Dakar: Penalties hurt Honda’s Barreda and Goncalves, give Coma breathing room

Leave a comment

A Wednesday night engine swap among factory Honda riders has perhaps cost Joan Barreda a second consecutive stage win in the Dakar Rally and Paulo Goncalves his chance of claiming the overall title.

Prior to Thursday’s 357km Stage 11 from Salta to Termas de Rio Hondo, Argentina, a quartet of Honda men – Barreda, Goncalves, Jeremias Israel, and Helder Rodrigues – worked late to change motors on Barreda and Goncalves’ bikes.

Goncalves received a motor from Barreda, and Barreda got one from Israel, who subsequently did not start Thursday and exited the Dakar. In the racing that followed on Thursday, Barreda and Goncalves finished 1-2 in the stage only to be penalized afterwards.

Barreda was hit with a 45-minute penalty, as he had gone for his second engine change of the event. He subsequently tumbled to a 40th-place finish.

Goncalves also drew a lesser penalty of 16 minutes to fall to 22nd place (15 minutes for the change, 1 minute for speeding in a restricted area), ruining a day where he had taken almost two and half minutes off his deficit to overall leader Marc Coma.

Instead, Coma now holds a 21 minute, 12 second advantage over Goncalves with two days left, and because of Barreda and Goncalves’ penalties, Slovakia’s Ivan Jakes was awarded the stage win by eight seconds over Coma’s KTM teammate, Ruben Faria.

Afterwards, Goncalves made sure to express gratitude for his teammate’s sacrifice but acknowledged that tracking down Coma in the final two stages will be a tall task.

“I had a problem with my engine yesterday and had to change it,” Goncalves said. “Since it was a marathon stage, of course, one of our riders had to stay in Cachi. It was Jeremias Israel, who gave his engine. It’s very brave to have done that. It’s the end of the race for him, so I’m going to try and get the best position so that I can dedicate it to him.

“Because of the penalty, I’ve given a free 15 minutes to all my rivals. But that’s the rules of the race and they’re the same for everybody. It was already difficult 7 minutes behind, even if I managed to regain around two minutes on the stage today. But now it’s even more difficult.

“That said, others can also have the problem that I had yesterday, so it’s not too late to hope to finish in the top position.”

For his part, however, Coma is far from ready to plan a victory celebration at the end of Saturday’s 13th and final stage in Buenos Aires.

While his lead has grown considerably thanks to Goncalves’ penalty, the defending Dakar champion knows that he must stay on the gas and stay out of trouble.

“We’ve managed to get through [the marathon stage],” Coma said. “It’s always stressful when you have to work on the bike, but everything is OK. There is still a difficult day to complete tomorrow, then again on Saturday.

“I’m not thinking about the finish yet. We’ll see, because there are still a fair few kilometers to go. But for the moment, I’m happy.”

Toby Price finished third on Thursday at 42 seconds back of Jakes, followed by Coma (+ 1:05) and then Pablo Quintanilla in fifth (+ 2:38).

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 11 highlights tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. ET.

2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Motorcycles
(After Stage 11 – Salta to Termas de Rio Hondo)

1. 1-Marc Coma (KTM), 41hrs, 43mins, 3secs
2. 7-Paulo Goncalves (Honda), + 21mins, 12secs (+ 16mins penalty in Stage 11)
3. 26-Toby Price (KTM), + 31mins, 43secs
4. 31-Pablo Quintanilla (KTM), + 33mins, 15secs
5. 18-Stefan Svitko (KTM), + 48mins, 7secs
6. 11-Ruben Faria (KTM), + 1hr, 40mins, 43secs
7. 9-David Casteu (KTM), + 1hr, 46mins, 51secs
8. 29-Laia Sanz (Honda), + 2hrs, 13mins, 20secs
9. 21-Ivan Jakes (KTM), + 2hrs, 24mins, 46secs
10. 3-Olivier Pain (Yamaha), + 2hrs, 55mins, 17secs

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.