Dakar: Mighty Minis once again too strong for competition

0 Comments

Mini didn’t get another sweep of the Dakar Rally podium, but they still secured their fourth consecutive victory in the event thanks to Nasser Al-Attiyah.

In 2014, the manufacturer locked out the Top 3 with Nani Roma, Stephane Peterhansel (who later switched allegiances to Peugeot), and Al-Attiyah.

This year, Roma’s title defense was immediately done in by mechanical problems in Stage 1 and after a Stage 10 crash, the Spaniard was not allowed to continue on.

But Al-Attiyah stepped up for the marque and led a group of four Minis in the Top 5 – himself, Krzysztof Holowczyc in third, Erik Van Loon in fourth, and Vladimir Vasilyev in fifth.

Only Toyota man and runner-up Giniel de Villiers kept Mini from fully sweeping the Top 5.

As for the 13 stages, a Mini driver won all but two of them. Al-Attiyah chipped in five wins, followed by Orlando Terranova’s four, and one win apiece from Roma (Stage 9) and Vasilyev (Stage 5).

The only non-Mini men to earn stage wins were Yazeed Alrajhi for Toyota in Stage 8 and Robby Gordon, who got the inaugural triumph for his HST “Gordini” in the final Stage 13.

To sum it up, Mini was giant.

“The Mini ALL4 Racing once again succeeded in convincing to the max,” said Sven Quandt, CEO of the X-Raid team that designs and builds the Dakar Minis. “Four Mini racers in the top five is another sensational result. With our experience and our good preparation we prevailed against our really strong competitors.

“In addition, we also clinched 11 of 13 possible stage wins. You couldn’t expect to achieve far more in a Dakar. Nasser did everything the right way, this year, and used his own wits. That’s the approach that gave him the win.”

Oddly enough, Al-Attiyah himself is the last non-Mini driver to win the Dakar. His first title in 2011 was achieved with a Volkswagen Touareg.

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

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
0 Comments

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.