Stage 11 of the 2022 Dakar Rally was a pivotal day of racing with Kevin Benavides taking the stage win and Sam Sunderland bounded back into the Rally lead with one stage remaining.
While Benavides took the stage win he does not feature in the overall standings, a result of his DNF yesterday. Sunderland’s second place put him an enviable, near seven-minute advantage over his nearest rival. Joaquim Rodrigues rounded out the day’s podium. Aussie Toby Price was always going to struggle having to open the stage and he did finishing 28th.
Today’s special stage, as expected, was an intriguing one. The strategy of the previous day, which saw some riders managing to lose time, yet drop many positions, in order to benefit in today’s starting order, dictated for the most part, what happened on the route today. Some 346 kilometres of sand and dunes, on a total stage of just over 500 kilometres, helped define how the podium is likely to look at the end. The Bisha loop caused a few losses, but many riders were able to make up for time they had lost yesterday.
After a disappointing stage 10 yesterday in which his 2022 Dakar hopes came to an end, Kevin Benavides bounced back in style, showing impressive speed to top today’s results. Putting in an incredible performance, the number one plate holder fought his way from a late, 33rd place start to ultimately win the stage by a narrow four seconds. Benavides will now lead out the event’s short, final 164-kilometer timed special on Friday’s stage 12.
“It was a really demanding day today,” Benavides said. “It’s great to get the win but I’m full of emotion because of the issue I had yesterday. Up to that point I was fighting for the overall, and now, after going fastest today I know I would have been in with a chance to win the rally. I gave it my all today, mostly to prove to myself that I could do it. I think it’s important to be able to come back from disappointment and immediately fight for a stage win. I have to thank the whole team, but especially my mechanic who worked so hard last night to give me an amazing bike for today – it felt perfect on the stage. I will now have the pleasure of opening the last stage of the race with no pressure, so I’m really looking forward to it and reaching the finish.”
Sam Sunderland deliver a flawless ride to keep his chances of a second Dakar win alive. And that’s exactly what he did. Putting together a standout performance, Sam navigated perfectly, attacked from the start, and finished second on the stage, just four seconds behind the eventual winner. Now, with just one day of racing to go, the Brit sits at the top of the leaderboard with a near seven-minute advantage over his nearest rival.
“Today was a really tough one,” a relieved Sunderland said. “We were expecting it to be difficult and even four kilometers in there were lines everywhere in the sand. From there on I had to focus on myself and stay on top of my roadbook, it wasn’t really an option to follow the lines ahead. Through the dunes I was able to make up some time, which was good and I just missed out on another stage win. Up until now the race has gone really well, the whole team behind me has been fantastic but the race isn’t over until it’s over. All I can do is hope for a clean run through tomorrow’s stage and then we’ll see where we end up.”
After an emotionally challenging Stage 10, Joaquim Rodrigues bounced back with extreme focus in Stage 11 and earned a fantastic result for himself and the team. With the latest podium, he moves up another position to the 13th place in the overall RallyGP class standings.
“It was definitely a much better day for me, after yesterday’s tough ordeal,” Rodrigues said. “Luckily I was able to recover, put a strong effort, and give my entire focus to this stage. The bike performed extremely well and helped me gain this podium. The dunes and even the dunettes were really soft, in addition to the tough navigation, making it a very difficult “true Dakar stage”. I’m very happy with the third place, and the team definitely deserves this good result. Looking forward to tomorrow, the final day!”
Pablo Quintanilla, sixth, performed well today – well enough to be in contention tomorrow and could improve on his current second place. The Chilean rider is less than seven minutes behind Sunderland. If the full length of the final special stage goes ahead as planned tomorrow, the rider could well spring a surprise and stand a chance of scooping the world’s toughest rally.
“It was a difficult stage,” Quintanilla said. “There is still one day left and the race is not over until you cross the finish-line. Tomorrow we will attack again from the first kilometre.”
Well in the fight for the overall rally honours, Matthias Walkner had to ensure he delivered a strong stage result today with the minimum of mistakes to stay in contention for the 2022 title. Fastest to the first checkpoint, Walkner navigated superbly through the remainder of the special to complete the stage in fourth place, just under five minutes down on teammate Benavides.
“It was a really long and really fast stage today,” Walkner said. “It was very dusty this morning too, which made the navigation even more difficult. I made a few small mistakes, but I really did try my best all day pushing as hard as I could. Finally, I was able to make the finish with a good time and it puts me in a good position for tomorrow, so we’ll see what happens.”
Entering the penultimate day of the event as the provisional overall leader, Adrien Van Beveren suffered a frustrating navigational issue early on, which cost the Frenchman considerable time. Recovering the best he could to eventually place 15th, he now lies fourth overall.
“It was a hard one today. Just four kilometres in I struggled to validate a waypoint and it easily cost me 10 minutes,” Van Beveren explained. “It was a frustrating start to the stage but then I really pushed hard, harder than at any time in the rally so far. I caught the leading group of riders with around 60 kilometres to go and then just kept pushing hard. The gap to the lead is big now, but I will fight to the end.”
After his win on day 10, Toby Price had the unenviable task of opening today’s ultra-tough stage. An issue early on where a waypoint didn’t validate correctly for the Australian put him on the back foot for the rest of the special. However, using his skill and speed, the twice Dakar Champion was able to regroup and keep pushing through the arduous terrain. Ultimately completing the stage in 28th, Toby now lies 10th in the overall standings with one day left to race.
“It was super dusty today and navigation was tough, but I had a frustrating problem early on at kilometer four where one waypoint didn’t validate, even though I’m pretty sure I was in the right place,” Price said. “I had to zig-zag back and forward and thankfully in the end, even though I was on the same track, it activated. Hopefully, we can have that checked, but other than that the day went ok, I felt good on the bike and arrived safely at the finish line. One more day to go tomorrow, and that will be the 2022 Dakar complete.”
Bisha-Jeddah. The final stage of the Dakar Rally 2022 will be decided over a total of 676 kilometres, including just 163 against the clock. Leaving the dunes behind, the race will be fought over hard tracks with some sand. A lot of technical complexity is expected before the riders reach the shores of the Red Sea, with the final podium set to take place on the Bisha street circuit.
STAGE 11 TOP 20 RESULTS