Dakar: Bad luck ends for Barreda in Stage 10; Coma builds up overall edge

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Former Dakar Rally title contender Joan Barreda has turned the page on several stages of frustration with his third stage win of the 2015 running in Wednesday’s high-altitude Stage 10 from Calama, Chile to Salta, Argentina.

Barreda’s Dakar dream survived the loss of a handlebar in a Stage 7 crash, but could not endure an electrical failure in Stage 8 that sent him free-falling from the overall lead. Then, in Tuesday’s Stage 9, a 15-minute time penalty for an engine change knocked him from fourth to 10th that day.

But “Bang Bang” got back to being his best in Wednesday’s 371km special stage. He took the point from defending Dakar champion Marc Coma early on and kept Coma behind him the rest of the way en route to a 1-minute, 39 second victory over his fellow Spaniard.

“I got off to a great start this morning,” Barreda said. “Everything fell into place. It was easy because there wasn’t much in the way of navigation. It was basically a main track you had to follow.

“It’s a pity, what happened in Uyuni, on the salt lake: I was in the lead, the toughest part was behind us, the odds were stacked in my favor… There’s nothing I can do now apart from trying to finish like this. It’s just about helping the team and trying to get a good result.”

However, Coma – who seized the overall lead following Barreda’s ill-fated Stage 8 – was able to tack on more than two minutes to his advantage over Barreda’s Honda teammate, Paulo Goncalves (fifth on Wednesday). Coma now holds P1 over the Portuguese rider by seven minutes, 35 seconds with three stages to go.

And with third-place overall rider Pablo Quintanilla (eighth on Wednesday) now forced to battle tooth-and-nail with Toby Price (fourth on Wednesday) and Stefan Svitko (sixth on Wednesday) for the final podium spot, it’s looking like Coma and Goncalves will settle the Dakar between them alone.

“It’s been a tough Dakar,” Coma said Wednesday. “We have to fight many adverse situations but after so many days and despite the suffering, I am still enjoying it. That is what is great about this race. It makes you confront your limits and when you think you can’t do any more, you face them and move on.

“Today’s stage was very hard and it was not easy to keep up a high pace. At first, there was the altitude, and then a technical part that really tested us. I tried to keep up the same pace throughout the stage.”

As for Goncalves, he feels he is in great position for Thursday’s Stage 11 from Salta to Termas de Rio Hondo, which is the second part of the ongoing “marathon” stage for both motorcycle and quad categories.

“Today was a fast stage, with little difficulty in way of navigation,” he said. “The track was a bit slippery at the beginning, you had to be careful. Soon, there were four of us riding together. I think we rode well, saving our motorcycles, which was crucial because this evening’s a marathon stage.

“My motorcycle is ready for tomorrow already… and I’m ready to keep up the fight.”

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 10 highlights tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. ET.

2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Motorcycles
(After Stage 10 – Calama, Chile to Salta, Argentina)

1. 1-Marc Coma (KTM), 38hrs, 13mins, 50secs
2. 7-Paulo Goncalves (Honda), + 7mins, 35secs
3. 31-Pablo Quintanilla (KTM), + 31mins, 42secs
4. 26-Toby Price (KTM), + 32mins, 6secs
5. 18-Stefan Svitko (KTM), + 45mins, 19secs
6. 9-David Casteu (KTM), + 1hr, 41mins, 14secs
7. 11-Ruben Faria (KTM), + 1hr, 41mins, 40secs
8. 29-Laia Sanz (Honda), + 2hrs, 5mins, 0secs
9. 21-Ivan Jakes (KTM), + 2hrs, 25mins, 51secs
10. 3-Olivier Pain (Yamaha), + 2hrs, 50mins, 11secs

Alexander Rossi remains the story in IndyCar in 2019


ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”