Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Sam Sunderland has successfully completed the long stage three of the 2018 Dakar Rally in first position and as a result once again heads the overall result with a lead of over four minutes.
Demonstrating the speed that gave him the overall win at the 2017 event, the Brit excelled today on the 296km timed special. The Honda backed duo of Kevin Benavides and Ricky Brabec rounded out the top three.
The longest stage of the event so far, comprising a 296km special followed by a 208km liaison, proved difficult for many of the competitors today. Good navigation was paramount as well as overall speed, and as such many of the top riders lost valuable time after missing a waypoint. Using his experience, KTM 450 RALLY mounted Sunderland moved up through the order as the day went on. Riding consistently, Sunderland posted a fastest time of just over three hours and 20 minutes.
Defending champ Sam Sunderland found his way back into the overall lead with a stage 3 win. Credit: PhotosDakar.com / KTM Media Library
"That was a tough day – there was a lot of off-piste riding and some of the dunes were really difficult to navigate and even climb," Sunderland explained. "It made the whole day that little bit more physical, too. I’m happy to get another win, but it’s still early days yet and we have a long way to go. The bike felt really good today, even in the soft sand it was still pulling really well. I made a couple of mistakes in the middle of the stage, but thankfully they didn’t cost me too much time.”
Monster Energy Honda Team had a day of varied fortunes. On the plus side, Kevin Benavides stormed into the battle for the overall podium, after a day filled with skilful, aggressive riding. The runner-up spot on the stage moved the Argentinean talent up to second in the general rankings. Benavides picked off his adversaries and ended up opening the field over the final stretches of the special stage. On the down side Stage two winner Joan Barreda’s fortunes fared less well. After setting out first and opening the track, by the time the day was done the Spanish rider had finished the special in thirtieth place after getting lost then losing his navigation eqipment all together.
Argentinean Kevin Benavides took hos Honda to second on the stage and now sits second overall. Credit: RallyZone - Edoardo Bauer
"I am very happy and satisfied with today's stage, where I ended up opening the track in the final kilometres," Benavides said. "It was tough but I got a good result that leaves me in a good position. The special was very hard indeed, very difficult in the dunes, with some very soft parts, where the bike kept getting stuck in the sand. We will continue fighting this Dakar to improve on this second place in the race."
Joan Barreda was obviously disappointed to lose the overall lead and plummet down to 15th overall and a lot of time to make up with a 22 minute deficit.
"I'm a little disappointed today because I was going at good pace, opening the track almost all the way through," Barreda said. "When I reached kilometre 280 I took the one I thought was the good track, but when I saw that it was not the right one, it was very late and I had lost a lot of time. From now on we will have to work to try to make up this difference."
Aussie Toby Price finished stage 3 third fastest but was docked 5 minutes after the conclusion of the stage which put him back to 10th. He has moved up to 8th overall though at a 12 minute deficit. Credit: PhotosDakar.com / KTM Media Library
2016 Dakar champion Toby Price was flying straight from the start of today’s timed special. The Australian placed second at the first waypoint, just nine seconds behind team-mate Sunderland. A crash three quarters of the way into the stage cost him a few minutes, but Price continued, eventually posting the third fastest time. Unfortunately, a five-minute penalty relegated Toby to 10th position at the end of the day.
"Everything felt really good today, I was really comfortable on the bike. I knew my pace was good and so I kept on pushing," Price said. "I did come off the bike after a big drop-off from one of the dunes around the 140km mark. Luckily, I didn’t damage myself or the bike too much, the road-book got filled with sand though so for the rest of the stage I had to just ease my pace a little.
"One of the worst things was that I lost the end to my camelback in the crash and wasn’t able to keep hydrated towards the finish. Apart from that everything was good, you can see on days like today how important it is to stay focused and not make any mistakes. Hopefully I can keep up the same performance for the rest of the rally.”
American Honda rider Ricky Brabec was elevated to third with Toby Prices penalty. Credit: RallyZone - Edoardo Bauer
Ricky Brabec rode a splendid stage to take fourth place on a day of complicated, yet virtually error-free navigation. While it was bad news fot Toby Price well after the stage concluded with his 5 minute penalty but it was good news for Brabec as he was elevated to third.
"It was a good stage, with very complicated navigation; difficult too, because there were a lot of ruts marked out from yesterday," Brabec said. "I think that I didn’t make too many mistakes, or at least I haven’t paid too dearly for them. I am quite happy to finish this difficult whole stage and am pretty satisfied with the position on the day and in the overall race."
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Pablo Quintanilla has moved up three spots in the provisional overall standings with fourth place for the stage. Enjoying a strong and mistake-free run so far, the Chilean rally star is currently third overall and within striking distance to the provisional overall leader.
“I enjoyed it a lot today, it was a really fun stage to ride," Quintanilla said. "Some of the larger dunes were really soft and it was easy to get stuck. I felt really comfortable first thing this morning and was able to push right from the start. I recovered some time on the guys ahead, but then ended up losing a couple of minutes when I made a small mistake with one of the waypoints. I feel a lot fitter today than I did yesterday so that helps a lot, especially on the longer stages.”
Aussie Rodney Faggotter cracked the top 20 with 18th on the stage. Credit: Yamaha Racing
From an Australian stand-point, enjoying what was possibly his strongest stage performance in this year's event, Yamalube Yamaha Official Rally Team's Rodney Faggoter got his first top 20 result finishing the stage in 18th position. Three stages into the 2018 Dakar Rally and the Aussie is currently 21st in the provisional overall standings.
"I had a pretty good day," Faggoter enthused. "I started off with a good pace and kept my rhythm all the way to the finish. I am feeling really good on the bike in these conditions and this also helps me stay focused on my riding and navigation. We have a solid machine that is fast and safe at the same time and this is a big advantage in long races like the Dakar. I am having great fun so far and everything is going good for me."
Aussie Scott Britnell finished the stagein 74th place and now is 3 over three hours behind in 77th place overall.
Tuesday’s stage four of the Dakar Rally 2018 will see riders begin their day with a sprint along the beach at San Juan de Marcona. The riders will then head back into the dunes for one of the most difficult sand sections of the rally. The total distance covered will be 444km, 330km of which is timed special.
Race Schedule - Dakar Rally 2018 Stage 4 | Jan 9 | San Juan de Marcona to San Juan de Marcona | SS: 330km | Total: 444km Stage 5 | Jan 10 | San Juan de Marcona to Arequipa | SS: 264km | Total: 770km Stage 6 | Jan 11 | Arequipa to La Paz | SS: 313km | Total: 758km Rest Day | Jan 12 Stage 7 | Jan 13 | La Paz to Uyuni | SS: 425km | Total: 726km Stage 8 | Jan 14 | Uyuni to Tupiza | SS: 498km | Total: 584km Stage 9 | Jan 15 | Tupiza to Salta | SS: 242km | Total: 754km Stage 10 | Jan 16 | Salta to Belén| SS: 372km | Total: 795km Stage 11 | Jan 17 | Belén to Fiambalá | SS: 280km | Total: 484km Stage 12 | Jan 18 | Fiambalá to San Juan | SS: 375km | Total: 722km Stage 13 | Jan 19 | San Juan to Córdoba | SS: 423km | Total: 904km Stage 14 | Jan 20 | Córdoba to Córdoba | SS: 119km | Total: 284km