In what has been a race of huge highs and lows for Danilo Petrucci, the Italian has proven his offroad credentials in no uncertain terms today, winning stage five of the 2022 Dakar in what is his first-ever rally raid competition.
Ross Branch was second on stage a mere two seconds back followed by Monster Energy Honda teammates Jose Ignacio Cornejo and Ricky Brabec who featured at the pointy end of the field. Australian Toby Price had a better day finishing 5th while compatriot Daniel Sanders was on point for a top finish until a small miscalculation nearing the end of the stage saw him eventually finish 12 but maintaining his overall 4th position. In the overall rankings, Sam Sunderland still holds sway over Matthias Walkner and Adrien Van Beveren
The first of the two looping routes in Riyadh got underway today, where – for the first time in Dakar history – the motorcycle riders rode the entire stage completely autonomously from the car and truck categories. The fifth stage of the rally was battled out over a 346-kilometre special stage, covering hard and stony ground and including, towards the end of the day, a 50-kilometre stretch of dunes.
Completing yesterday’s stage four as third fastest, Danilo Petrucci was penalized 10 minutes for speeding and was relegated to 15th. However, setting off with an advantageous start position into today’s special, and focusing on improving his roadbook skills, the MotoGP race winner was able to steadily move up through the field to ultimately take the win.
“Today was quite a long day,” Petrucci said. “I set off this morning and decided I really wanted to learn and improve my navigation, so I didn’t push too hard at the beginning. After one corner there was a large dune with a group of camels on the other side. One big camel came into the track, and I had to avoid it, but ended up crashing after going across a lot of bumps and camel grass. That was my very first crash of this Dakar. After that I eased off a bit and Kevin caught up with me and we rode together towards the finish. After catching a few more riders we came across a waypoint that didn’t validate for everyone – I lost some time there. The last 60 kilometers were all dunes and so I was very careful there to make sure I didn’t hurt my ankle. So, it’s been an interesting and tough day, but I have really enjoyed it.”
Ross Branch charged to a second-place finish on a thoroughly challenging stage five, placing just two seconds adrift of Petrucci.
“It’s been a great day and I was so close to the win!” Branch lamented. “It was another fast stage today, especially in the middle section, that part was super-fast. But on the whole it was a good, mixed stage with a little bit of everything thrown in there and some trick navigation. From here onwards I’m going to keep on keeping on and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do tomorrow.”
José Ignacio Cornejo’s riding had significantly improved from the previous days and this was reflected in the results. An error-free stage, with speed and deft navigation, saw the rider reach the end of the special with the day’s third-best time and leapfrogging two positions up the general standings.
“Finally I was able to ride a solid stage, without mistakes and with some good pace! I felt very good,” Cornejo said. “It was quite a complete stage, with fast and technical sections, with rocks, and another part with dunes, which was fun. I had a great time. I was able to hold a strong pace, without making navigation mistakes and I’m happy about that. I was able to improve a bit in the general standings, but everyone is really fast. If we can have a few more days like today, I think we could make a lot of progress. Tomorrow is the final stage before the rest day, which will be good for the body and mind. But I’m motivated and for me, I’d keep going on days like today. We’re going to keep fighting.”
Behind the young Chilean, American rider Ricky Brabec also turned out a satisfactory showing. The Monster Energy Honda Team rider, third on the RallyGP day class, was able to claw back several minutes from his closest rivals and, furthermore, regain the good sensations. Brabec finished 1’30” behind the day’s winner and moves up one position in the rankings.
“Day five. One day before the rest day. It was a good day,” Brabec said. “We started off a little bit slow this morning. We were a little bit cold. The navigation was really tricky in the morning. Not super tricky as far as technical goes, but a lot of quick notes and a lot of quick turns. We really didn’t start picking up the speed until kilometre 60. For me, to get going this morning was a little bit tough but I managed OK and made it to refuelling. After refuelling, it started to open back up. There was a sandstorm. It was wild; you couldn’t see much. One more day to rest day. We’ll keep on fighting to the end.”
Continuing to play catch up after losing a large chunk of time on the event’s opening stage, Toby Price rode a strong stage five, only to be penalized for speeding in a neutralization zone. The resulting six-minute penalty dropped the Aussie down to fifth place. Heading into the final stage before the rest day, Toby lies 14th overall and will be looking to gain even more time back tomorrow.
“Today has been a good stage, starting quite far back definitely makes things a bit easier, but today there was a bit of a dust storm, so everyone had to be on their game and focus on the roadbook. I made a couple of little errors and mistakes, but all-in-all it was a solid stage,” Price said.
After his heavy fall yesterday, Overall leader Sam Sunderland knew that he was in for a tough day of racing today. But knowing he needed to deliver a strong result to maintain his lead in the rally, the experienced Brit managed to ignore the neck and shoulder pain he was experiencing to bravely complete the fifth stage as the 12th fastest rider. Now, with just one stage to go before the event’s much-needed rest day, Sam retains his place at the top of the overall timesheets.
“I knew I was in for a tough day after my crash yesterday, so it was a case of survival mode for me today,” Sunderland said. “It was difficult for sure but as the stage went on I felt better and better and had a nice, strong pace through the sand near the end. Besides my crash, the race is going well so far. I’m still leading, which is great, but as we’ve seen there is some tricky navigation at times so it’s important to really focus on the roadbook and keep mistakes to a minimum.”
Another stage, and another consistently fast performance by Matthias Walkner saw the experienced Austrian claim an 11th place finish. In doing so he cemented his second-place position in the overall standings, closing the gap on the rally leader Sunderland by another 30 seconds.
Maintaining his calculated approach to this year’s Dakar, Adrien Van Beveren delivered another strong result by focusing on his roadbook, riding his own race, and minimising mistakes. Despite losing a little time through the rocky going found early on in the timed special, once into the sand dunes, the Frenchman upped his pace to secure a 15th place finish to retain third in the provisional standings.
Daniel Sanders continues to hold down 4th in the overall after finishing a brutal stage for him in 14th. The young Aussie making a small navigation mistake and then crashed.
“Today started off really well and I was able to make up a lot of time before the fuel stop. Then at kilometer 270 I ended up passing the same waypoint twice, so I’m not sure if that was my mistake or not. After it happened I knew that I had to just push on to the end. Unfortunately, and also, fortunately, I crashed and my shoulder popped out but luckily it went back in by itself and I was able to continue on to the finish. It was a crazy day and I’m glad to have reached the finish line.”
The final stage of this first week of the Dakar takes place tomorrow. A second loop to the capital of the country northwest of Riyadh will once again put the riders to the test with 402 kilometres of timed special stage. It will be physically demanding given that it is the same route completed by the car and truck drivers the previous day, so riders can expect churned up, rutted conditions with dust, sand and hidden stones. In the dunes, the many lines will force riders to be particularly attentive to the navigation. At the start, there will be several track crossings and, towards the middle of the special, some forty kilometres of dunes before the fast tracks that will wrap up the day. The bike odometers will be registering 618 kilometres by the time the bikers make it back to the bivouac in Riyadh.
STAGE 5 TOP 20 RESULTS
TOP 20 OVERALL STANDINGS FOLLOWING STAGE 5