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 RESULTS: Carlos Sainz, Toby Price open with victories
STAGE 5: Kevin Benavides new leader in bikes
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)