Dakar Rally, Stage 5: Kevin Benavides fifth leader in bikes; Skyler Howes slips to seventh


Stage 5 of the Dakar Rally featured the fifth different overall leader in the bikes division as Kevin Benavides made the most of his stage win and climbed to the top of the board.

In taking the lead, Benavides had to overcome a navigational error and a crash. After getting off course temporarily to start the stage, he crashed after jumping a large dune. In the accident, he broke his GPS system and his nose. Benavides also twisted his ankles but soldiered on to the victory and overall lead.

“Content to have won the stage and being leading the general, I am calm and focused on continuing to do the day-to-day work,” Benavides said in an Instagram post.

Meanwhile, Xavier de Soultrait, the overall leader at the end of Stage 4, lost nearly 8 minutes to the new leader, causing him to fall to Benavides by 2 minutes, 31 seconds at the end of Thursday’s stage.

HOW TO WATCH ON NBCSN: Information, schedules for the Dakar Rally

Benavides became the fifth leader following Toby Price after Stage 1, Joan Barreda at the end of Stage 2, Skyler Howes at Stage 3 and de Soultrait at Stage 4.

After falling from first to fifth overall with a deficit of 5 minutes, 26 seconds, Howes slipped further down the overall leaderboard to seventh overall. The American privateer rider is now 10 minutes, 45 seconds behind Benavides.

Hoping to stop the ‘teeter-totter’ effect in his results, Ricky Brabec tried to use Stage 4 to reset his Dakar. He finished 18th overall in that stage, saying at the time “P18. Somebody had to do it, after a few hard thoughts yesterday, last night, this morning, we decided to sit back today to get on one end of this teeter-totter.”

Stage 5 did not work out as planned. Brabec, the defending bikes champion and first American winner of Dakar, finished 12th in the stage and lost 14 minutes, 12 seconds to the leader. He currently sits 14th in the overall standings with a deficit of 25 minutes, 9 seconds.

In other divisions Thursday:

Cars: Giniel de Villiers edged Brian Baragwanath by slightly less than a minute in a grueling Stage 5.

“I must say that since the beginning things have not really been going our way, but today everything seemed to click,” de Villers said. We took it a little bit calmer at the beginning just to make sure we got all the points.”

After a tough start to the rally, de Villers lags behind the overall leader Stephane Peterhansel by nearly two hours (1 hour, 57 minutes, 26 seconds).

Peterhansel finished third in the stage but widened his overall lead to 6 minutes, 11 seconds over Nasser Al-Attiyah by a little more than two minutes.

Al-Attiyah was fourth in Stage 5.

Carlos Sainz retained his position of third in the overall rankings but was not happy with his ninth-place finish in Stage 5. He blamed faulty navigation, saying in a tweet, “It looks like the road book is done one purpose to get the competitors lost.”

Side by sides/lightweight prototypes: On the strength of a Stage 5 victory, Francisco Lopez Contardo widened his lead in side by sides to 9 minutes, 51 seconds over Stage 4 winner Aron Domzala.

Seth Quintero holds onto the lead in the lightweight prototypes over Cristina Gutierrez Herrero.

Quads: Nicolas Cavigliasso and Manuel Andujar finished first and second in Stage 5, further cementing their respective positions in the overall. Cavigliasso now has an advantage of 23 minutes, 48 seconds over Andujar.

Trucks: Andrey Karginov earned his first stage vicitory of the 2021 Dakar Rally, and Dmitry Sotnikov extended his lead in the overall rankings over Anton Shibalov to 33 minutes, 53 seconds.

STAGE 1 RESULTSCarlos Sainz, Toby Price open with victories

STAGE 2Ricky Brabec jumps to second; Andrew Short withdraws

STAGE 3: American privateer Skyler Howes takes lead

STAGE 4: Four Stages, four bike winners; Al-Attiyah wins three consecutive in cars


Cars: Nasser Al-Attiyah 3 (Stages 2, 3, 4); Carlos Sainz (Stage 1); Giniel de Villiers (Stage 5)

Bikes: Toby Price 2 (Stages 1, 3); Joan Barreda 2 (Stage 2, 4); Kevin Benavides (Stage 5)

Side-by-sides: Francisco Lopez Contardo 2 (Stage 3, 5); Austin Jones (Stage 1); Saleh Alsaif (Stage 2); Aron Domzala (Stage 4)

Lightweight prototypes: Seth Quintero 3 (Stage 2, 3, 5); Cristina Gutierrez Herrero (Stage 1); Kris Meeke (Stage 4)

Quads: Nicolas Cavigliasso 2 (Stage 3, 5); Alexandre Giroud (Stage 1); Pablo Copetti (Stage 2); Manuel Andujar (Stage 4)

Trucks: Dmitry Sotnikov 3 (Stage 1, 2, 4); Siarhei Viazovich (Stage 3); Andrey Karginov (Stage 5)

Watch highlights from Stage 5 of the Dakar Rally on NBCSN at 6:30 p.m. ET today.

Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The Red Flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500