Barring something even more dramatic than what occurred Wednesday in the quads at the 2015 Dakar Rally, Rafal Sonik will be the new champion in the category.
In a stunning turn of events, defending champ Ignacio Casale and Sergio Lafuente – both of whom served as Sonik’s closest pursuers in the overall standings – withdrew from the event in Stage 10 from Calama, Chile to Salta, Argentina.
Casale was fastest early on in Wednesday’s stage, but he sustained a mechanical failure on his vehicle that proved too much for him to overcome. He exits the 2015 Dakar with three stage wins.
Also leaving the fight is Lafuente, who had suffered a rollover a few kilometers before the refueling point on the stage. He reportedly tried to get his vehicle going again, but he’s now out of the event as well.
Sonik himself also had difficulties on Wednesday, including what he described as a “nasty fall” at kilometer 199.
But the Polish rider persevered for a fourth-place finish in the stage, which was won by Paraguay’s Nelson Sanabria in his second triumph of the event (+ 3:40 over Jeremias Gonzalez). And with Casale and Lafuente’s exits, Sonik now holds an overall lead of almost three hours with three stages remaining.
News of Casale’s withdrawal in particular seemed to stun Sonik in the bivouac.
“Ah, I saw he had some problem with his quad, but I didn’t know Casale had withdrawn,” he said. “I saw his chain was broken and, since it’s a marathon stage [where riders cannot get help from their teams], I think that’s why he didn’t try to stay in the race.”
As for his own mishap on Wednesday, Sonik knows it could have been worse.
“It hurts, but my legs are still in one piece and my quad’s fine,” he said. “Yesterday, I had to keep the fuel tank in place because the screws had blown off – I turned the pages in my road book with my left hand, I held the fuse of my alternator in my right hand, and the handlebar in my mouth!
“Repairing all this cost me 40 minutes…But that was yesterday. Today was okay! It’s quite rare to crash at high speeds and emerge unscathed. It happened today, and that’s great.”
Ayrat Mardeev was able to hold teammate Eduard Nikolaev at bay in their ongoing battle at the top of the truck category.
Mardeev was second to Nikolaev in Wednesday’s Stage 10 but minimized the damage to his overall lead by finishing just 49 seconds back. As a result, Mardeev’s edge shrank just slightly to 13 minutes, 21 seconds despite Nikolaev’s sixth stage win of the event.
Nikolaev may be the fastest driver in the trucks but after Mardeev’s clutch drive on Wednesday, that may no longer matter. A lot can happen in three days’ time, but Nikolaev needs Mardeev to falter – and soon.
The title will likely come down to those two drivers now after Andrey Karginov struggled to a 14th place finish on Wednesday and ceded almost 23 minutes. In the overall, he’s still in third position but is now 42:46 off the pace of Mardeev.