Monster Energy Honda Team’s Nacho Cornejo has taken the stage nine win of the 2022 Dakar Rally ahead of Kevin Benavides and American Ricky Brabec while fourth on stage has seen Matthias Walkner take the overall lead.
Fewer and fewer stages are left to decide the outcome of the 2022 Dakar Rally. Today, in the ninth stage, the 287-kilometre special stage around Wadi Ad-Dawasir began to mark out which riders will be in the final contention for the win. A total of 491 kilometres, through the Arabian Peninsula’s Empty Quarter, featured less sand than on previous days, but more mountain tracks running between canyons that demanded precise, mistake-free navigation.
Yesterday Nacho Cornejo had been left with a bittersweet taste after the eighth stage. A slight mistake towards the end of the special, had left the rider without the prize he had been ultimately seeking: that of minimising any markings for his pursuers to follow while opening the track throughout the day. Today, he returned to the Wadi Ad-Dawasir bivouac with a smile beneath his helmet after a second win in this Dakar, taking the young Chilean’s total tally to five.
“I think I had a good stage,” Cornejo said. “Yesterday I lost a lot of time towards the end, opening the track, and today I wanted to make up some of that time. I would have liked to make up more, but the stage was very fast and it was difficult to make a big difference. I’m pleased: I did what I had to do, which was to push. There are three days left and we will continue with the same attitude, trying to turn out solid performances and improve in the general standings.”
Right on the pace from the very start of today’s special, Kevin Benavides placed within the top three for much of the stage, despite the times being exceptionally close throughout the top 10. Logging the runner-up result, the reigning Dakar Champion moves back up the provisional rally order to fifth, just over 10 minutes behind the leader.
“Stage nine was a really good stage for me,” Benavides said. “I felt really good on the bike and was able to push a lot. I expected the navigation to be a little trickier, but in the end, it was quite easy to choose the correct way. The guys in front did a good job of navigating so in the end it just came down to speed, and all the guys at the front ended up being really close on time. I finished second today, which will make tomorrow a little tougher. But I’ll focus on my navigation and with only three days left, my plan is to push all day, every day.”
Monster Energy Honda Team’s American rider Ricky Brabec rode a fine special, pushing hard and posting third place on the day.
“Today went well,” Brabec said. “I think I rode very well, and that’s positive. The team, the riders and the mechanics are doing an excellent job. I’m slowly realising a couple of things: sometimes there are days when you don’t lose or gain time and sometimes you can gain or lose a lot of time. It’s something we have to study… I’m happy to be able to get to the end of another day with the whole team. There are two tough days left, so we’ll have to keep pushing. I try to go fast every day, to make up time, but maybe I have to do things differently.”
Matthias Walkner immediately took his time, focusing on his navigation to avoid making any costly errors. However, with the special proving to be relatively straightforward, Walkner knew he would have to push to stay in touch with his two rivals ahead of him. By catching them both by the finish, the experienced Austrian not only moved himself up into the provisional lead of the race but also lost the minimum of time to his closest competitors while also securing himself another strong start position for Wednesday’s stage 10.
“It was quite a short stage today, but really, really fast,” Walkner explained. “It wasn’t too difficult with the navigation and the boys in front did a good job, so it was quite hard to make up a lot of time. By the refuelling I saw that I was a little off the pace, not too much, but I knew I would have to get my head down for the second half of the stage. It all seemed to pay off because I have taken over the lead of the overall and also my starting position for tomorrow is quite good. We’ve got three more really interesting days to come.”
After his impressive stage win yesterday and holding the overall lead going into the stage, Sam Sunderland faced the arduous task of leading the riders out on today’s timed special. Digging deep to post a 14th place finish – a result that at first glance might look anything but impressive but in reality is genuinely one hell of a performance – the Brit lost only a minimal amount of time, just over eight minutes in fact, to the eventual stage winner.
Now lying two minutes adrift of the provisional overall rally leader with three days to go, the race to the finish is well and truly on for Sam!
“Opening a stage only adds to the difficulty of rally racing and I’m super happy with how the day went for me,” Sunderland said. “On paper you could look at the results and think it wasn’t a great stage for me, but the reality was that leading out means you’re relying solely on your roadbook. Not losing huge chunks of time today means I did a pretty good job. Since my crash last week, I’ve felt better and better every day so I’m looking forward to this continuing through the final three days.”
For Adrien Van Beveren, a controlled ride through the fast stage nine special saw the Frenchman record the ninth fastest time. Such was the simplicity of the stage, Adrien completed the timed special just over five minutes behind the winner. Remaining third in the provisional standings.
Another solid performance on stage nine saw Toby Price complete the timed special as 17th quickest, albeit only eight and a half minutes down on the winner. Lying just outside the top 10 overall, Toby hopes to use his start position on Wednesday’s stage 10 to elevate himself further up the rankings.
“It was a good day, I had a couple of little mistakes, but nothing too crazy,” Price said. “I’m starting a little way back tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll be able to grab a little time back then. Other than that, the bike is good, I feel good, we’ll keep on pushing tomorrow.”
With two days to go until the end of the rally, riders can once again expect a navigation-filled day before the 759-kilometre trek is completed. About half the distance – some 375 kilometres – will be against the clock. The crossings and parallel tracks could be the undoing of more than a few bikers.
STAGE 9 TOP 20 RESULTS
TOP 20 OVERALL STANDINGS FOLLOWING STAGE 9