The change in landscape is striking on leaving Bisha to head to the west of the country, towards Wadi Ad Dawasir. Gone are the stony tracks that tested the competitors’ nerves and tyres. This time, sandy plateaux played host to the first part of the special, before the riders and drivers had to put their skills in the dunes to the forefront.

They had to be experts in this delicate art in order to tackle those on the final section, with dunes broken up by the wind that has generously gusted over the region during the last few days. It was therefore not surprising that past-masters in sand such as Nasser Al-Attiyah in the car category or Joan Barreda in the bike race proved to be the quickest in this exercise.

On the second day of racing, the riders and drivers sometimes hold back a little, meaning positions do not often change much. Such an approach is not part of Joan Barreda’s DNA who, on the contrary, has all too often shone on the first week of the rally at the risk of disappearing from the standings prematurely. After starting in 20th position, the Spaniard convincingly overtook the pack of bikers as the day’s openers paid dearly for their hesitation in the dunes: Toby Price and Kevin Benavides both lost half an hour, Mathias Walkner waved goodbye to 2 hours 30 and Andrew Short exited the race, let down by his machine.

As for Nasser Al-Attiyah, he added a 37th special stage win to his collection, deploying a strategically precise plan, even if Stéphane Peterhansel took over the reins at the top of the general standings. A pitched battle is taking place in the lightweight vehicle category, in which a new player emerged among the pretenders to the crown: behind the wheel of his Can-Am, Saleh Al Sahif became the second Saudi stage winner on the Dakar, six years after Yazeed Al-Rajhi triumphed in the Chilean dunes around Iquique.

In the truck race, it appears that Dmitri Sotnikov is initially taking on the role of team leader for Kamaz. He won a second consecutive stage and now leads the general standings by 17 minutes ahead of Belarussian Sarhei Viazovich.

Dakar 2021, Stage 2 Bisha > Wadi Ad-Dawasir,  Image Supplied by ASO 

QUADS

Pablo Copetti distinguished himself with a flourish on the second stage between Bisha and Wadi Ad-Dawasir. The Americano-Argentinean, who missed out on the 2020 edition several days before travelling to the rally due to an injury, today made an elite level comeback.

In contrast Alexandre Giroud started the day with a lead of 3 minutes 36 seconds from Giovanni Enrico, as the day went on it became very clear that his pace had  slowed and that he was finding the ever growing sand dunes difficult to traverse, Giroud dropped to sixth after 46km with Nicolas Cavigliasso moving to the front, followed by Manuel Andujar and Giovanni Enrico.

Santiago Hansen was hoping to put the previous edition of the Dakar behind him but was once again forced to withdraw, the Argentinean broke his engine at the 148km point making it three consecutive retirements in as many years, It comes as a bitter blow for him personally as this year marked ten years since he made his debut.

Santiago Hansen, MX Devesa By Berta: “This year I go as a team with Pablo Copetti, who chose me to assist him in the race, rolling at a good pace very close to him. I have a lot of respect for backpacking and it is essential that I have no problem, so that I can really help him. On a personal level this Dakar is very important to me, because it is the tenth and I come from two abandonments, so it is essential to finish it.”

It was from the 178-km point that Copetti really began to distance his rivals and soar away to a fourth stage victory, his first since the 2017 edition. Pablo won the second stage by over a minute from Enrico Giovanni and a further 3 minutes clear of Alexandre Giroud. Over the last months, Copetti has not hesitated to draw on the best resources to fine-tune his Yamaha Raptor 700 and ride during lockdown in the deserts of Nevada and California. His preparation has been far from conventional, but it is bearing plenty for all to see.

Pablo Copetti, MX Devesa By Berta, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Frederic Le Floc’h

MOTO

After the third best time on the first stage, Matthias Walkner was intent on following the pace of his team-mate Toby Price on the special heading to Wadi Ad-Dawasir.

