Dakar: Yazeed Alrajhi earns maiden win in Stage 8; Al-Attiyah still overall leader (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Sunday’s Stage 8 of the 2015 Dakar Rally saw Saudi rookie Yazeed Alrajhi finally break through for his first stage win after an impressive opening week.

The victory on the return route from Uyuni, Bolivia to Iquique, Chile also keeps outside hopes alive for winning the overall title in his first try.

Alrajhi opened the Dakar last weekend with a 20th-place finish, but then rattled off results of sixth, third, fourth, second, seventh, and second before his triumph on Sunday.

After finishing Stage 8, he was understandably jovial.

“Today was a good day. We drove fast and we had fun. The most difficult part was organizing toilet stops – at such altitudes, just a sip makes you want to go,” he said.

“The in-line start in [the salt flats at] Salar was great and carried out under good conditions. We didn’t have the highest top speed, but we managed to catch up with the others. It was a bit like a game.”

Also playing the game well was overall leader Nasser Al-Attiyah, who finished third and tacked on 13 seconds to his edge over his closest pursuer, Giniel de Villiers.

de Villiers actually led the first part of the stage, but lost ground in the last stretch to the finish and had to settle for fourth. The South African said that a bit of bad luck involving a helicopter and a rock hindered him at the end.

“Apart from a problem which forced me to drive 70 kilometers only with the front brakes, the first part of the special went well,” said de Villiers, who is now behind Al-Attiyah by eight minutes, 27 seconds on the big board. “We capitalized on Nasser’s punctures to claw back three minutes.

“We were also doing fine in the second half until a helicopter flew quite low and blew fesh-fesh into the air. I couldn’t see a thing and I couldn’t stop either because of the risk of getting stuck.

“I drove 200 meters blind and had a flat after hitting a stone. That’s what let Nasser catch up with us.”

As for Alrajhi, he has cemented himself in third position overall for the time being. At 18 minutes, 40 seconds behind the Qatari, he can definitely strike should Al-Attiyah and de Villiers stumble.

Meanwhile, the American duo of Robby Gordon and Johnny Campbell had a tough opening to the second week after closing the first week with solid runs. On Sunday, the No. 308 Gordini lost more than an hour on course en route to a 43rd-place finish.

The damage in the overall standings was minimal as they slipped just one position to 24th. However, they’re now almost seven hours back of Al-Attiyah.

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 7A/8A/8B highlights on Monday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. ET.

2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Cars
(After Stage 8 – Uyuni to Iquique)

1. 301-Nasser Al-Attiyah (Mini), 26hrs, 41mins, 15secs
2. 303-Giniel de Villiers (Toyota), + 8mins, 27secs
3. 325-Yazeed Alrajhi (Toyota), + 18mins, 40secs
4. 307-Krzysztof Holowczyc (Mini), + 54mins, 38secs
5. 315-Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota), + 1hr, 22mins, 52secs
6. 314-Erik Van Loon (Mini), + 1hr, 25mins, 51secs
7. 309-Christian Lavielle (Toyota), + 1hr, 48mins, 41secs
8. 302-Stephane Peterhansel (Peugeot), + 1hr, 51mins, 46secs
9. 306-Carlos Sousa (Mitsubishi), + 2hrs, 7mins, 13secs
10. 320-Ronan Chabot (SMG), + 2hrs, 26mins, 50 secs

24. 308-Robby Gordon (Gordini), + 6hrs, 53mins, 21secs

Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen’s two-man battle in Motocross provides surprises

Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross
Leave a comment

The 2019 Motocross season is one-third in the books and the title battle may have already come down to a two-man contest, while the pair of contenders might just be a little surprising in their own way.

Strictly by the numbers, no one can count Eli Tomac’s early season charge of first- and second-place finishes shocking, but threepeating in Motocross is such an incredibly difficult feat that no one would have been surprised to see him struggle out of the gates either. And in fact, that is precisely what happened.

Tomac came out of the gates slow in Round 1 and was seventh by the end of Lap 1 of Moto 1 – hardly the auspicious start he hoped for. He rebounded only as far as fourth and that ultimately cost him a chance to win the overall. Tomac won Moto 2 to claim second overall.

In Round 2, Tomac found his rhythm and won both Motos and grabbed the red plate. For the moment, he had the momentum with three consecutive Moto wins.

Tomac stumbled again in Round 3 – this time finishing only fifth in Moto 1 and earning only 16 points to dig a deep hole that eventually surrendered the red plate to Ken Roczen.

It was at Thunder Valley in Round 3 that a pattern emerged. Tomac would not make it easy on himself early in the day, but was more than capable of winning the second Motos to overcome his deficit.

That Roczen has won this season is also not a surprise in itself. Many believed his ascent to the top step of the podium was way overdue.

That he has run so well, however, was not entirely expected at the start of the season. Since injuring both arms in a pair of accidents, Roczen came tantalizingly close to snapping his winless streak a dozen times. He won heat races during the Supercross season and finished second at Anaheim I, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Seattle earlier this year.

He just couldn’t secure the overall win.

Roczen’s Moto 1 victory at Hangtown might have been the precursor to another disappointing weekend, but once Tomac got into the lead, Roczen zeroed in on the Kawasaki’s back tire and finished second in route to the overall victory.

Roczen lost the overall and the red plate to Tomac in Round 2 at Pala, but he stood on the podium in both Motos. Roczen podiumed twice again in Round 3 while taking that overall victory to regain the red plate in what has become a seesaw affair in the early part of the 2019 season.

Last week, Roczen looked more like Tomac with his desperate struggle in Moto 1 and sixth-place finish. That was the first (and so far only) time this season that he failed to stand on the podium.

Roczen’s Moto 2 win last week was just enough to put him second overall with barely enough points to force a tie at the top of the leaderboard with 176 points apiece.

Meanwhile, Tomac failed to win either Moto with a third in the first race and runner-up finish in the second.

The moral victory and advantage may shift to Roczen this week.

As they have swapped the victory in the first four rounds with Roczen winning the odd-numbered events, he sees this weekend’s Round 5 as an opportunity.

“I’m looking forward to next weekend’s race,” Roczen said in a team press release. “The track is sandy. It’s very similar—actually almost identical—to what I ride on a regular basis at home.”

Tomac and Roczen enter Round 5 with a 32-point advantage over two riders tied for third in the standings.

So far Zach Osborne and Jason Anderson have not been in the same league as the leaders, but it only takes one slip of the wheel to fall out of the points in in a race and allow these racers to close the gap.

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter