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

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.