PUNE: Only one stage separates two Indian factory teams, the Hero Motosports Team Rally and Sherco TVS Rally Factory, from a historic finish in the world’s toughest rally-the Dakar Rally-and incidentally hopes of both the teams rests on the Spanish riders Oriol Mena and Juan Pedrero Garcia as rally closed in on Cordoba from San Juan at the end of the Stage 13, on Friday.
A top-10 finish is very much on the cards for both Hero and TVS with only 120km of timed special stage remaining around Cordoba, after Sherco TVS rider Juan Pedrero Garcia regained some grip over the standings when he finished Stage 13 in fifth position.
His countryman Oriol Mena wasn’t much behind and ended at No 8 position to move further into the top-10 overall. Mena started Stage 13 at No 10 position and at the end of the penultimate day he was placed eighth, 2 hours, 23 minutes 29 seconds behind the leader, Matthias Walkner of KTM factory team.
“I rode really safe and made no mistakes. I want to thank my teammates who have been working really hard for me over the last couple of weeks. My rankings have been improving and I am first in the rookie class as of now, but we will see the final results after tomorrow’s finish. Important thing is to make it to the finish line at Cordoba tomorrow,” said Mena.
Stage 13 from San Juan to Córdoba spanned across 483-km with a special of 424-km, passing through the sand dunes of San Juan and a long section of fesh fesh shrubs.
A fifth-place finish helped Garcia to further close in as he moved from No 14 to No 11 overall and is just 13 minutes behind Mena.
“I enjoyed the first part of the stage in the sand. The second part was very difficult and I tried to take good care of the bike because tomorrow is the last day. My body was feeling quite tired but am glad to have finished in the top 5,” said Garcia.
SANTOSH STAYS ON COURSE
Hero’s second rider, India’s CS Santosh rode solidly albeit a tad slow but stayed alive for the finish as he ended 33rd, while overall he is logged at 34th.
“Today was the last big stage of the Dakar with a long liaison and special. You think it is going to get easier towards the end, but it doesn’t. The first 100 kms was very hard but the second half was really nice and fast. I had a lot of fun today on my bike, as I tried to go as fast I could and enjoy the end of the Rally. Tomorrow we bring it home!,” said Santosh.
For a short distance stage, 13 minutes mean nothing as anything could happen.
Overall, KTM rider Walkner ended the day with a 22 minute lead over Argentina’s Kevin Benavides on a Honda followed by Australian Toby Price, the 2016 winner.
SAINZ ON BRINK OF TRIUMPH
Spaniard Carlos Sainz was one stage away from winning the Dakar Rally on Friday but Peugeot’s hopes of a one-two finish in Argentina disappeared after reigning champion Stephane Peterhansel hit trouble.
Sainz, father of the Renault Formula One driver of the same name, ended the penultimate 13th stage from San Juan to Cordoba with a lead of 46 minutes and 18 seconds over Toyota’s Nasser al-Attiyah.
Sainz’s second Dakar victory looks assured in what will be a fitting farewell for Peugeot’s works team in their final appearance.
The Spaniard took no risks on Friday’s marathon 929km stage, which was dominated by al-Attiyah, who took his fourth stage win of this year’s rally. Sainz finished 19 minutes and 37 seconds behind the Qatari.
Peterhansel, a 13 times Dakar winner on bikes and cars, had started the day second overall but clipped a tree with his front left wheel on a bend that was hidden by a bump.
Stage 13 Classifications: 1. Toby Price (KTM) 4h 48m 33s; 2. Kevin Benavides (Honda) +02m 03s; 3. Antoine Meo (KTM) +02m 44s; 4. Matthias Walkner (KTM) + 11m 32s, 5. Juan Pedrero Garcia (Sherco TVS Rally Factory) +15 12s…8. Oriol Mena (Hero Motosports Team Rally) +21m 54s…33. CS Santosh (Hero Motosports Team Rally) +01h 07m 01s.
Overall: 1. Walkner 41h 33m 42s; 2. Benavides +22m 31s; 3. Price +27m 45s; 4. Meo +50m 17s; 5. Gerard Farres Guell (Himoinsa Racing) + 01h 01m 19s…8. Mena +02h 23m 29s…11. Garcia +02h 40m 43s…34. Santosh +11h 16m 29s.