Van Niekerk maintains his pace, Curtis slips back
Riaan van Niekerk (Broadlink KTM #40) maintained his 16th place on the leader board as the 145 motorcycles still in the Dakar Rally tackled special stage seven between Calama to Salta in Argentina on Friday. Van Niekerk had a good day on the 218-kilometre stage, finishing 12th and 5 min 49 sec behind the winning factory KTM of American Kurt Caselli. He remains 16th in the general bike classification, 39 min 48 sec behind race leader Olivier Pain of France on a Yamaha.
Team-mate Darryl Curtis on Broadlink KTM #37 struggled to 22nd place and was 9 min 25 sec off the winning pace. He has now dropped a place to 20th overall after the first seven stages of the 14-stage race and is 14 minutes behind Van Niekerk.
For the motorcyclists and quad riders Friday was the first of two days of racing where they would not have the opportunity to service their bikes in the overnight bivouac. In fact, their bivouac was in a separate location to that of the cars and trucks. So the Salta special stage was the first part of a marathon 710 kilometres of riding, including 467 kilometres of timed racing over two days.
They will be looking forward to Sunday’s rest day at San Miguel de Tucuman, where they will be overnighting after Saturday’s stage and again on Sunday.
The entire surviving field of 145 bikes, 29 quads, 112 cars and 67 trucks crossed the Andes Mountains into Argentina in the early hours of Friday morning at an altitude of 4 900 metres before starting the day’s special which was run at altitudes between 3 400 and 4 000 metres above sea level.
“It was very fast and fairly straight forward, with long sweeping single-track bends and no real off road riding,” said Curtis. “The last part was tricky and twisty with rocks and was very technical.”
Van Niekerk: “I’m very pleased with my overall position so far. Things have gone quite well, but I’m not going to get ahead of myself. I’m trying to just take it day by day. Each day completed is another day closer to the finish in Santiago.”
Saturday’s stage is between Salta and San Miguel de Tucuman in Argentina and will cover a total of 849 kilometres – the longest stage of the first week of the race. The cars will first complete a 379-kilometre liaison section before tackling the day’s 470-kilometre special stage. There are two timed sections with a variety of scenery – canyons and cacti and the beautiful, natural Argentinian landscape for 150 kilometres. During the second half of the timed section, which will take place in a region completely unknown to the Dakar, the contrast will be apparent on the sandy and sometimes tricky tracks. Wind combined with high temperatures which typically ravage the region could make life difficult. The rest day in San Miguel de Tucuman on Sunday will rarely have been more deserved.