The good news for the competitors left standing in the 2018 Dakar Rally is that they have now completed 3,194 kilometres. The bad news is that another 3,897km must be navigated between La Paz and Cordoba before the finish line will come into view.
In charge of the car race at the Dakar’s midpoint Rest Day is Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) of Team Peugeot Total. The reigning Dakar champ is currently on course for his eighth car category title to go along with the six times that he won the world’s toughest rally on a bike. That must be why he’s known as Monsieur Dakar.
“We can draw a positive conclusion from these first six stages. We’ve had quite a clean and straightforward week up to now. Our best day was Wednesday, when we won the stage. We’re obviously very happy. Having said that, we’ve only covered a third of the rally in terms of competitive distance. And we know that in places like Belen and Fiambala, there are still some very complicated stages to come. Anything can still happen as there is a big variety of stages in store. There have been plenty of dunes up to now and that has worked well for us, to be honest. Now we’re in Bolivia, we’re going to be faced with different types of stages.” – Stéphane Peterhansel #300
Peterhansel’s closest rival is his Peugeot team-mate Carlos Sainz (ESP) who trails him by 27m10s. Then come three members of Toyota Gazoo Racing SA in the next three places on the leaderboard, including Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) and Giniel De Villiers (ZAF).
“We suffered a really hard first week of this Dakar. Two days ago we had a broken gearbox and we were very, very lucky to even finish the stage. We only had second gear and we did 30 kilometres like that. Now we’re here with eight days ahead of us, some of them will be very long. It’s encouraging that my two Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team-mates are with me close to the front of the race. We are third, fourth and fifth overall and that’s not too bad ahead of the second week.” – Nasser Al-Attiyah #301
Elsewhere in the car race Kuba Przygonski (POL) has taken his MINI to sixth overall despite a number of setbacks in the first week.
“We’re are really to happy to have made it this far because there was nothing easy about the first week. The stages in Peru were some of the hardest routes I’ve ever seen at the Dakar. All the top guys had problems, some big and some small. We had our share of problems; getting stuck in the soft sand, some punctures and times when my co-driver Tom (Colsoul) was sick. We’re looking for a bit more luck in the second week because until now we’ve had some bad luck. We’re happy to still be in the game.” – Kuba Przygonski #312
It’s been a very tough first week for five-time Dakar bike race winner Cyril Despres (FRA) who was looking to back up last year’s car class podium finish with an even better result. Despres has at least managed to keep himself in the race, unlike high-profile retirees Sébastien Loeb (FRA) and André Villas-Boas (POR).
Things are unbelievably tight in the bike contest ahead of the second week with tenth place Stefan Svitko (SVK) within 30 minutes of race leader Kevin Benavides (ARG).
“I had a big crash on the second stage and that gave me some knee trouble but that’s all feeling much better now. I think it’s possible to reach the podium in this second week even though that will not be easy. There are a lot of very good riders inside the Top 10 now. I hope the second week will be better for me and I avoid crashing.” – Stefan Svitko #9
The Red Bull KTM Factory Team are chasing their 17th consecutive bike race win and helping them take the fight to Benavides are three riders within the Top 6. Matthias Walkner (AUT), Toby Price (AUS) and Antoine Méo (FRA) are all within touching distance of top spot.
“I always want to be close to the front for sure, but it’s not something I was taking granted before the race with injuries I’ve had to deal with this past year. I had a surgery 13 weeks ago so that wasn’t really the ideal preparation. Now we’re sort of at the halfway point and the focus for the first week was just to get here safely. Hopefully we can now put in a strong showing in the second week” – Toby Price #8
Fellow KTM riders Daniel Nosiglia (BOL), Laia Sanz (ESP) and Mohammed Balooshi (UAE) are also still on target for reaching the finish line in Cordoba, alongside Hero Motorsport rider CS Santosh (IND).
“Of course no Dakar Rally is easy, but I really did not expect things would be as tough as they have been in the first week. Especially yesterday with the altitude I was struggling. I’ve lived all my life at sea level so it really took me out of my comfort zone. The aim was always just to finish so I’m feeling good that we can still shoot for this.” – Mohammed Balooshi #76
Just as the Red Bull KTM Factory Team has a proud record to protect in the bike race, so do Team Kamaz Master in the truck contest. Kamaz trucker Eduard Nikolaev (RUS) current holds first in his division with a cushion of nearly an hour over his nearest rival. The third place trucker is then a further 90 minutes back, but Nikolaev is leaving nothing to chance.
“I have the experience of winning the Dakar and I’m doing my best to use those memories to help me now. I actually think that defending a title is more difficult than winning it for the first time. I have lots of added responsibility because I’m in the lead. Each year the competition in the truck race at Dakar gets better and there are so many fast guys this year. I’m doing my best to defend my title.” – Eduard Nikolaev #500
It’s a smilier story in the quad race with Ignacio Casale (CHI) looking to regain the title he won in 2014. Casale has a 42 minute advantage over the second placed quad biker and the Chilean is keeping his eye on the prize.
“I think it would be pretty dumb to go out in the second week and chase more stage wins because I’ve got a sizeable lead over my rivals. To win this Dakar I’m going to have to ride smart from beginning to end. The others will be waiting for me to make an error and I need to make sure I don’t do these mistakes. I’m going to use my head and not push too hard when there’s no need to do so.” – Ignacio Casale #241
The Dakar roars back into life on Saturday with a 425km timed special stage between La Paz and Uyuni. Adding an extra layer of difficulty to proceedings for all competitors is the fact that stage seven is the first half of a marathon stage. This means that no outside assistance from mechanics can be given until the end of stage eight. Good luck out there!
Press release Red Bull