Halfway through the Dakar Rally, Austin Jones is ready to do ‘what’s right at the time’

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The Dakar Rally is one of the most grueling exploits in racing, so when American driver Austin Jones and the rest of the field was given a rest day after Stage 6, it was a chance to strategize and plan for the second half of the race.

After 27 hours, 5 minutes, and 9 seconds of racing, Jones sits just 40 seconds behind Aron Domzala in the lightweight vehicle class.

“I’m stoked,” Jones told NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman from the bivouac following Stage 6. “Definitely happy with the position right now.

“It’s kind of been our plan not to do anything too crazy and get to the rest day. Now we’re here, and now it’s time to think of something else we can do. Forty seconds is a little, tiny gap, but anything can happen.”

HOW TO WATCH ON NBCSNInformation, schedules for the Dakar Rally

Lacking the top-end speed of the faster class of cars and the nimbleness of motorcycles, the lightweight side by sides ride a razor’s edge in the shifting conditions that make up the Dakar Rally course in Saudi Arabia.

“We’re just going to keep on doing our thing right now and assess what’s going on later in the rally and see when we can push and do what’s right at the time,” Jones continued.

In more technical sections containing sharper dunes and rocks that require tight navigation, Jones and the rest of the side by side class are able close on the overall leaders. That does not come without risk. And for Jones, the dunes are typically not a good place to push – but on a stage like the sixth one that was all dunes, he was forced to throw caution to the winds.

“At the very end, in the last 100 kilometers I told my navigator ‘Dude, you got to buckle up your belts because I’m going to go for it here.’ ”

Jones described the difficulty in an Instagram post, saying “All sand, all day today. These dunes are so sketchy with vertical drops randomly throughout the stage. Pushed a little harder today and ended up moving up in the overall standings.”

In Stage 6 of the Dakar Rally, Jones finished third in class. More importantly, he shaved 1 minute, 21 seconds from Domzala’s time.

“Definitely got to keep focused,” Jones said. “One problem on my end and that gap gets bigger. … But at the same time we’ve got to try and push because I know the dude in first is going to be pushing, trying to keep his lead. It’s a fine line to try and be conservative and still attack and go for it.”

ANOTHER AMERICAN MAKING THE MOST OF HIS DAKAR: Skyler Howes is leaving a mark despite limited money

The Arabian desert is hard on equipment. Jones knows as well as most that he also needs to guard against mechanical failure. His freshman season of 2020 got off to a strong start, but a rash of difficulties in the middle stages derailed his effort and sent him home eighth. Even so, he was the second-highest finishing rookie.

So far in 2021, Jones’ race has gone much more smoothly. Aside from a difficult Stage 2 in which he finished eighth in class and lost about 7 minutes to Domzala, he has been in the top five each day and no worse than third in the overall rankings.

If last year’s results were not fresh enough, Jones need look back only a day. He and the current leader Domzala chased Francisco Contardo over the first five stages until that driver had a disastrous outing Friday that cost him more than 53 minutes.

“The next six days are going to be pretty mixed with the desert and rocks as well as dunes,” Jones told Kligerman. “I’ll pick my spots and do whatever feels right at the time.”

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.