José Ignacio Cornejo put in a superb ride to pick up his seventh Dakar rally stage win and move him up to second behind Ross Branch in the overall standings at the conclusion of the second stage of the 2024 Dakar.
Cornejo, who favours tricky navigation, caught the lead group of Ross Branch and Ricky Brabec 90 km in to be in command during most of the stage.
Day two at the Dakar Rally challenged riders with another long day in the saddle. Covering a total distance of 654 kilometres from Al Henakiyah to Al Duwadimi, competitors raced for a gruelling 463 kilometres against the clock over mixed terrain including fast, sandy tracks, rocky pistes, and a 30-kilometer section of dunes.
There’s a new bonus system coming into play for 2024, competitors within 15 seconds of the opening rider will benefit too and with 6’23” available today, Cornejo made the most of this despite a small crash, to accumulate 4’14 in bonuses sharing this with Branch and Brabec.
“It was another tough stage, it was very long with tricky navigation and tracks everywhere so it was easy to make mistakes,” Cornejo said. “I caught the front group and then we rode together which was fun. It’s always nice to push but I did have a crash and Ricky (Brabec) and Ross (Branch) stopped to make sure I was OK before we continued. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad for me or the bike so I’m happy with the result today, winning stages is always good”
The fast, long stretches across the desert that made up stage two were a direct contrast to the technical, rocky terrain of the first stage, and required both focus and endurance from all competitors.
Luciano Benavides rose to the challenge, clocking the fastest time after the first 100 kilometres and maintaining his speed, and top-three position on the timesheets throughout the day to ultimately complete the 463-kilometre timed special as runner-up. Luciano’s strong stage finish successfully moved him up in the provisional overall rankings to fifth place.
“Today was a much better stage for me!” Benavides said. “I felt a lot better with the dunes and fast stretches whereas yesterday the rocks made it tough. I pushed hard the whole time even though it was tough being in the dust all day. All in all I’m in good shape, happy with the bike, and looking forward to stage three.”
Pablo Quintanilla added himself into the mix coming in with a solid third-place finish as the Chilean riders impressed on the vast dirt tracks around the black stone mountains.
“It was a long stage like yesterday but a bit smoother and with fewer rocks,” Quintanilla said. “I started at a good pace although it was quite dusty and just before the refuelling I made a mistake on a note and lost some time. But we are on the right track because the race has only just started.”
Sebastian Buhler found the day far more rewarding and flowing than yesterday. He was able to maintain a good rhythm all throughout the stage and rode strong to reach fourth place on stage. Buhler’s powerful performance today moves him two spots up in the overall Rally GP class rankings – to the 13th position.
“Stage 2 was much more flowing, unlike the rocky and harsh terrains of yesterday,” Buhler said. “I had a lot of fun, but my body is a bit sore from my crash yesterday. I managed to ride well and maintain a good rhythm all through the stage. I’m happy with how the bike performed, and also with my navigation – there were quite a lot of tricky points today. Now, let’s go for Day 3!”
American Ricky Brabec rounded out the top five to prove himself into third in the overall.
“It’s only day two and we have eleven days left, it’s a long rally but I’m happy to be here and to get to ride in a group with my teammates,” Brabec said. “If you can ride with other people it all makes it fun. It’s always difficult to open the road especially when the stage is over 460 km long, but I’m happy to be here, so let’s keep the good vibes rolling and make it to the finish line.”
Rally leader and the winner of the previous stage, Ross Branch, was handed the tough job of opening Stage Two, and he did an impressive job – finishing just under 6.5 minutes from the podium. The navigation was extremely difficult on this long stage, and Branch ended up making a few mistakes early on. However, he recouped in the latter half and continues to enjoy the overall top position at Dakar 2024, with a 3-minute lead from the second-place holder Cornejo.
“Today was really tough. We had a lot of navigation to do, and it was super hard,” Branch reflected. “I made a couple of mistakes in the morning, but thankfully a bunch of us regrouped around 100 km, and we all rode together till refuel. We tried some different things, all to stay in the game. I lost a bit of time today, but then that’s racing. Looking forward to tomorrow, yet another long stage ahead.”
Of the Australian’s Toby Price had the highest finish on stage two with seventh place while Daniel Sanders finished twelfth. Sanders leads Price in the overall though with the Victorian seventh overall, ten minutes off the lead.
As the 16th rider to enter the special following his result from day one, Toby Price pushed hard from the start while taking care not to make any mistakes on the technically demanding terrain. By kilometre 41, Toby was fifth-fastest on the timesheets, just 16 seconds down on the provisional leader. Maintaining his strong pace, the two-time Dakar winner remained inside the top 10, despite making a couple of small navigational errors over the course of the stage. With times across the final top 10 proving to be incredibly tight, Price ultimately completed the special in seventh, a mere two minutes from second place. Lying eighth overall in the standings, the Australian will enjoy a strong start position going into Stage Three’s long, 733-kilometer’s.
“Another long day today and this one was quite technical too with some tough navigation,” Price explained. “The roadbook had a lot of close notes, and although I made a couple of small mistakes, I didn’t lose too much time. I’m trailing the leaders by a little bit, but it’s only day two here in the desert and there’s a long way to go. All in all, I’m fit, healthy, and kept the bike on two wheels today – so, feeling good and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Even with his 12th-place finish on stage two, Daniel Sanders advances up to sixth in what matters most – the overall classification. On paper, his stage two result may not look the best but by posting consistent results through the opening two stages, the wily Australian has crept up the leaderboard to knock on the door of the top five.
“I wish I rode with today’s bike set-up yesterday, but we can’t change that now,” Sanders lamented. “I was much more comfortable today but unfortunately, I made a couple of navigational mistakes that cost me some time. But the main thing is, I felt completely comfortable on the bike, which is the main thing. I now just need to focus on my roadbook going forward and we’ll be good. Not a bad day overall despite losing some time, but we’re here safe and sound at the end of day two and ready to fight another day.”
The Dakar Rally continues unabated tomorrow with stage three serving up a 438 km test and a 295 km liaison as riders will encounter a mix of sandy sections, dunes and very rough terrain which might cause a few tyre issues as they head deep into Saudi Arabia to Al Salamiya. Another twist for the day is that mechanics will get just two hours to work on the bikes in the evening before they are taken to Parc Fermé at the bivouac.