In the bikes an epic battle was fought out between road opener Kevin Benavides (Monster Energy Honda) and Yamaha’s new recruit Ross Branch (Monster Energy Yamaha Rally) who started down in 13th place. Despite the pressure of finding the way, Benavides led for much of the special and very nearly achieved the rally-raid holy grail of winning from the front.
In the end a crash in which he hurt his arm and a 2-minute time penalty for missing a waypoint put paid to his hopes and saw Branch take the win. Also starting far back, Toby Price (Red Bull KTM Factory) got up to 3rd but eventually fell back to 5th at 3’05, meaning that an impressive Lorenzo Santolino (Sherco TVS Rally Factory) finally takes second at 2’16.
Adrien Van Beveren (Monster Energy Yamaha Rally) moves up to 3rd at 2’36, with Kevin Benavides 4th at 2’42. Benavides can find consolation in the fact he maintains the overall lead 2’52 ahead of Santolino with Van Beveren third at 5’30. Ross Branch moves up to 4th at 8’45.
In the cars, starting 8th this morning, it looked like Stephane Peterhansel and his new co-driver Edouard Boulanger (X-Raid Mini JCW) were going to make amends after yesterday’s difficult stage, where they broke their wishbone. Leading the race up until the neutralisation they slipped down to 6th at the finish, victim of a broken wheel.
In the end it was Nasser Al Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing) who won the special ahead of piste opener Yazeed Al Rahji (Overdrive), with Bernhard Ten Brinke (Overdrive) coming in third to complete a Toyota Hilux podium lock out. Overall Nasser Al Attiyah leads Yazeed Al Rajhi by just 23 seconds, with Carlos Sainz (X-Raid Mini JCW) third at 5’12. Bernhard Ten Brinke is 4th at 9’40 with Mathieu Serradori (Century Buggy) 5th at 15’00 and Peterhansel 6th (at 19’07).
A clearly delighted Ross Branch is obviously ‘in love’ with his new French-based team and effortlessly making the transition from promising privateer to factory team front runner.
Ross Branch : “Yeah really good day today. I tried to slow down a bit because yesterday I think I was pushing too hard. The tracks are a little bit slippery and I know the guys at the front are really quick. I just had some fun today and tried to navigate and not miss any waypoints. The Yamaha is going amazing and I’m really happy with the team and the position we’re in. Learning everyday for Dakar – that’s the main goal.”
At the beginning of the rally, 2020 Dakar winner Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda) admitted that he wasn’t really in his element over the kind of terrain to be found in Andalusia, but tipped teammate Kevin Benavides as the man to watch. He’d been training with him before the race and was impressed with his speed.
Speed that Benavides undoubtedly showed here today. Monster Energy Honda Team Manager Ruben Faria wouldn’t disagree: “We saw yesterday with Toby Price, where he lost 17 mins, that it is very difficult to open here. We didn’t really want our riders to attack hard today so as not to open tomorrow, but Kevin is clearly in his element on these kind of tracks and rode an incredible special, despite his crash. He will be racing for sure tomorrow.”
Another rider who impressed over the 243 km special was Sherco TV Factory Rally pilot Lorenzo Santolino. Starting behind Joan Barreda (Monster Energy Honda) is never a disadvantage, but when he made a mistake Santolino took over and maintained his position for the remainder of the special :
Santolino: “I had a great day. I was behind Barreda and he made a mistake so I passed ahead of him. I rode my own race, controlled the rhythm. Then Kevin fell and I just concentrated to getting to the finish without any problems.”
Coming back from his Dakar injury, that many predicted could put an end to his career, Adrien Van Beveren (Monster Yamaha Rally Team) again showed consistency to finish well up the rankings, proving he is once more very much in contention.
Van Beveren: “Very happy with my place. I’m here to put in a solid performance with the Dakar in mind and that is already the case, as I’ve now had 2 good days where normally I take a little bit of time to get going. No crashes, no waypoints missed, I’m trying to race an intelligent rally and think I have found the right pace.”
Retirements today include Sam Sunderland (Red Bull KTM Factory) who pulled out after crashing and hurting his arm and Joaquim Rodrigues (Hero Motorsports) who was forced to pull out of the special with an electrical fault. He will restart tomorrow.
In Rally 2 the special was won by Mathieu Doveze from France ahead of the Spaniard Schareina with the Czech rider Podmol third. Overall the British multi world enduro champion David Knight maintains the lead ahead Schareina and Podmol: Commented ‘Knighter’: “I’m really enjoying my first rally. I made a bit of a schoolboy error today with the navigation and lost a load of time but strangely the road book is the part I’m enjoying the most.”
In the cars, so far the Andalusian sun hasn’t been shining on Stephane Peterhansel (Mini X-Raid JCW). Yesterday it was a broken suspension wishbone, today it was a broken wheel. “We had a puncture in a place where we couldn’t stop because it was very narrow and in driving out of there, to clear the track, we damaged the wheel. Instead of it taking us 2 minutes to get it off it took us 8. Obviously, it doesn’t fill us with joy but better to have these problems here than on the Dakar.”
No such problems for his friend and rival Nasser Al Attiyah (Toyota Gazoo Racing), who had a relatively trouble-free run to win the stage and take the overall lead: “Yesterday we were stuck in 2 wheel drive but today we did a really good job. The last 10 km we had a flat tyre but we decided to keep going. It was very important to win and lead again the Andulucίa Rally. We will start first on the road tomorrow but that’s no problem.”
Not that it was much of a problem for his fellow Toyota pilot Yazeed Al Rahji (Overdrive) today: “Good stage today with Dirk (von Zitzewitz). He did really well. We drive all together. We opened the road which wasn’t easy. It was slippy over the first part and you needed to have a good feeling. We didn’t want to take a lot of risks and then we pushed a bit in the second part. The only problem we had was with the GPS that meant we had to be careful with the speed zones.”
Apart from coming up behind a couple of other cars, both of whom showed exemplary fair-play, Bernhard Ten Brinke (Overdrive) also had a trouble-free run : “We started in 6th position and it was a little bit difficult because we had Cristina Gutiérrez in front of us.
After km 40 I past her – she was very nice and moved out to the side straight away – and after that we pushed hard to get up to P3. Then the second part was the same as yesterday. We pushed a little bit more and then we came up behind Serradori and that cost me maybe 1 minute, but when he heard the Sentinel he let us past too.
In the SSV class Austin Jones (Monster Energy Can Am) finished an incredible 9th place, all categories combined, in a production-based vehicle, ahead of teammates Aron Domzala and Gerard Farres. Austin Jones: “We had a really clean day. Yesterday we made a mistake 20 km from the end and that cost us the win. If nobody is getting out of the car, we’re having a good day.” Overall Aron Domzala (Monster Energy Can Am) leads ahead of teammates Gerard Farres and Austin Jones.
In the T3 category Mitch Guthrie (Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team) took the win ahead of teammate Kevin Hansen with Jean-Luc Pisson (Zephyr PH Sport) third.
Commented Guthrie: “Stage 1 wasn’t great and we had to fix a few things and today went much better. Pretty much a perfect day – no issues. The important thing for us here is to develop the car for the Dakar. For example, we could go quicker here if we lowered the car but I’ve decided not to do that because that’s not how we’ll be driving it in Saudi Arabia.”
Overall Mitch Guthrie (Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team) is leading ahead of teammate Kevin Hansen with Frenchman Jean Pascal Besson (Can Am X3) third.
Source: automobilsport.com Images: Matthieu Perez photos DPPI / Frédéric Le Floc’h and ODC / Charly Lopez