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