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

Leave a comment

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

Rossi remains “The Story” in INDYCAR in 2019

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
1 Comment

ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – 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 of the race, 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 missing from deeming Rossi’s race complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pits 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 one-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 third three of the four 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 frontstraight 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 just 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-of-a-second behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he was never 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 NBC Sports.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 the 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 like with Honda. Both him 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 NBC Sports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there, I think we’re getting there,” Andretti said. “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 10 years from now 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, that 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.”