Kevin Benavides wins Dakar Rally over Ricky Brabec; Peterhansel earns record 14th title

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Ricky Brabec won the final stage Friday of the 2021 Dakar Rally, but the American rider came up just under 5 minutes short of his second consecutive victory in the overall results as Monster Energy Honda teammate Kevin Benavides triumphed.

The Argentinian became the first South American rider to win the Dakar Rally motorbike championship. He joined Brabec and two-time champion Toby Price of Australia as the only non-European riders to win the bike class during the event’s four-decade history.

Benavides wrapped up the general classification victory by finishing the final stage in second place, 2 minutes and 17 seconds behind Brabec. Matthias Walkner finished third in Stage 12.

WATCH: 2021 Dakar Rally wrapup at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN

“It was an incredible Dakar every day; it kept on changing,” Benavides said. “I’m really happy with this victory. It was the hardest Dakar I’ve ever done, and anyone could have won. I’m also happy about making history. I’m just super happy.”

Brabec tied Joan Barreda with his Dakar-leading third stage victory this year by winning the 12th and final segment, a 225-kilometer special that returned the rally raid to its original starting point in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

“We tried our best, unforutnately our teammate is riding really well,” Brabec said. “It’s pretty cool to go 1-2, but obviously the top step is a lot better than the second step. We did our best. We struggled the first week, but the second week we came back really strong. Today we gave it 110 percent, and it just wasn’t enough.”

AUTO-MOTO-RALLY-STAGE 12
Kevin Benavides (right) is congratulated by Honda teammate Ricky Brabec after winning the Dakar Rally (FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images).

“Thank you all for the support, we came here for one thing and one thing only,” Brabec, who became the first American to win Dakar last year, posted on Instagram. “We rode our ass off, made mistakes, learned from them but failed the mission. Let’s settle for the #2. The team did a excellent job and so did all the riders congratulations to my very own teammate Kevin #2022 #upsndowns #wildride.”

Sam Sunderland finished third overall, followed by Daniel Sanders.

Skyler Howes placed fifth overall, tops among privateer riders. The American, who led the overall after Stage 3, placed fourth Friday and tied his best stage finish of the Rally (also taking fourth in Stages 3 and 10).

“I pushed really hard that last stage,” Howe said. “I made a mistake right at the beginning and lost quite a bit of time, and man, fifth place was riding on it. I really let it hang out at the end. I’m really happy to be here at the finish. This was a tough one.”

Benavides won the Dakar Rally despite suffering a broken nose and twisted ankles in a crash during Stage 5, which he won along with Stage 9.

In other divisions:

Cars: Stephane Peterhansel extended his Dakar Rally with his 14th victory, winning by nearly 14 minutes over Nasser Al-Attiyah. Two-time Dakar winner Carlos Sainz won the final stage to finish third overall.

Peterhansel won 30 years after his first Dakar victory in 1991, the first of six titles on a bike for the Frenchman. He won this year with new co-driver Edouard Boulanger.

“It was a really tough one this year and there is always more pressure when you are the leader for so long,” Peterhansel, 55, said. “We had everything to lose, but we did a really precise race, almost perfect. It’s a good feeling to have Edouard next to me. This was his first Dakar in a top car and he did a really excellent job.”

With his eighth championship in cars, “Monsieur Dakar” now holds the record for most class wins, too (breaking a tie with seven-time truck champion Vladimir Chagin).

“I’m also the only one to have won on the three continents: Africa, in South America and now in Saudi Arabia,” Peterhansel said. “We really are privileged.”

Side by side UTVs (SSV)/lightweight/light prototypes: Francisco Lopez Contardo won the general classification in side by sides. Austin Jones, the American who led after Stage 7, finished just over 17 minutes behind in second place overall.

“I’m really happy,” Jones said. “It was a long Dakar. That last stage tested us. We had two flats, and it was hard, but we made it. We’re super happy with the results. A really nice second Dakar for me.”

In the lightweight prototype category, Seth Quintero, 18, finished fourth overall. The American scored a Dakar Rally-leading six stage victories in 2021.

“It was an absolutely amazing two weeks,” said Quintero, the youngest stage winner ever at Dakar. “Didn’t really work out the way we wanted, but so blessed to be able to reach the finish and do what we did to make history and win multiple stages.

Quads: Manuel Andjuar won the overall title by more than 33 minutes. Pablo Copetti, an Argentinian who was racing under an American flag this year after training with Jimmy Lewis, won the last stage for his third victory of the rally.

Trucks: Dmitry Sotnikov capped a 1-2-3 overall finish for the dominant Kamaz-Master team.


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 5Kevin Benavides new leader in bikes

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

STAGE 7Ricky Brabec captures first victory; Skyler Howes third

STAGE 8: Austin Jones takes overall lead in side by sides

STAGE 9Toby Price retires after heavy crash; Peterhansel wins

STAGE 10: Ricky Brabec closes to within a minute of overall lead

STAGE 11: Ricky Brabec falls to third; unhappy with KTM tactics

FINAL STAGE VICTORY TALLIES

Cars: Nasser Al-Attiyah 5 (Stages 2, 3, 4, 8, 11); Carlos Sainz 3 (Stage 1, 6, 12); Yazeed Al Rajhi 2 (Stage 7, 10); Giniel de Villiers (Stage 5); Stephane Peterhansel (Stage 9)

Bikes: Ricky Brabec 3 (Stage 7, 10, 12); Joan Barreda 3 (Stage 2, 4, 6); Toby Price 2 (Stages 1, 3); Kevin Benavides 2 (Stage 5, 9); 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); Reinaldo Varella (Stage 12)

Lightweight prototypes: Seth Quintero 6 (Stage 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 11); Cristina Gutierrez Herrero 3 (Stage 1, 7, 9); Kris Meeke 2 (Stage 4, 12)

Quads: Alexandre Giroud 3 (Stage 1, 6, 8); Pablo Copetti 3 (Stage 2, 10, 12); Nicolas Cavigliasso 2 (Stage 3, 5); Manuel Andujar 2 (Stage 4, 7); Giovanni Enrico 2 (Stage 9, 11)

Trucks: Dmitry Sotnikov 4 (Stage 1, 2, 4, 7); Martin Macik 3 (Stage 9, 10, 12); Anton Shibalov 2 (Stage 8, 11); Siarhei Viazovich (Stage 3); Andrey Karginov (Stage 5); Airat Mardeev (Stage 6)

Watch highlights from the 12th and final stage of the Dakar Rally on NBCSN at 6 p.m. ET today.

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”