle out of the sand. The heart rate shoots straight up and each time this happens, there is a physical cost and it often shows itself later in the rally through navigation errors and crashes.
Tomorrow is a better day logistically, Belen to Belen. It looks like nearly 300km of special test. The support crew is loving that they don’t have to pack up their tents and vehicles. I remember those days well, it was a chance to regroup, catch up with others and plan for the upcoming stages.