In what has been an incredibly successful day for the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team, with all four riders finishing within the top seven, Matthias Walkner has claimed his second stage win of the 2019 Dakar Rally. Third fastest went to Toby Price, who now sits at the top of the provisional overall standings with two stages left to contest.
Dubbed the ‘Super Ica’, stage eight pitted the fastest 10 bikes, 10 cars and the top five trucks from the previous day together, setting off at three-minute intervals according to their stage seven results. At 360 kilometres, the timed special was the longest of the event and took competitors over fast, open pistes for the first half, before once again challenging them with the mountainous sand dunes of the Ica desert.
Following his top-10 result from stage seven, Matthias Walkner set off with not only nine bikes ahead of him, but also two cars driven by Dakar legends Stephane Peterhansel and Nani Roma. Navigating well through the dust kicked up by the vehicles in front, as well as the fog that had descended on the stage, the reigning Dakar Champion steadily upped his pace as the day went on to ultimately post the fastest time. With positions closing up at the top of the overall standings, Walkner now lies third, six minutes and 30 seconds behind teammate Price.
Matthias Walkner:“Good day for me today, I really tried to push all day long. Starting with the cars was not so bad this morning, a couple caught me on the fast pistes, but I passed them back again when we hit the dunes. I got to the refuelling and saw that Toby had made some time so I knew I had to really go for it in the sand. I had a couple of small crashes in the fesh-fesh, it was really foggy and a lot of the time you couldn’t really see too well ahead of you. I was happy with my riding today and everything is going well so we’ll see what the next two days bring.”
2016 Dakar Champion Toby Price put in another stunning performance on stage eight, leading on time right up until the final two checkpoints. Crossing the line in an eventual third position has elevated Price to overall leader in the provisional standings. But with just one minute separating the top two riders after close to 30 hours of racing, the Australian rider knows he still has to keep fighting right to the finish.
Toby Price:“I knew today had to count so I gave it everything – the wrist is really starting to sting now! It was a long special at 360 kilometres but I got through it and I’m pleased with how the whole stage went. Just two days left so I’ll get some rest tonight and attack again tomorrow. When the helmet goes on, you know I’m just going to do the best I can.”
Set to open the special today due to his win on the previous day’s stage seven, Sam Sunderlandwas forced to delay his start when his on-bike tracker failed. Slotting in further down the order meant the British rider also had vehicles in front of him to deal with as he progressed through the stage. Nevertheless, pushing hard Sunderland posted the fourth fastest time and now sits fourth overall in the provisional rally standings.
Sam Sunderland:“I’m happy with my riding today but it’s been a tough one and I’m not sure if an issue at the start will cost me some time. My Iritrack wasn’t working and I had to get that fixed before I set off. It meant I was behind a car at the beginning of the stage and the dust from that combined with the fog made things very tricky. After that I just pushed on as best I could to the end. Day eight is ticked off now, but I’m sure there’s plenty more excitement to come.”
Claiming seventh on today’s stage, Luciano Benavides had another great day. With his skill and confidence increasing with each day of racing, the popular Argentinian continues to move up the order in the provisional standings. Benavides now sits ninth overall with two days left to race.
Luciano Benavides:“Today was tough again – another long 360 kilometres. Overall it was good for me, although I did lose a little time near the beginning of the stage in the fog. I had to remove my goggles to see properly and that slowed me up a little. Andrew (Short) caught me and we rode together for the next 200 kilometres. We had a good time in the dunes, with each one of us taking the lead from time to time. The stage seemed to flow really well and I had a lot of fun.”
Successfully completing another day inside the top 20, Laia Sanz was as impressive as ever on the long stage eight. Intelligently deciding to ease off her pace early on in the far from perfect conditions, Laia was then able to push harder onboard her KTM 450 RALLY to ultimately post the 19th fastest time of the day. The Spaniard now sits an excellent 13th place overall in the provisional standings.
Laia Sanz:“Today was a very long and tough day. For the first part of the stage I kept to a steadier rhythm. With the fesh-fesh and fog it made things very tricky and I didn’t want to make any mistakes. As we got to the dunes, I started to enjoy things a lot more and was able to push. The goal is as always, take things day by day and get safely to the finish.”
Wednesday’s stage nine of the 2019 Dakar marks the second of the two mass-starts at the rally. In another looped stage, riders will leave Pisco and cover a total of 409 kilometres, 313 kilometres of which is timed special, before returning to the coastal town.