On completion of the first 5 stages that have brought the riders, drivers and crews to Arequipa, there are still 247 vehicles left in the race on the 41st edition of the Dakar (105 bikes, 18 quads, 93 cars, including 24 SxS, and 32 trucks), which is the lowest number of participants left at the mid-way point since 2007 (74%).
For the survivors of this demanding route, the bikers have been dominated by young American Ricky Brabec, who is holding the hopes of Honda to bring the domination of KTM on the event to a close.
In the car race, on the contrary a trio of experienced drivers, made up of Nasser Al Attiyah, Stéphane Peterhansel and Nani Roma, stand out from the rest, among which can be found Sébastian Loeb, who has won two stages.
The stage on which the rally resumes, between Arequipa and San Juan de Marcona, promises to be the theatre of a formidable battle, with the major test of the Tanaka dunes at the beginning. The way back to Lima holds in store another festival of sand.
Bikes: Brabec, Honda’s trump card
With 3 different leaders already in 5 stages, the bike race was quick to liven up for the favourites of this 41st edition.
And heads soon started to roll with the premature exit of the first general standings leader Joan Barreda on just the 3rd stage, following a navigation error fatal to his hopes that led him into a hole between two dunes from which he was unable to emerge, then the withdrawal of his experienced team-mate Paulo Gonçalves two days later after a fall.
However, it is not all doom and gloom for the clan with the winged logo, thanks to the revelation of Ricky Brabec, who leads the general standings at the rally’s mid-way point. The American, comfortable on the sandy terrain, has been impressive on the first part of the Dakar and carries on his shoulders all Honda’s hope of (finally) knocking KTM off their perch.
The Austrian firm has not yet had its last word, as Sam Sunderland lies less than one minute behind the leader of the general standings and boasts the experience of already having won the Dakar.
The rally lead is also open to Pablo Quintanilla, 2’52 behind, and Toby Price, who trails by 3’21, not forgetting Adrien Van Beveren, Kevin Benavides and Matthias Walkner, who are all legitimate outsiders for outright victory in Lima. They have 5 stages left to attack and offer an exciting final sprint!
Quads: an Argentinean boss
With the last two winners of the quad category, namely Ignacio Casale and Sergey Karyakin, out of his way this year, Nicolás Cavigliasso has the feeling that 2019 may be his year and looks determined to not let such a chance escape him.
The Argentinean has been imperial since the start of the rally, gobbling up stage victories with a superb 4 out of 5! Only his countryman Jeremías González Ferioli seems to be able to sometimes follow the pace of the Yamaha rider, but already trails by 59 minutes in the general standings.
Cavigliasso can therefore content himself with controlling the second half of the rally, though this is an attitude that does not correspond with the state of mind of the competitor from Córdoba! Watchful eyes will also be cast on the potential exploits that Gustavo Gallego and Frenchman Alexandre Giroud may be capable of.
Cars: experience tells
The three drivers that make up the provisional podium of the Dakar at the rest day boast 17 titles between them, including 10 in the category. The level of technical performance and reliability demanded by the Peruvian stages has selected the best alchemists of aggressiveness and caution.
In such a context, Nasser Al Attiyah has become both the most pre-eminent and most solid expert, far from the reputation of acrobat and stuntman which had stuck to him during his first years of competition. With consistent driving talent and confident navigation skills thanks to the rapport built up with Mathieu Baumel, the Toyota driver has raced faultlessly to give himself a lead of 24 minutes in the general standings over Stéphane Peterhansel.
Behind the wheel of his Mini buggy, the 13-time title winner has improved his statistics by grabbing the 75th special stage win of his career, has shown that he can fight on equal terms with Al Attiyah, but has made two mistakes too many.
Nani Roma, discrete but consistent in a 4×4 version of the Mini that he controls perfectly, occupies the last step of the provisional podium 34 minutes behind, preserving a chance for victory.
The saying that experience tells does not always rung true, as demonstrated by Giniel de Villiers, who has finished in the final top ten 14 out of 15 times since 2003 and looks unlikely to repeat such a feat this year because he trails his Qatari team-mate by almost 6 hours and 30 minutes, occupying 23rd position.
Another driver unable to display exemplary consistency is two times winner Carlos Sainz, who has also dropped down the standings (to 19th, 5 hours and 30 minutes behind the leader) after having broken his Mini’s suspension in a hole on the 3rd stage.
On the contrary, the exploits accomplished by the most recent arrival in the discipline, Sébastien Loeb, with two more stage wins in the bag including a superb demonstration the day before the rest day, might worry the older hands above him in the general standings.
He will, however, have to avoid making mistakes: last year, it was in the dunes of Tanaka that the man from Alsace’s adventure came to a halt, the very same dunes that are on the programme for the resumption of racing tomorrow.
SxS: a duel between Chile and Brazil…
With a phenomenal increase in the number of starters and a renewal of the list of favourites due to the influx of prestigious new arrivals to the discipline, the SxS category seemed to be the most open on the Dakar 2019.
Indeed, the first five stages have each been won by a different competitor, namely ex-bikers “Chaleco” López and Gerard Farrés as well as former quad category winner Sergey Karyakin.
In this growing pack, the disillusionments started with the fall from grace of Ignacio Casale, to 11th in the general standings, 2 hours and 35 minutes behind the leader, his countryman Ricardo Moreno. At the forefront of the race, a battle is raging between the Chilean and title holder Reinaldo Varela, merely 1’42’’ behind.
Trucks: Kamaz dominate
In the Kamaz team, keeping up the suspense is not their thing. Already designated favourites at the start, the Russian trucks were supposed to face tough competition from the sturdy Iveco trucks of Team De Rooy, but the Dutch contingent have remained relatively toothless so far.
Too cautious and perhaps also nervous, just like the Tatra and Maz trucks, they have not been able to do anything to halt Nikolaev and his gang, who have won the 5 stages on the programme of this first part of the rally.
Gerard De Rooy only owes his place on the provisional podium (in 3rd, but two hours behind the title holder) to the disqualification of Andrey Karginov following an accident in which a spectator was injured on stage 5.
At the top of the general standings, Eduard Nikolaev is in dominant mood, 11’54’’ ahead of his team-mate Dmitry Sotnikov.