Pablo Quintanilla made his mark on today’s short run in the first of the big dunes as he took the win on the fifth stage of Dakar 2024 ahead of Adrien Van Beveren and Toby Price.
Today’s stage took in 118km of dunes through Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter as riders made their first tracks into the jaw-dropping landscapes towards Shubaytah.
Setting off early from the Al-Hofuf bivouac, riders were also faced with an arduous, energy-zapping 527 km road section which would require some serious concentration on the bike, before they were then thrown into the deep dunes on a hot day in the Eastern Province.
“After two awful days everything fell into place,” a relieved Quintanilla said. “I went flat out but it wasn’t easy because the glare of the sun made it hard to see the tracks. It was tough but I managed to set a fast pace and had a great stage. I wasn’t expecting this type of soft sand because I heard it had rained in the last few days, but I had fun anyway on my bike. I’m happy to be in this position ahead of the 48 Hour Chrono, it’ll help me and perhaps unlock some opportunities.”
Joining Quintanilla on the podium was Adrien Van Beveren in second place, the Frenchman using his vast sand riding experience to get back up to the sharp end by being fastest for much of the day before dropping just 37 seconds to his teammate.
“It really was a sprint today and when I caught up with Ross (Branch) I seemed to lose a bit of rhythm. But I feel really good and I love dunes. I worked a lot with Honda to make this bike perform well in these conditions, so I will be prepared for this epic 48 Hour Chrono,” Van Beveren explained.
Keeping in mind that Thursday’s opening leg of the event’s 48-hour ‘chrono’ stage would be a reverse start for the Rally GP competitors, Toby Price knew he had to make good time on today’s special. Immediately fast from the outset, the Australian maintained his top-three position throughout the stage. Completing the special in just over 94 minutes, Toby clocked the third-quickest time, and will enjoy an advantageous start position going into Thursday’s stage 6a. He remains 8th overall.
“It was quite a tough stage today – not very long, but it was hot and there were some challenging sections in the dunes,” Price explained. “I’m happy though, I got through with some good pace. I missed a couple of drops, which got the heart rate up a little bit. But all in all, I’m happy with my speed and the result. Heading into tomorrow, I should have a good starting position for the long chrono stage, so my plan is to get through safely, try and conserve a little energy and the bike, and hopefully head into the rest day in a strong position overall.”
It’s been a somewhat steady start for Daniel Sanders at Dakar 2024 but that all changed on stage five. Clearly enjoying the sandy terrain, which actually caught him out a couple of times when he tipped over, the hard-charging Aussie would clock in as the fourth-fastest rider and moved back into the top ten overall at 9th.
“A little bit better today. It was hot out there and the stage was short and fast with a lot of sandy drops,” Sanders said. “I had a couple of small crashes, which tested the old leg out, and it was all good. I felt great on the bike today, too. It’s the big stage up next and I hope the weather is a little bit cooler than today because it’s going to be a long day. For now though, I’m going to be rehydrating and refueling myself in preparation for tomorrow.”
BAS World KTM Racing Team’s Mason Klein rounded out the top five.
For sixth fastest Ross Branch, the stage was a decent day rushing through the endless sand dunes – good, bad, and broken ones -in the Empty Quarter. He managed to finish just under 2 minutes from the podium. His consistent performance today takes him back to the top of the overall classifications of Dakar 2024 – making it the 4th time in the last 5 days that he has become the leader.
“Today was okay,” Branch said. “It was 118 kms of just sand dunes. Some good dunes, some bad, some broken – a little bit of everything! We’re here in one piece, and in a good position to start tomorrow. Stage 6 is going to be super interesting, difficult, and really hard on the bikes and the riders. It’s going to be a long day, but let’s see how we can ace the new format.
José Ignacio Cornejo and Ricky Brabec were assigned with opening the stage once they’d got to the start of the special and although they both clinched some of the time bonuses on offer, it wasn’t enough for the Chilean. Cornejo’s eleventh place finish cost him the lead of the overall standings and he now trails Hero Motosports Team Rally’s Ross Branch by over a minute in the battle at the top. Despite nearly going over his handlebars heading down a dune, Brabec also reduced his time in the standings as he remains in a podium position after his seventh place finish in the desert.
Next up is the mammoth 48 Hour Chrono which will be the biggest test of this year’s event with David Castera, the Dakar Rally organiser, already admitting he won’t be gaining many fans after it. Hidden waypoints will prove to be a navigation nightmare if the fatigued competitors lose their focus.
With a reverse starting order in place from today’s results, Quintanilla will be the one to benefit as he will set off last out of all the RallyGP riders. With a total of 835 km to ride, the special will contribute a hefty 626 km as the Empty Quarter dunes will look to take no prisoners at the halfway point of the rally.
Just to throw an extra spanner into the works they’ll have no access to the outside world, so they’ll be unaware where they are on the stage or in relation to their rivals. Action restarts on Friday morning at 7am where they’ll complete the stage back to Shubaytah and a much needed rest day in Riyadh further north.