Dakar: Marc Coma seizes overall lead as Barreda falters; Quintanilla wins Stage 8

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The four-time and defending Dakar Rally champion is now in position to claim a fifth crown.

Joan Barreda’s disastrous Stage 8 on Monday has enabled Marc Coma to take over the overall lead in the motorcycle category at the conclusion of its two-day “marathon” stage.

Coma finished ninth on the treacherous run from Uyuni, Bolivia to Iquique, Chile, which was captured by Chile’s own Pablo Quintanilla.

But with Barreda losing more than three hours as a result of electrical problems – which came just one day after he finished Sunday’s Stage 7 with one handlebar following a crash – Coma now controls the rally.

If anyone from the Honda camp is to stop Coma, it likely won’t be “Bang Bang.” Stage 7 winner and Barreda’s factory Honda teammate, Paulo Goncalves (15th on Monday), is now the closest pursuer of Coma at nine minutes, 11 seconds back on the big board. Monday’s winner, Quintanilla, is third overall at 11 minutes, 11 seconds behind.

As for Barreda, he has tumbled from the overall lead to 16th after a stage in which he needed to be towed to the finish line by another teammate, Jeremias Israel.

Rainy conditions made things very treacherous for the motorcycle competitors, who began their stage at the Uyuni Salt Flats. In the dry, the world’s largest salt lake provides an ample setting for a high-speed attack, but in the wet, it was something far tougher to navigate.

Coma said he needed help from KTM teammates Jordi Viladoms (who was one of several riders to withdraw from the rally today) and Ruben Faria to remove a radiator blockage caused by a mix of salt and water at a refueling point along the stage.

“Conditions were very complicated, for me over the limit,” Coma recalled in a KTM release. “To ride over the salt and the water was like a kind of cement on the bike and there was a lot of stress to try to take care of the engine of the bike and everything. To arrive here today is like a victory.

“I am happy we are leading now, but we still have five days in front of us. We have a long way to go and every day there is something different. We just have to take it kilometer by kilometer.”

But while Coma now holds the point overall, Quintanilla’s accomplishment on Monday should not be overlooked. And it should not be surprising either, as he had rattled off finishes of third, third, fourth, and fourth in the previous four stages.

Now, as the event has come back to his native land, Quintanilla has become the top star. He had to hustle for his Monday win, though, as he battled with Slovakia’s Stefan Svitko and Spain’s Juan Pedrero Garcia in the last sprint to Iquique.

But in the end, it was Quintanilla that scored a win on home soil by 11 seconds over Pedrero and 12 seconds over Svitko.

“It was very, very complicated,” Quintanilla said of his day. “Yesterday, we had to tackle a stage where there was a lot of water and plenty of mud. This morning, because it had rained all night, the tracks were full of water and the salt [flats] was full of water too.

“There was a bit of confusion at the beginning about the issue of rider safety, but the starter’s orders were eventually given. The bike suffered on the stage and the electrical circuit did too. It was very tough: The altitude, the entire day on the bike, but I’m happy to be back in Chile.

“We’ll have a look with the mechanics to make sure we can start tomorrow in good condition. I’m happy with my race.”

KTM rider Toby Price continued his solid Dakar with a fourth-place finish, noting that his main priority was to protect his bike against the salt water that he said did a number on several of the top riders’ machines.

“For me, it was just a matter of preserving the bike and trying to get to the finish,” he said. “It’s still in one piece and I am just hoping I can get to the finish line.”

Rounding out the Top-5 was Honda’s Laia Sanz in her best effort so far of the 2015 running. No woman has ever claimed a Dakar stage win on two wheels, but it’s looking more and more like she could change that in this second and final week.

“Today was a really hard day,” she said. “At the beginning, some riders didn’t want to start because it was dangerous and cold, but in the end for me it was a good stage.

“I was third until the dunes but then Toby and Quintanilla passed me very fast. Anyway, I’m very happy with this fifth position.”

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 8B (Uyuni-Iquique; bikes/quads) highlights on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. ET.

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

1. 1-Marc Coma (KTM), 28hrs, 51mins, 12secs
2. 7-Paulo Goncalves (Honda), + 9mins, 11secs
3. 31-Pablo Quintanilla (KTM), + 11mins, 11secs
4. 26-Toby Price (KTM), + 15mins, 56secs
5. 18-Stefan Svitko (KTM), + 26mins, 30secs
6. 11-Ruben Faria (KTM), + 34mins, 34secs
7. 14-Alain Duclos (Sherco), + 58mins, 8secs (15mins penalty)
8. 9-David Casteu (KTM), + 1hr, 10mins, 48secs
9. 29-Laia Sanz (Honda), + 1hr, 18mins, 51secs
10. 21-Ivan Jakes (KTM), + 1hr, 47mins, 47secs

Rossi remains “The Story” in INDYCAR in 2019

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly-timed move to race side-by-side with Herta going into Turn 1. By Turn 2 of the first lap of the race, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing missing from deeming Rossi’s race complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pits stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by one-full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished third three of the four times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the frontstraight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle, but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash just as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution. Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816-of-a-second behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he was never challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBC Sports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties like with Honda. Both him and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBC Sports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there, I think we’re getting there,” Andretti said. “We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that. After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500? In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races 10 years from now and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, that is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist. Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”