Dakar 2022 | Stage 5 | Riyadh > Riyadh
Today was an unprecedented one on the Dakar. While in Latin America, specific portions for the bikes saw the light of day, today the entire stage was different for the FIA and FIM categories, who both travelled on different looped routes around the capital, with the cars starting their special in the early hours of the morning just like the bikers, who had previously been used to being the only ones woken up in the middle of the night to leave the bivouac.
The reward for the FIA categories for this awakening before the first call to prayers was that the quickest among them were able to arrive at the bivouac and enjoy the early afternoon sunshine. Beforehand, a special measuring 421 km to the north of Riyadh led the four-wheeled caravan into the province of Ach-Charquiya, to the east of the kingdom, bordered by the shores of the Arabian Gulf and the crossroads between the major civilisations of the Orient, Mesopotamia and the Indies. In the bike race, the 346-km special to the east of Riyadh was shorter but held a few surprises in store. Tomorrow, the day before the rest day, the competitors will swap loops: the one to the east for the cars, with the bikes and quads to the north. It will be a crucial day by the end of which all the leading lights will hope to enjoy positions of strategic importance before the return leg towards Jeddah.
Both of their reputations preceded them, but by winning their first specials on the Dakar, Danilo Petrucci on his bike and Henk Lategan in the car race have gained a whole new status. The Italian KTM rider and star of the Moto GP circuits has logically enrolled in the Rally 2 class for his first attempt at a rally-raid. Though he is participating in order to learn, today he triumphed ahead of the discipline’s most experienced riders on his sixth day of racing. He is what you might call a gifted learner (see Performance of the day), even if “Petrux” did not have to grapple too much with navigation in order to win the day’s special and benefitted from a penalty handed out to Toby Price, the quickest biker over the sand and rocks, allowing him to hit the jackpot at the end of the day. The terrain did not throw up any difficulties for the trio of Sunderland, Walkner and Van Beveren, who still lead the general rankings with hardly anything to choose between them, but it did leave several pretenders for the title sprawling.
Joan Barreda is even unsure of carrying on tomorrow (see A crushing blow), whilst the Husqvarna staff are clearly preparing for the prospect of an early exit from the rally for Skyler Howes. The shortened stage for the quads smiled on Manuel Andújar, winner for the 4th time this year but unable, however, to worry Pablo Copetti, 13 minutes higher than him in the general rankings. In the car race, the phenomenal Henk Lategan had already shone last year before prematurely withdrawing from the Dakar during the 5th stage. This year the young virtuoso on four wheels has again left pieces of his car in his wake as well as losing time that will prevent him from aiming for the overall podium, yet he was able to put in a fine performance on the day’s special: 2 minutes better than Sébastien Loeb, who finished in second place after the 421 kilometres on the programme. Just behind him, Lucio Alvarez (3rd) and Mathieu Serradori (4th) also displayed skills that allow them to aim high for the return to Jeddah.
Nasser Al-Attiyah is currently contenting himself with remaining watchful of Loeb but should also keep an eye on his Argentinean team-mate at Toyota, who is 3rd in the general rankings. The lightweight prototypes category is still dominated by the South Racing duo of “Chaleco” López and Sebastian Eriksson, separated by 22 minutes, leaving Seth Quintero to pile up the wins, with stage number 5 for the “kid”. In the SSV race, however, Austin Jones was dethroned from the leader’s seat by Brazilian Rodrigo Luppi de Oliveira, both behind the wheel of a Can-Am and now separated by 4 minutes. Finally, Dmitry Sotnikov won his third stage this week and retains the lead in the general rankings but is not out of reach of his team-mate Eduard Nikolaev, who trails him by less than ten minutes in second place.
PERFORMANCE OF THE DAY
At the age of 31 years, Danilo Petrucci is participating in his first Dakar and is learning at lightning speed. This is not surprising for a recent retiree from the Moto GP circuits who spent ten years of his life racing round them. With ten podium places and ten victories in the ultimate category, the Italian almost opened his rally-raid victory account yesterday. After finishing third on stage 4 of his new career, “Petrux” received a 10-minute penalty at the bivouac… for speeding! You could not make it up! After the gravel traps alongside the circuit tracks, the Tech 3 KTM rider today got a taste of Saudi Arabian sand when he had to avoid a dromedary. “That’s my first rally-raid fall. After that I calmed down a little, Kevin Benavides caught up with me and we finished the special together”.
At the finishing line, the newcomer to the KTM team, who took the liberty of following the title holder’s pace after only five days of racing, achieved the day’s second-best time. By a twist of fate, today he in turn benefited from a speeding penalty on arriving in Riyadh, specifically the one handed out to his team-mate Toby Price, who was the quickest rider of the day but received a 6-minute punishment. Never before has a Moto GP rider become an official rider on the Dakar from one day to the next. It is a safe bet that Petrucci will continue breaking the “rookie” mould by the time the rally returns to Jeddah as well as during next season in the world championship, in which the Mattighofen based constructor has already enrolled him.
A CRUSHING BLOW
When you have Joan Barreda hot on your heels, it is difficult to not give in to the pressure. However, when the Spaniard is not hunting but is the hunted, with the unenviable task of opening the way for his rivals, the tendency is often reversed. After winning the special the day before, the rider with 29 stage wins (at least one per year since 2012) set off as scout for the day. By the first time check point, “Bang Bang” had already lost more than two minutes and the situation only got worse as the race went on, until he met with misfortune between the 265 and 270 km marks: Barreda fell and hurt his shoulder. It was his team-mate Pablo Quintanilla who helped him back up to get back behind the handlebars of his Honda 450 CRF and reach the finish.
He lost more than 20 minutes during this episode and his hopes of achieving his very first podium finish on the Dakar (yes, you have read that correctly – his very first?!) have suffered a blow. He now lies 22’58’’ behind Sam Sunderland, though he may still set off on one of his famous comebacks to improve on the 5th place he achieved in 2017. However, his injured shoulder may not even allow him that opportunity: both the rider and his team’s medical staff prefer to wait until tomorrow before deciding whether to carry on with the adventure. One thing that can be said is that Barreda is more than used to gritting his teeth hard against adversity.
STAT OF THE DAY: 33
Struck by bad luck on several occasions since his debut last year, Henk Lategan has often come close to the top step on the podium before it has slipped out of his grasp. Even today, the Toyota driver from the South African Gazoo Racing team had to deal with a door that would not shut, which just goes to show! A victory on the Dakar is something you have to work for, but now that is done and dusted; at the age of 27 years, the South African has finally added a success to his personal roll of honour. In achieving such a feat, he has enabled South Africa to increase its number of victories on the Dakar to 33. In passing, he has added his name to the list of his country’s greatest representatives, alongside Giniel De Villiers (with 17 victories) or Alfie Cox (8) whose son Bradley is tackling his first Dakar this year on a bike and is battling for the title in the Rally 2 class against Mason Klein. Among the rainbow nation’s successes, Lategan’s also stands out thanks to having been accomplished in a vehicle partially developed in the country by the Gazoo Racing team. South Africa really does have some fine surprises in store for us.