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