Dakar Rally, Stage 7: Ricky Brabec scores first stage win; Skyler Howes finishes third

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As the Dakar Rally enters its second half, Ricky Brabec scored his first win in Stage 7. Based on his experience in the first six stages, that is not the position he wanted, however.

Navigation has been cited as an issue in each stage of the 2021 Dakar Rally, which leaves Brabec and the other competitors playing a game of cat and mouse.

“I think the strategy is to not open!” Brabec said in a release after completing the stage. “I think everyone that’s opening is just losing a little bit of time. So we’re trying our best. We just have to stay focused.”

“There’s five days left, and we’re going to try just to finish in the top seven every day and see if we can make up a little bit of time.”

While Brabec may not be happy about opening the course, his Stage 7 victory vaulted him five spots from 13th to eighth and closed the gap to leader Jose Florimo by 2 minutes, 7 seconds.

Florimo finished second in Stage 7.

Brabec’s strategy has been one of consistency so far, but that often brings its own kind of speed.

“Definitely didn’t feel like we were finishing up front, but it’s good to get this feeling,” Brabec said on Instagram.

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

It was also a good day for American privateer Skyler Howes, who finished only 12 seconds behind Florimo. On the strength of his third-place finish, Howes climbed to seventh in the standings with 12 minutes, 27 seconds to be made up on the leader.

“Things were kinda dicey this morning in the wet camel grass,” Howes said in an Instagram post. “Felt like I was on edge for the first 100km. A lot of swaps and bucks going on. But after we got out into the desert and the dirt dried up I started feeling good!

“A lot of the stage looked just like Utah so I felt right at home.”

In other divisions Sunday:

Cars: There was a new winner in cars as well.

Yazeed Al Rajhi beat overall leader Stephane Peterhansel to the final checkpoint but was able to shave only 48 seconds off his lead. It was the second career stage win for the Saudi driver and the first of his 2021 rally.

“Now, I just want to do well every day, that’s our goal,” Al Rajhi said afterward.

Peterhansel finished second in Stage 7 while Nasser Al-Attiyah, the driver second in the overall standings, was 2 minutes behind in fourth. Peterhansel would have gained more distance on his rival if not for the time he lost repairing a wheel after hitting a rock 25 miles from the finish.

Al-Attiyah also had a difficult stage.

“Tackling the marathon stage after a rest day wasn’t easy,” he said. “We suffered a flat tire and, from then on, we were extra cautious to avoid breaking things. We’re still close to Stephane, and there’s a long way to go. It’s hard to beat a buggy with a 4×4.”

Carlos Sainz finished third in the stage and kept his third-place overall ranking.

Side by sides/lightweight/light prototypes: Francisco Lopez Contardo was back on top with his third stage win of the season. He beat Stage 2 winner Saleh Alsaif by 5 minutes, 12 seconds. No other driver has more than one stage win.

With this win, he gained 10 minutes, 30 seconds on leader Aron Domzala, who finished fifth in the stage, but Contardo remains third in the overall standings.

American Austin Jones entered the stage a mere 40 seconds behind Domzala, but his seventh-place finish in Stage 7 was more than 9 minutes off the leader’s pace. During the rest day, Jones said his strategy was to avoid mistakes and ‘do the right thing at the right time’, and that he expects to do better in the rockier stages.

Quads: Manuel Andujar became the second rider to win multiple stages, but the major storyline for this class was the departure of Nicolas Cavigliasso.

Cavigliasso broke a clutch with less than 60 miles remaining in the stage and was forced to retire. That handed the overall lead to Andujar by an advantage of 20 minutes, 55 seconds over Alexandre Giroud.

Trucks: For the second consecutive stage, the Kamaz-Master team swept the podium. This time it was Dmitry Sotnikov across the line first, ahead of Airat Mardeev and Anton Shibalov. Sotnikov’s fourth stage win gave him a comfortable lead of 45 minutes, 56 seconds over Shibalov.


STAGE 1 RESULTSCarlos Sainz, Toby Price open with victories

STAGE 2Ricky Brabec jumps to second; Andrew Short withdraws

STAGE 3American privateer Skyler Howes takes lead

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

STAGE 5: Kevin Benavides new leader in bikes

STAGE 6: Toby Price retakes the lead; Peterhansel distances the competition

STAGE WINS

Cars: Nasser Al-Attiyah 3 (Stages 2, 3, 4); Carlos Sainz 2 (Stage 1, 6); Giniel de Villiers (Stage 5); Yazeed Al Rajhi (Stage 7)

Bikes: Joan Barreda 3 (Stage 2, 4, 6); Toby Price 2 (Stages 1, 3); Kevin Benavides (Stage 5); Ricky Brabec (Stage 7)

Side-by-sides: Francisco Lopez Contardo 3 (Stage 3, 5, 7); Austin Jones (Stage 1); Saleh Alsaif (Stage 2); Aron Domzala (Stage 4); Khalifa Al Attiyah (Stage 6)

Lightweight prototypes: Seth Quintero 4 (Stage 2, 3, 5, 6); Cristina Gutierrez Herrero 2 (Stage 1, 7); Kris Meeke (Stage 4)

Quads: Nicolas Cavigliasso 2 (Stage 3, 5); Manuel Andujar 2 (Stage 4, 7); Alexandre Giroud 2 (Stage 1, 6); Pablo Copetti (Stage 2)

Trucks: Dmitry Sotnikov 4 (Stage 1, 2, 4, 7); Siarhei Viazovich (Stage 3); Andrey Karginov (Stage 5); Airat Mardeev (Stage 6)

Watch highlights from Stage 7 of the Dakar Rally on NBCSN at 6:30 p.m. ET today.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds