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

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.