Team Honda’s Ricky Brabec lost six minutes to the overall leader Kevin Benavides in Stage 11 of the Dakar Rally and was passed by Red Bull KTM’s Sam Sunderland for second overall. Brabec will need a perfect final stage if he is going to win his second consecutive Dakar, after being the first American to win it last year.
But as he crossed the line at the end of the stage, drama unfolded.
Suffering from the effects of a fall two days earlier, Honda teammate Joan Barreda missed a refueling point at 174 kilometers. That would have incurred a penalty for the Spanish rider who was on his way to a best-ever Dakar finish. But it was only the tip of the iceberg.
“I wasn’t feeling well again this morning,” Barreda said in a release, who finished Stage 10 in second. “I don’t know if it’s because of the crash I had two days ago, I was a bit dizzy. So I ended up missing the refueling point, and I didn’t stop. Ultimately it was my mistake.”
Eventually, Barreda ran out of fuel. After a medical check, he ended the day in a local hospital.
Brabec wasn’t buying that Barreda missed the refueling station unintentionally.
“They think that it was a strategy for Joan to go ahead and skip refueling,” Brabec said. “But you know what, they’re talking crap behind our back, and I’m not OK with that. They want to play that game, then we’re going to play. Hopefully tomorrow we can clinch a podium spot, that’s about it.”
KTM’s Matthias Walkner later apologized to Honda.
Sunderland won Stage 11 and closed to within 4 minutes, 12 seconds of Benavides. It was the first stage win this year for Sunderland.
“Today I knew this was one of the last chances I had to win this race and give my all,” Sunderland said. “I ran out of water with 60ks to go and was riding like hell in the dunes. I made a few navigation mistakes but no regrets. I gave my all.”
Brabec fell to third overall, 7 minutes and 13 seconds back.
Once again, blazing the trail by being first out after the Stage 10 victory was not a winning formula as Brabec wrote in an Instagram post that he was expecting to lose time with the competition starting behind him.
“I’m fortunate to have rode really well (in Stage 10) and very unfortunate to open today,” Brabec said. “It was a tough one. We’ll do our best and stay focused. Tomorrow we’re gonna ride our ass off.”
Having lost nearly 13 minutes to the leader on Thursday, he knows anything can happen on Friday. “Today is said and done, tomorrow let’s make a final push and after a bit of drama from the orange brigade boys were fired up on this one,” he posted on IG.
One day after his Honda teammate Nacho Canejo was forced to retire, it was Barreda’s turn. He entered the stage fourth in the overall ranking, 15 minutes, 40 seconds behind the leader.
“I’m sorry, folks. I’m in the hospital performing a head scan,” Barreda said on Instagram. “The fall of two days ago when I lost consciousness for a few minutes has been billed to me today.
“I was really looking forward to continuing in the race and finishing my best, but it couldn’t have been.”
American privateer Skyler Howes started fourth after a strong Stage 10. Thursday was not as kind. Howes got stuck in a hole in the desert and lost considerable time getting back under way.
“This last bit in the dunes, I came over one wrong, just too far to the right, ended up in a hole and got completely stuck,” said Howes, who finished 25 minutes, 53 seconds behind Sunderland. “I tried to get out for a long, long time and wasted a lot of energy doing it. Really frustrating day, especially this close to the end. Was really hoping not to lose any time but lost quite a bit.”
In other divisions Thursday:
Cars: Nasser Al-Attiyah won his fifth stage of the 2021 Dakar Rally and his first since Stage 8, but he was only able to make up a little more than 2 minutes on Stephane Peterhansel, who appears to be on his way to earning a record-extending 14 overall victory.
“I’m quite happy,” Al-Attiyah said. “This is a really good feeling. At one point, I’m disappointed because my dream is to win this race in Saudi Arabia, but we still have one stage left, and you don’t know what can happen.”
Peterhansel finished second after overcoming a pair of punctures, including one in the dunes.
“Towards the end, we got lost and lost a few minutes, so a lot of stress but it’s finally a good day because it was quite a stage so to lose a little time is okay,” Peterhansel said.
Side by side UTVs (SSV)/lightweight/light prototypes: Francisco Contardo won Stage 11 and further distanced himself from second-place Austin Jones by 8 minutes, 11 seconds.
Jones finished fourth in the stage and now trails in the overall standings by more than 18 minutes.
“It was a long one,” Jones said. “We just got through it. That’s about it. Happy to be done with it.”
After losing massive time the past two days with mechanical problems, Seth Quintero finished first in the lightweight/lightweight prototype division.
“Today went absolutely amazing,” the American said after his sixth stage victory. “Just trying to pick cars off all day, and that’s what we did. The last two days were really rough and couldn’t have asked for a better day. No issues and ran a smooth, clean pace.”
Quads: Giovanni Enrico did not win his first stage of the 2021 Dakar until Stage 8. He now has two after beating Manuel Andujar to the Stage 11 checkpoint.
With his stage win, Enrico shaved a fraction off Andujar’s overall lead, but he has almost 26 minutes to overcome in the Friday’s final stage.
Trucks: Team Kamaz was back on top with Anton Shibalov beating Airat Mardeev to the checkpoint.
But it’s their teammate Dmitry Sotnikov that holds a commanding lead of nearly 40 minutes heading into the final stage.
STAGE 1 RESULTS: Carlos Sainz, Toby Price open with victories
STAGE 5: Kevin Benavides new leader in bikes
Cars: Nasser Al-Attiyah 5 (Stages 2, 3, 4, 8, 11); Carlos Sainz 2 (Stage 1, 6); Yazeed Al Rajhi 2 (Stage 7, 10); Giniel de Villiers (Stage 5); Stephane Peterhansel (Stage 9)
Bikes: Joan Barreda 3 (Stage 2, 4, 6); Toby Price 2 (Stages 1, 3); Kevin Benavides 2 (Stage 5, 9); Ricky Brabec 2 (Stage 7, 10); Jose Ignacio Cornejo Florimo (Stage 8); Sam Sunderland (Stage 11)
Side-by-sides: Francisco Lopez Contardo 6 (Stage 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11); Austin Jones (Stage 1); Saleh Alsaif (Stage 2); Aron Domzala (Stage 4); Khalifa Al Attiyah (Stage 6), Sergei Kariakin (Stage 10)
Lightweight prototypes: Seth Quintero 6 (Stage 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 11); Cristina Gutierrez Herrero 3 (Stage 1, 7, 9); 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 2 (Stage 2, 10); Giovanni Enrico 2 (Stage 9, 11)
Trucks: Dmitry Sotnikov 4 (Stage 1, 2, 4, 7); Martin Macik 2 (Stage 9, 10); Anton Shibalov 2 (Stage 8, 11); Siarhei Viazovich (Stage 3); Andrey Karginov (Stage 5); Airat Mardeev (Stage 6)