For the motorcycle kings of the Dakar Rally, their reign continues.
Marc Coma has officially captured his fifth career Dakar title and handed manufacturer KTM its 14th consecutive victory in the world’s toughest rally.
Sunday’s Stage 13 was impacted heavily by rain and the 174km special was stopped at the second check point (101 km) as a result. Ivan Jakes wound up taking his second stage win in three days by 45 seconds over his fellow Slovakian, Stefan Svitko.
As for Coma, he is now one Dakar win away from tying Stephane Peterhansel for the all-time lead in the bike category. The first six of Peterhansel’s 11 career Dakar wins came on two wheels during the 1990s.
“I’m happy and proud,” Coma said. “As usual, it was a grueling rally. We had to overcome a problem on the second day that slowed us down a bit in the rankings. So from then on, we had to change the strategy a little and push to recover that time.
“We knew that the marathons would be key stages and they were. I am happy with the team and the people we have around us. This fifth win says a lot about all of us.”
As mentioned, Coma’s run to another title started off a bit bumpy. Tire problems forced him to slow down in Stage 2, and his main rival from Honda, Joan “Bang Bang” Barreda, won the day and took over the overall lead.
But at the end of the first week came the “marathon” stage from Iquique, Chile into Bolivia and then back again. With assistance teams not allowed under marathon rules, it was critical for competitors to stay out of trouble for two days before seeing their crews again.
Barreda could not do that. In Stage 7 (Iquique to Uyuni, Bolivia), he crashed and was forced to ride the final 120 kilometers of the route with one handlebar. Coma was able to cut his overall deficit to “Bang Bang” in half.
Then came the game-changer: Stage 8 (Uyuni to Iquique), which began in miserable conditions on the Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt lake. The flats were wet from rains the previous day, and the salt water mix caused problems for many a bike, including those of Barreda and Coma.
Once they escaped the Salar, Coma was able to get help from teammates in removing a salt/water blockage out of his radiator and soldiered to a ninth-place result.
Barreda wasn’t as lucky. An electrical problem rendered his Honda useless and he had to be towed the rest of the stage. As a result, Coma took the overall lead and he would never give it up for the rest of the rally.
“Our arrival in Bolivia heralded a decisive moment,” said Coma. “We knew that. I survived and made it through Salar de Uyuni. That was the key moment. So I’m very happy.
“[I’m] delighted to be here. It’s been a life’s work with the entire team, the ideal bike… Now, after so much effort, it’s time to relax and have fun.”
When Barreda’s hopes ended, Paulo Goncalves stepped up in his absence for the factory Honda squad, Team HRC.
He whittled Coma’s lead down to less than six minutes with four stages to go, but a 16-minute time penalty (15 for an engine change, one for speeding) in Thursday’s Stage 11 proved too much to overcome.
Even so, Goncalves’ runner-up is his best showing in the Dakar and puts to rest sad memories of his retirement in last year’s Stage 5, when he was reduced to tears as his bike went up in flames before him.
“I’m happy to make it here in second place overall,” said Goncalves. “I started the rally in second place, then I fell to third and, in the end, I climbed back up.”
Rounding out the overall podium is Australian rookie Toby Price, who earned his first Dakar stage win in the penultimate Stage 12 to cement his third-place showing behind Coma and Goncalves.
“Being here in third place is insane,” Price said. “I’m at a loss for words. When I decided to sign up three or four months ago, I was quite nervous, I didn’t know what I was getting into.
“And now I’m on the finish line…[I’m] happy.”
NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally concludes tomorrow with Stage 13 highlights at 6 a.m. ET.
2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Motorcycles
(After Stage 13 – Rosario to Buenos Aires, Argentina)
1. 1-Marc Coma (KTM), 46hrs, 3mins, 49secs
2. 7-Paulo Goncalves (Honda), + 16:53
3. 26-Toby Price (KTM), + 23:14
4. 31-Pablo Quintanilla (KTM), + 38:38
5. 18-Stefan Svitko (KTM), + 44:17
6. 11-Ruben Faria (KTM), + 1:57:50
7. 9-David Casteu (KTM), + 2:00:14
8. 21-Ivan Jakes (KTM), + 2:18:18
9. 29-Laia Sanz (Honda), + 2:24:21
10. 3-Olivier Pain (Yamaha), + 3:09:09