Dakar: Rodrigues, Goncalves come up big for Honda in Stage 9 (VIDEO)

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Monday’s Stage 8 of the 2015 Dakar Rally was an ugly day for Honda, even with Laia Sanz’s superb fifth-place effort.

Joan Barreda saw his hopes of an overall victory end thanks to an electrical problem that caused him to be towed by teammate Jeremias Israel to the finish of the run from Uyuni, Bolivia to Iquique, Chile.

Another of the factory Honda riders, Helder Rodrigues, also suffered from electrical woes and lost more than three hours.

The setbacks left Paulo Goncalves as Honda’s last threat to dethrone Dakar Rally champion and current overall leader Marc Coma of KTM.

But Tuesday saw Honda respond brilliantly in Stage 9, as Rodrigues bagged his second win of the 2015 Dakar and Goncalves took almost four minutes off Coma’s edge with a runner-up finish.

“I’ve worked very hard for this Dakar and to be up front,” Rodrigues said in a Honda release. “Yesterday, I lost it all and now I don’t want to take any chances, but I will give everything to win.

“Today, I started out from behind, I caught up with Paulo and Joan, but I got lost in the dunes. Later, at the refueling [point], I saw that I was going well and I kept pushing.

“It was a hard day with a lot of navigation and loads of stones on the track, but I’m very happy with the way things went.”

As for Goncalves, who now sits just five minutes, 28 seconds behind Coma with four stages remaining, he indicated that he would been closer to Rodrigues on Tuesday if not for having to circle back to reach a missed way point.

Despite getting closer to KTM’s top man in the overall standings, however, Goncalves said he’s only focusing on the stage at hand.

“In the end, I finished well and I recovered some time from yesterday,” he said. “So now I’m second overall, but this is not really important because we have four days more in front of us to race. Many things can happen. I will try and I will keep fighting, me and Team HRC, to get the best overall position possible.

“…For me, it’s not additional pressure. I will ride day-by-day like I have done from the beginning, so we’ll always keep fighting. The strategy is to try and keep the bike safe – only that.”

Coma finished third in Tuesday’s stage, a 450km southerly run from Iquique to Calama, Chile.

He had to overcome a navigational error early on in by foggy conditions, but still came away with a respectable result that put more than 15 minutes on third-place overall rider Pablo Quintanilla (+ 26:52).

“It was a good day after a tough day like yesterday, so today was a better day,” Coma said. “At the moment, everything is still far off, so we’re looking at the next day only and we will see.

“There’s a long way still in front of us, so we’ll take it step by step.”

As you can see, Goncalves and Coma aren’t getting ahead of themselves. They have a reason. Wednesday’s Stage 10 from Calama to Salta, Argentina marks the start of a second marathon stage for the bikes as well as the quads.

And it’s set to take the riders even higher up in altitude than the first marathon stage (Iquique/Uyuni) did.

Stage 10 will begin at almost 12,000 feet above sea level on the Salinas Grande before ascending even further to more than 14,000 feet up early on in the special.

The ending link stage will then have competitors following the Abra del Acay. At more than 16,000+ feet up, the Abra is considered one of the highest road passes on Earth.

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 9 highlights tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. ET.

2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Motorcycles
(After Stage 9 – Iquique to Calama)

1. 1-Marc Coma (KTM), 34hrs, 5mins, 0secs
2. 7-Paulo Goncalves (Honda), + 5 mins, 28secs
3. 31-Pablo Quintanilla (KTM), + 26mins, 52 secs
4. 26-Toby Price (KTM), +31mins, 31secs
5. 18-Stefan Svitko (KTM), + 40mins, 36secs
6. 9-David Casteu (KTM), + 1hr, 31mins, 26secs
7. 11-Ruben Faria (KTM), + 1hr, 41mins, 22secs
8. 29-Laia Sanz (Honda), + 1hr, 54mins, 37secs
9. 21-Ivan Jakes (KTM), + 2hrs, 18mins, 31secs
10. 3-Olivier Pain (Yamaha), + 2hrs, 36mins, 13secs

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.