Dakar: The Price is right in Stage 12; overall bike leader Coma plays it safe

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As the 2015 Dakar Rally has progressed, Australian rookie Toby Price has emerged as the most consistent KTM rider outside of defending Dakar champion Marc Coma.

Already an accomplished motocross and off-road racer in his homeland, Price has been steady in his first run at the world’s toughest rally.

Going into Friday’s Stage 12 from Termas de Rio Hondo to Rosario, Argentina, he had already picked up two podiums, 7 Top-5s, and 9 Top-10s; his worst result is a still-respectable 17th in Stage 4.

However, Price had not yet collected his first stage win. But with not much time left to break the duck, the New South Wales native came through with a Stage 12 victory over one of the Dakar’s best in Honda leader Joan Barreda (+1:55).

With the triumph, Price has also now moved into third place in the overall standings and is in position to join fellow KTMer Coma on the podium at the end of Saturday’s final stage in Buenos Aires.

However, Price is still focused on just making it there – which would make a successful Dakar in itself for any first-timer.

“It’s my first go at the Dakar, but like we say, we’ve still got one day to go,” he said. “Anything could happen and at this stage everything is just feeling good. We’re enjoying it, so it’s been a good experience.

“There have been a lot of highs and lows and good learning curves as well as a few mistakes, but we’re trying to fix them as best as we can and get to the finishing line. Hopefully, that will happen tomorrow.

“I always knew it was going to be difficult, but you don’t know until you actually come here and have a go and then you actually find out how really hard it is.

“We were fairly well prepared coming into the event. We’re just going to come back next year hopefully, now that we know what we’re in for and be an even bit better prepared again.”

As for Coma, his overall lead shrank a bit ahead of Saturday’s Stage 13 thanks to Paulo Goncalves’ third-place result (+ 3:02). But as Coma finished sixth on the day (+ 6:25), it wasn’t a massive move on the part of the Portuguese rider.

Indeed, Coma still holds a sizable edge at 17 minutes, 49 seconds over Goncalves, with Price a bit farther back at 25 minutes, 18 seconds off the pace.

“There was a lot to lose, so it was important not to make any mistakes or crash,” Coma said about managing his lead. “It is not easy to find the balance to ride like that, but I am happy we are here.

“Today, the tires were wearing a lot so I took care about that at the beginning of the special. I felt a bit fresher on the last part and made a good pace to the end.

“There are still some kilometers left, but the end is getting closer now. The conditions are always very tough all the time. The young riders are pushing a lot, so I have to use my energy. We spend all year preparing to arrive here in a good shape, so it’s time to spend that energy.”

Only 393 kilometers remain in the 2015 Dakar, with just 174 kilometers making up the final special stage. But while Coma appears on his way, Goncalves is not giving up the chase.

“The Dakar is not finished. There’s still one day of racing left,” Goncalves said. “I’m in second place, but there’s no guarantee that I’ll remain there.

“Anything can happen, either positively or negatively. But, effectively, I’m happy for myself and the entire Honda HRC team for the work we have done.

“Joan Barreda had a strong lead before the stage at the salt lake in Uyuni. He lost his place due to a problem caused by water in the engine. But we’ll finish the Dakar on the podium, and that’s a very good thing.”

Slovakia’s Ivan Jakes, who was awarded the Stage 11 win on Thursday after Barreda and Goncalves were both penalized for engine changes, finished fourth on Friday (+ 3:08). His countryman, Stefan Svitko, completed the Top 5 (+ 5:01).

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 12 highlights tomorrow at 6 a.m. ET.

2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Motorcycles
(After Stage 12 – Termas de Rio Hondo to Rosario, Argentina)

1. 1-Marc Coma (KTM), 45hrs, 8mins, 32secs
2. 7-Paulo Goncalves (Honda), + 17mins, 49secs
3. 26-Toby Price (KTM), + 25mins, 18secs
4. 31-Pablo Quintanilla (KTM), + 36mins, 57secs
5. 18-Stefan Svitko (KTM), + 46mins, 43secs
6. 11-Ruben Faria (KTM), + 1hr, 50mins, 39secs
7. 9-David Casteu (KTM), + 1hr, 55mins, 9secs
8. 29-Laia Sanz (Honda), + 2hrs, 19mins, 37secs
9. 21-Ivan Jakes (KTM), + 2hrs, 21mins, 29secs
10. 3-Olivier Pain (Yamaha), + 3hrs, 4mins, 21secs

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.