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