However, a clutch problem put paid to these plans after he got stuck in a dune shortly after reaching the 46 km point. Forced to stop and repair his machine, this manoeuvre cost the Austrian more than 2 hours in lost time. Despite all that, he managed to reach the finishing line and, even though he will try to claw back the time lost over the next few days, it looks like he has lost any hope of regaining the title that he won in 2018.

It is likely that KTM has lost one of its major assets in the quest to regain its crown. Although the gaps are still small, the entire team will not be happy because it does not have a representative in the top 10 of the general standings. Sam Sunderland, in 12th place, trails Barreda by 12’50’’.

Joan Barreda Bort, Monster Energy Honda Team 2021: “With a good rhythm, good navigation and in good physical condition. We haven’t changed too many things on the bike. With the Covid virus, we couldn’t do any testing. Anyway, the Honda has proven itself, it has been around for a while and we know it works very well.”

“Personally, I will be fighting for a place on the podium, although of course there is a lot of competition between the teams and it will be difficult.”

Joan Barreda Bort has won as many special stages as Marc Coma in his career on the Dakar. Since his first stage victory in 2012, “Bang-Bang” has let his speed do the talking on all types of special and today has even overtaken Hubert Auriol in terms of his stage victory collection. However, the Honda rider has always found consistency problematic and has never finished higher than 5th place in the final general standings. His profile is similar to his countryman Jordi Arcarons, who triumphed on 27 stages without ever having won the overall title, but Barreda has not had his last word yet!

Joan Barreda Bort, Monster Energy Honda Team 2021: “After the hard day of yesterday, I was forced to push with everything – I put it all in today. I enjoyed this type of stage a lot. It’s faster and better for me, better than enduro like it was yesterday. Right now, everything is perfect. Sure, tomorrow will be a long day and really hard again, but the race is like this. We need to keep calm and stay in front. For sure, there are still a lot of kilometres to come and we will try to keep riding, that’s all”.

For Yamaha the Dakar claimed yet another big name, Andrew Short grounded to a halt after 273km of the special due to a seized engine, having performed well during the last three Dakar rally’s, his decision to throw in the towel and not wait for assistance comes as a bitter blow for the team who will now pin their hopes on Adrien Van Beveren. The Yamaha rider was comfortable on this sandy stage and reacquainted himself with good riding sensations to post the 6th best time of the day, to celebrate his 30th birthday.

Adrien Van Beveren, Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team: “It was a nice day. It’s my birthday – I’m thirty today – so I started with the idea of trying to win the stage. I was really fast on the first section, but then I got caught up in some dust with some riders and it took time to pass them on the tracks. My team-mate Ross came back really fast, then I saw at the refuelling point that Barreda was also there, so I decided to… I wouldn’t say to slow down, but to make sure I navigated perfectly and be safe to the end, so it was a good day”.

Joan Berreda Bort, Monster Energy Honda Team 2021, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Frederic Le Cloc’h

CAR

Nasser Al-Attiyah put the Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux on top in the second stage of the 2021 Dakar Rally, as Stephane Peterhansel took the overall lead from X-Raid Mini JCW Team, team-mate Carlos Sainz. The three times champion started the day first on the road following his victory in Stage 1, but had already slipped behind Peterhansel by the second waypoint, with Peterhansel pulling an advantage of 26 seconds over his team mate early on. 

Stephane Peterhansel, X-Raid Mini JCW Team: “Today it was a very beautiful stage. The desert was much more open. This morning there was a little, or rather a lot, of stress because it was the first dunes, but also the car was full of diesel which meant it was really heavy. So, the priority was not to get stuck. After that, I have to say that we navigated well – Edouard did a really good job.”

“We did perhaps one hundred metres too much, but not a lot compared with how difficult the stage was. I think that the guys from Toyota started very late this morning and probably they will be faster than us because we opened the road and did the navigation, so for the drivers behind it will be easier, for sure”.

