Ricky Brabec broke the hex on starting up front in the motorbike division, finishing third Monday in Stage 8 of the Dakar Rally and climbing to sixth overall with four stages remaining.
The defending bike champion had won a marathon Stage 7, which put the first American to win Dakar first on the starting line in Stage 8 (another long segment of more than 700 kilometers). Because navigation has hampered those starting up front on fresh terrain, many riders have strategized by striving for consistency over stage victories.
But Brabec soldiered through Monday, becoming the first rider this year to finish on the podium after starting first in a stage. The Hesperia, California, native had been burned starting first before, finishing 24th in Stage 1 after winning the Prologue.
“Today opening was really fun,” Brabec said. “We didn’t really make any big mistakes. I wish we would have had this speed and this focus from Day 1, but it took a little bit to get used to the road book.
“There’s four days of racing left. Let’s see what happens the rest of the week. I know we’re a little bit down on time, but possibly tomorrow we can make up a little more starting in the back.”
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Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo, Brabec’s Monster Energy Honda teammate who goes by Nacho Cornejo, maintained the overall lead by winning his first stage this year.
“Tomorrow I have to open the way, so I’ll try to do it as clean as I can and try not to lose too much time,” Cornejo said.
Cornejo leads two-time Dakar winner Toby Price, who finished second Monday, by 1 minute 5 seconds. Sam Sunderland, Price’s Red Bull KTM teammate, is third overall, nearly 6 minutes behind.
Brabec, who gained two spots in the overall rankings after Stage 8, is 17 minutes, 42 seconds off the lead.
“It was OK,” Howes said. “I started third on the day, so I thought for sure the navigation would be difficult, so I toned it down a little bit. I had my navigation going perfect, but it turns out I was just going way too slow to get the navigation right because the guys at the front were just hauling, and they nailed it. Still had a lot of fun.”
Former leader Xavier de Soultrait withdrew from the race after crashing midway through Stage 8. Race officials said the rider was airlifted to a hospital for X-rays but didn’t lose consciousness in the wreck.
In other divisions Monday:
Cars: Nasser Al-Attiyah captured his fourth stage victory, narrowly defeating defending champion Carlos Sainz by 52 seconds.
Stephane Peterhansel finished 3 minutes, 3 seconds behind in third, maintaining a lead of 5 minutes, 50 seconds over Al-Attiyah in the overall rankings.
“In the last 50 kilometers, I did one or two mistakes to lose 1 or 2 minutes, but at the end, we’re still in the battle,” Peterhansel said. “For the moment, it’s just a small (lead), but I hope it’s good to the end.”
Said Al-Attiyah, who overcame a flat tire for the second consecutive stage: “We kept the car in one piece which is good because, in some places, we were pushing a lot. We get three minutes back on Stephane today, and we will keep going day by day. We’ll do our best for a good fight.”
Side by side UTVs (SSV)/lightweight/light prototypes: American Austin Jones took the overall lead in the top lightweight classes with a fifth-place finish. The Monster Energy Can-Am driver leads in side by sides (SSV) by 20 minutes, 51 seconds over Francisco Lopez Contardo, who won his second consecutive stage and fourth overall.
“It was a difficult day,” Jones said. “It was a long day. I know it wasn’t as many kilometers as other days, but for some reason today felt really long. Maybe it was because it was a marathon day last night, and no one could sleep because it was so cold in there! But yeah, it was a good day. It was a nice stage.”
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It was a disastrous outing for Aron Domzala, who fell from first to third overall and more than 31 minutes off the lead. Domzala had led by more than 9 minutes over Jones entering Stage 8 but finished 13th, 36 minutes out of the lead.
Jones also leads Seth Quintero by 10 minutes, 31 seconds in the lightweight class. Quintero extended his lead in the light prototype division to more than 4 hours as the American won his fifth stage.
Quads: Alexandre Giroud scored his third stage victory, cutting a minute, 12 seconds off the margin for overall lead Manuel Andujar (who has an edge of 19 minutes, 43 seconds).
Trucks: Anton Shibalov scored his first stage victory in another 1-2-3 sweep for the Kamaz-Master team. Shibalov is second overall behind teammate Dmitry Sotnikov by more than 43 minutes.
STAGE 1 RESULTS: Carlos Sainz, Toby Price open with victories
STAGE 5: Kevin Benavides new leader in bikes
Cars: Nasser Al-Attiyah 4 (Stages 2, 3, 4, 8); 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); Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo (Stage 8)
Side-by-sides: Francisco Lopez Contardo 4 (Stage 3, 5, 7, 8); Austin Jones (Stage 1); Saleh Alsaif (Stage 2); Aron Domzala (Stage 4); Khalifa Al Attiyah (Stage 6)
Lightweight prototypes: Seth Quintero 5 (Stage 2, 3, 5, 6, 8); Cristina Gutierrez Herrero 2 (Stage 1, 7); Kris Meeke (Stage 4)
Quads: Alexandre Giroud 3 (Stage 1, 6, 8); Nicolas Cavigliasso 2 (Stage 3, 5); Manuel Andujar 2 (Stage 4, 7); 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); Anton Shibalov (Stage 8)