June 16, 2021

Dakar 2021: It’s Nacho Cornejo – by a second!

Pablo Quintanilla watches on as Toby Price tries repairing his tyre during stage 7 of the 2021 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia (Photo credit: A.S.O/E.Vargiolu/DPPI)

We’re fresh out of a rest day and into the second week of the 2021 Dakar Rally, and three riders have made it very clear they want to win this rally.

Toby Price, Ricky Brabec and Kevin Benavides have spent most of the day trading places at the head of the field.

Toby Price started 7th today but took command of the stage by the first waypoint, grabbing the fastest time and holding the top spot for the next 200km.

Brabec initially dropped back but made up time to be 2nd at the 104km point.

And Benavides made a flying start from 17th to be up in 3rd place by the same waypoint.

They tracked in the top 3 positions until almost 100km from the end of the special, when things took an interesting turn.

Toby Price started dropping time, finally coming in 7th and 5:05 behind. He posted a cryptic comment on social media saying “Marathon stage was good, 7th in stage and all in one piece! Bit of an underlying issue with the bike but all in all we are in a pretty good position with Stage 7 down, looking forward to another one…”

[UPDATE: Toby has a badly damaged rear tyre that is now held together with race tape and zip ties!]

And Benavides, who was leading at the 358km waypoint, dropped over 10 minutes as well.

”I got lost in the final 70 kilometres. I made a huge mistake and it cost me loads of time, 8 to 10 minutes. Now, it’s time to focus on the coming stages”, Benavides told reporters at the end fo the day.

That handed the stage win today to defending champion Ricky Brabec, but he still remains 8th overall.

Ricky Brabec:

“I’m not sure about getting back a whole lotta time.”

“I don’t know if this Dakar is about strategy. I think the strategy is to not open. I think everyone that’s opening is just losing a little bit of time. There’s five days left and we’re gonna try just to finish in the top 7 every day and see if we can make up a little bit of time.”

Hanging around 10 places down the field all day was Nacho Cornejo.

He managed to pick up 9 places towards the end of the stage to take 2nd place today AND the overall lead in the rally by the slimmest of margins – just 1 second.

Surprised? Yes, a few people including Cornejo himself are probably wondering what just happened!

Joan Barreda had a day he’d probably rather forget. After leading the field out he had dropped to 14th by the end of the stage – the curse of the previous days winner has struck again.

A fifth place today has moved Australian Daniel Sanders into the top 10. He is now 16 minutes and 11 seconds behind the leader in 9th place, and in a very strong position.

He could be looking at a top 5 position should something go wrong for the riders at the head of the field.

#62 Andrew Houlihan (Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure KTM 450RFR)

Fellow Australian Michael Burgess is travelling consistently and is still in 38th position overall.

And Andrew Houlihan picked up another place today as well. He now sits in 60th position overall after finishing 62nd today.

His Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure team mate Pablo Guillen finished a few places ahead of Andrew today and is now 59th overall.

Stage 8 is a 334km liaison and 375km special, mostly rocky tracks with a bit of sand but no dunes, and finishes with a reunion with the support teams in Neom.

At the end of the seventh stage, the overall placings are:

  • 1. Nacho (José Ignacio) Cornejo (#4 Monster Energy Honda)
  • 2. Toby Price (#3 Red Bull KTM) +0:00:01
  • 3. Sam Sunderland (#5 Red Bull KTM) +0:02:11
  • 4. Xavier De Soultrait (#12 HT Rally Raid Husqvarna) +0:02:34
  • 5. Kevin Benavides (#47 Monster Energy Honda) +0:07:29
  • 9. Daniel Sanders (#21 KTM Factory) +0:16:11
  • 38. Michael Burgess (#80 BAS Dakar KTM Racing) +6:20:25
  • 59. Pablo Guillen (#35 Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure) +14:15:10 
  • 60. Andrew Houlihan (#62 Coca-Cola Nomadas Adventure) +15:43:56

Motorcycle Life is supporting Andrew Houlihan and Pablo Guillen in their rookie year at the 2021 Dakar Rally.

For updates on their progress and more behind the scenes news, follow them on Facebook and Andrew’s website – The Road To Dakar 2021

Andrew is also posting a daily diary on Speedcafe.