Marc Coma, KTM the favorites in Dakar’s cycle clash

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Defending Dakar Rally champion Marc Coma’s pursuit of a fifth motorcycle victory in the event – and a 14th consecutive triumph for manufacturer KTM – headlines the two-wheel category before Sunday’s official start.

After capturing his sixth FIM cross-country rallies world championship in 2014, Coma leads a strong KTM Dakar team that also features the event’s last two bike class runner-ups in Ruben Faria (2013) and Jordi Viladoms (2014), as well as the UK’s Sam Sunderland, who scored a stage win last year for the Honda factory team.

Needless to say, KTM has plenty of bullets in the gun just in case their leader, Coma, encounters problems along the journey through South America.

However, Honda is determined to break their iron grip on the world’s toughest rally.

The biggest weapon for its Team HRC is Joan Barreda, who had five stage wins in last year’s Dakar but finished seventh overall after a crash and electrical problems on his bike in the next-to-last stage.

“Everything is great after a whole year of hard work,” Barreda said in a release issued today by Honda. “The hour of truth is upon us, and everything is all set. We’ll start off taking it easy in the first, short stage, but in the second we will have to start pushing for positions and try and stay ahead.

“From then on, we’ll take it day by day, see how the race plays out, and try and stay as focused as possible and avoid messing up. The aim is to establish positions for the second week which give us race-winning options.”

In 2015, he’ll be joined on the factory team by four others: Paulo Gonçalves, Hélder Rodrigues, Jeremías Israel and Laia Sanz. This quartet can hold its own with Barreda as well – particularly Gonçalves and Rodrigues, who finished second and fourth respectively in the 2014 world championship (Barreda was third).

Looking to be interlopers in the KTM-Honda war is Yamaha, which got three stage wins out of Cyril Despres last year but won’t have his services now as he’s switched to the car class and Peugeot.

However, Yamaha still has in the fold one Olivier Pain, who joined Coma and Viladoms on the overall podium last year. As the scrutineering winds down today in Buenos Aires, he’s ready to get going.

“The start is only a few hours away now and you can feel the anticipation,” he said through Yamaha. “The nice thing about the Dakar though is that it really is like a big family. We spend a lot of time together and share something very intense and that creates strong friendships. Plus, of course, this isn’t circuit racing, it isn’t a contact sport, essentially we are racing against the clock not each other.

“Obviously there is some rivalry but, for me at least, my biggest challenger is myself and the mental battle I have to stay focused and not make any mistakes. Then comes the desert, which must be treated with respect, and which is always a serious adversary.”

Indy Lights: Askew clinches 2019 title while VeeKay wins Laguna Seca race 1

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MONTEREY, Calif – Rinus VeeKay may have won the first race of the weekend’s Indy Lights doubleheader at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Saturday afternoon, but all all eyes post-race were all on the driver who finished the race in the fourth position.

That driver was Oliver Askew, who by simply starting the 30-lap event at the famed road course won the 2019 series title, along with the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series scholarship that guarantees a minimum of three races next season.

“It’s all sinking in,” Askew told NBC Sports following the race. “I’m really happy to be part of this team. They’re back to back champions now in Indy Lights, and I feel very fortunate to be driving in this car this year.

“This is what we worked for all year. I’m very happy to be in this position and I can’t wait to celebrate with my team.”

With the championship in Askew’s possession from the get-go, the best VeeKay could do for in race 1 was to win in dominant fashion. He went on to do just so.

After starting the race from the pole position, VeeKay led every lap from start to finish en route to his fifth victory of the season.

“We managed the car well and kept the car consistent throughout the whole race,” VeeKay said. “I got a great car from the team so I want to give a big shout out to them for giving me a winning car.”

Behind VeeKay, Portland race 2 winner Toby Sowery finished the race in the second position, while Robert Megennis finished third.

Live streaming coverage of race two of the Indy Lights doubleheader at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca begins tomorrow afternoon at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold.

Click here for full race results

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