After Monday’s quick taste of the dunes, things got serious on stage two of the 2019 Dakar Rally with a race route of 350 kilometres laid out for the competitors. The challenging route created drama all the way as former winners were caught out by the shifting sands and newcomers pounced to take advantage of any slip ups.
In an unusual twist it was the cars that led off the day with stage one winners Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) and co-driver Mathieu Baumel (FRA) opening the road in their Toyota Hilux. Al-Attiyah used all of his sand racing experience to guide the pack through the dunes. After suffering a puncture, the Qatari was caught by X-raid MINI JCW Team members Carlos Sainz (ESP) and co-driver Lucas Cruz (ESP). The Toyota and Mini rivals can both reflect on a steady day’s work.
The big winners in the car category on the first ‘proper’ stage of this year’s Dakar were Sébastien Loeb (FRA) and co-driver Daniel Elena (MON). Loeb gunned his Peugeot 3008DKR over the dunes to record the 11th Dakar stage win of his illustrious offroad career. The Frenchman may be a privateer entry in this edition of the world’s toughest race, but on today’s evidence he has what it takes to run with the best supported teams in the bivouac.
“In the dunes it’s tough to keep on rhythm for the whole day, but today we managed it well and things worked out for us.” – Sébastien Loeb
There was great evidence of esprit de corps out on today’s stage as 13-time winner Stéphane Peterhansel got stuck in the dunes at the 109km point of the special stage. Peterhansel’s fellow MINI John Cooper Works Buggy driver Cyril Despres (FRA) pulled over and gave his team-mate a tow – sacrificing his own chance of a stage win. The spirit of the Dakar is alive and well in Peru!
“Without Cyril’s help we would still be there now and not here at the finish line.” – Stéphane Peterhansel
Fourth place on the second stage was enough to elevate the Toyota Hilux crew of Giniel de Villiers (ZAF) and co-driver Dirk Von Zitzewitz (DEU) to top spot in the car race in the early rankings.
There was a pulsating battle in the bike race from Pisco to San Juan de Marcona. Honda rider Ricky Brabec (USA) led the stage by a whisker from defending champion Matthias Walkner (AUT) throughout the day, but in the final kilometres the KTM rider got his nose in front. Walkner’s final margin of victory on the 342-kilometre stage over the dunes was 22 seconds from Brabec.
“I don’t know if I made the right decision to push too much, but in the end it’s always good to have a stage win.” – Matthias Walkner
Walkner’s Red Bull KTM Factory team-mates Toby Price (AUS) and Sam Sunderland (GBR)also enjoyed productive days in the sand, finishing the stage fourth and sixth respectively. Walkner is now the best placed of this trio of former champions in the overall standings. The Austrian biker is second in the general classification, 91 seconds behind current race leader Joan Barreda (ESP).
“We had the cars in front of us today and they seemed to be taking different lines than we would normally do.” – Toby Price
Reigning champion of the Dakar truck class Eduard Nikolaev (RUS) is clearly in no mood to give up his title this year. The Russian trucker has got his race off to the perfect start with back-to-back stage wins. The Team Kamaz Master driver is in pole position to dictate the coming stages and has three team-mates backing him up should he need any assistance along the way.
Another Red Bull Desert Wings athlete enjoying a great start to this Dakar is Chaleco Lopez (CHI) and his co-pilot Alvaro Leon (CHI) in the side-by-side/UTV class. Lopez is back at the Dakar after a four year absence, before which he achieved two podium finishes in the bike race. The Chilean has clearly lost none of his speed or his competitive edge as he won the second stage today in his new category.
“I’m feeling very good to get this first long stage of the 2019 Dakar done, and to win the stage is a nice bonus.” – Chaleco Lopez
Lopez’s fellow Chilean and UTV debutant Ignacio Casale was 10 minutes further back and holds seventh place in the overall classifications. Lopez himself is second, a minute behind Reinaldo Varela (BRA) who is the defending champion of the Dakar’s UTV class.
There’s another bumper day of racing due tomorrow at the 2019 Dakar Rally. In addition to a 467-kilometre liaison route there will be 331 kilometres raced against the clock on Wednesday. As the Dakar convoy moves from San Juan de Marcona to Arequipa they’ll discover the dunes of Acari, a region as yet unvisited by the rally.