In a nightmarish repeat of the 2015 Dakar Rally, the Uyuni Salt Lake once again signaled disaster for the HRC team. It was an exhausting and frustrating day for Honda’s Joan Barreda in today’s Dakar Rally Stage 6, where any hope of competing for the overall win was lost. Although he managed to get a finish today, he lost nearly five hours due to a mechanical issue, carding 110th in Stage 6 and ending his bid for the big win.
It wasn’t all bad news for the red team, however, as Paulo Goncalves managed to card a close third-place finish, and retain the overall lead in the rally. It was also a positive day for American rider Ricky Brabec, who cracked the top-10 for the first time with an eighth-place finish, bumping him up to 14th in the general ranking.
Like yesterday, Goncalves dealt with splitting headaches due to the high altitude, but pushed through to a strong finish. “It was difficult for me to keep focused,” said Goncalves. “I tried to do as best as possible for me today and in the end I finished well without any problems. I lost a bit of time, but it is not too bad. We are at the beginning of the rally so the hardest is yet to come.”
It was also a disastrous day for Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Ruben Faria, who crashed about halfway through the special and suffered a broken arm. Faria is currently being treated for injuries in Uyuni, and is expected to be able to return to Europe on Sunday.
The star of Dakar Rally Stage 6 was Australian phenom Toby Price. The Red Bull KTM Factory rider conquered the longest special stage of the Dakar Rally (337 miles!), fraught with complicated navigation, breathtaking altitudes and stray livestock, to stop the clock at five hours, 51 minutes and 48 seconds. His teammate Matthias Walkner was not far behind, nearly one minute off the Aussie’s time, making for a factory KTM 1-2 finish in Dakar Rally Stage 6.
“I led for the whole course today and made the first tracks,” said Price. “It’s the first time I’ve done that, which I’m pretty stoked about. It didn’t start off in the best way. Around 22 km there were a couple of cows stuck in the sand. I went to go around one of them but it pulled in front of me and I hit it. So it wasn’t the best start to the race. We just regrouped and made sure to be back on top of the road book.”
Taking a stage win while leading the way is no easy task, since it’s easier for other riders to save time by simply following your track, but Price managed to do it despite the complicated navigation. “I just took my time with the tricky bits of navigation and made sure I was on the right track,” said Price. “We didn’t make any mistakes today so we’re really happy with that and I think it puts us in a good spot now. I’m stoked at the pace I was going at. It’s going to be a close fight all the way to the finish line and it’s a long way away, but we’re pushing hard and feeling comfortable, so we’ll see how we do.”
Riders aren’t the only ones facing fatigue at this point, as the uncharacteristically high speeds of the Dakar Rally to this point are starting to wear on the machinery.
“The bikes have been through a lot already in the first week,” Price added. “So I think it’s going to be pretty difficult at the finishing line of this one. The pace of the first week we’ve had so far has been up there pretty high. Compared to what last year’s Dakar was, the pace of that first week wasn’t that strong.”
HRC’s Joan Barreda can attest to that, as he spent an exhausting day (nearly 11 hours) trying to get his CRF450 RALLY to the finish. It is not yet clear exactly what the mechanical issue was, but Barreda started the day strong and ended it being towed to the bivouac by his teammate Paolo Ceci.
“Of course, today we had a big disappointment with the bike problem of Joan Barreda, with all his aspirations of winning the race gone today,” said Team HRC Team Manager Wolfgang Fischer. “But of course, we will not give up fighting and doing everything to get a result. We are especially happy that Paulo could keep his leading position overall in this very difficult and demanding stage.”
For American Ricky Brabec, it was a good day with a great result, but not without some complications. “The stage was really, really fast; a lot faster than I like to go, actually,” Brabec commented. “It wasn’t only fast but it was super-dusty. I was playing it safe all day, riding consistently. I made a mistake in the dust in a rocky corner and the front wheel just washed out on me and I laid the bike over. Other than that, the stage was good… good and dangerous! So I’m happy to be here again and we can go again tomorrow.”
While Brabec could call on his desert racing experience to conquer the dust and dreaded “fesh-fesh” (aka silt), other riders such as KTM’s Antoine Meo were experiencing it for the first time. “I didn’t know what it was before, but I do now,” Meo retorted. Meo made a navigational mistake early in the stage that cost him about six minutes, relegating him to a 13th-place finish in Stage 6.
American riders Ian Blythe, Alexander Smith, Scott Bright and C.R. Gittere all completed the longest special stage of the rally with consistent finishes. The U.S. contingent is making steady improvements despite the rising rate of attrition in Dakar.
Riders face another long day tomorrow with a 493-mile (793 km) stage and a 219-mile (353 km) special in Stage 7. Upon finishing they will be rewarded with a much-needed rest day in Salta, Argentina. Stage 8 will begin the second half of the Dakar Rally, where seasoned racers maintain “the race truly begins.”
Dakar Rally Stage 6 Results:
- Toby Price (KTM) 5:51:48
- Matthias Walkner (KTM) +1:05
- Paulo Goncalves (Hon) +1:12
- Stefan Svitko (KTM) +4:44
- Helder Rodrigues (Yam) +5:23
- Pablo Quintanilla (Hus) +7:52
- Txomin Arana (Hus) +7:59
- Ricky Brabec (Hon) +8:16
- Adrien Van Beveren (Yam) +8:47
- Alessandro Botturi (Yam) +9:19
- Antoine Meo (KTM) +12:25
- Laia Sanz (KTM) +13:58
- Ian Blythe (KTM) +34:08
- Alexander Smith (Hus) +56:39
- Scott Bright (KTM) +1:18:45
- C.R. Gittere (Hus) +2:41:50
- Joan Barreda (Hon) +4:58:11
General Ranking after Dakar Rally Stage 6:
- Paulo Goncalves (Hon) 20:23:07
- Toby Price (KTM) +0:35
- Matthias Walkner (KTM) +2:50
- Stefan Svitko (KTM) +5:17
- Pablo Quintanilla (KTM) +15:10
- Helder Rodrigues (Yam) +20:12
- Kevin Benavides (Hon) +21:04
- Antoine Meo (KTM) +23.02
- Gerard Farres (KTM) +25:52
- Alain Duclos (Shr) +26:09
- Ricky Brabec (Hon) +33:46
- Laia Sanz (KTM) +39:29
- Ian Blythe (KTM) +1:45:30
- Alexander Smith (Hus) +3:16:33
- Scott Bright (KTM) +4:00:16
- Joan Barreda (Hon) +4:59:26
- C.R. Gittere (Hus) +6:28:00