Once out in front, Stephane Peterhansel continued to stretch his advantage as Sainz continued to struggle over the dunes dropping behind. This allowed Nasser Al-Attiyah to rapidly started eating into his advantage, at 220km Al-Attiyah passed Sainz and was soon closing in on Peterhansel finally catching the Frenchman for the lead just after the seventh way point.

For Sainz things went from bad to worse as he dropped behind Yazeed Al-Rajhi, the Spaniard then put in a monster push during the latter way points of the stage to reclaim second overall and finish 9 minutes behind the new rally leader Peterhansel with Al-Attiyah now in third.

 

Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toyota Gazoo Racing,  Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Frederic Le Floc’h

LIGHTWEIGHT VEHICLE

Saleh Alsaif competing in his native Saudi Arabia was able to clinch the stage 2 victory in only his second Dakar, brining home the Oriol Vidal Montijano SSV by just under two minutes from Gerard Farres Guell and Francisco Lopez Contardo, a steady drive allowed the Saudi to leap both Matthieu Margaillan and Austin Jones, while stage 1 hero Cristina Gutierrez also suffered difficulties amongst the dunes to fall back to 11th overall. 

Gerard Farres Guell, Monster Energy Can-Am: “The start of the special was difficult for me, driving in the dunes. But then every time it got better, but of course today I’m happy for Armand because, well, how was the navigation today, Armand? – Yeah, today we started with really tricky navigation. We started with dunes that we didn’t…

Gerard Farres is one of the most complete Dakar competitors in the rally’s history, having competed on Bikes and SSV in the thirteen events since his debut in 2006 where he finished an impressive 16th overall and best rookie, In 2020 paired with long time friend Armand Monleon, Farres achieved second overall in the Andalucía Rally and participated in the Polish Baja part of the World rally raid championship.

Following her win on stage one, Cristina Gutierrez Herrero skilfully managed to avoid the pitfalls on the rally’s second special. With an eleventh-placed finish, twelve minutes behind the day’s winner, the Spaniard was closing in rapidly on Seth Quintero through out the special stage, but despite loosing ground overall she has kept hold of fourth place in the general standings.

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Antonio Jose Lopez Hinojo, Hibor Raid, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Florent Gooden

TRUCK

Dmitry Sotnikov stayed out of trouble and clear of his rivals to win stage 2 of the Dakar, The Russian, who had to open the stage never looked behind and was never challenged. In stark contrast Andrey Karginov was struggling to show the pace that won him the Dakar in 2020, the issues suffered on Sunday seemed to be holding him back causing him to drop out of the top three ending the day down in 10th.

Siarhei Viazovich’s driving the MAZ Sportauto Team finished third at the end of Stage 2, The second special allowed Siarhei Viazovich’s to finish just 6 minutes behind, Dmitry Sotnikov with Airat Mardeev rounding out the top three, with the top four being dominated by both Kamaz Masters and MAZ Sportauto it will take a big effort from Martin Macik to put the Big Shock Racing entry back in contention, but with so many dropping out early on anything is still possible.

Martin Macik, Big Shock Racing: “I’m really looking forward to fighting with Kamaz. They have four trucks, four similar drivers and they’re fast as shit! I know it’s possible to catch them -maybe not all of them- but I will certainly do my best. And of course I’m not only there to fight Kamaz. They are the best, but there is also Maz, with Viazovich and Vishneuski.

“Van den Brink is fast too, even if he takes risks, and there are many more, not only Kamaz. I think between 10-15 trucks can be in the top 5. There are a lot of contenders and I’ll be fighting with all of them”

More than ever, Dmitry Sotnikov appears to be a candidate for overall triumph. The Kamaz driver enjoyed a second victory between Bisha and Wadi Ad-Dawasir by beating Mardeev and Viazovich to consolidate his lead in the general standings.

Dmitry Sotnikov, Kamaz Masters: “It was a rather long stage, but the second part was really fast. The beginning part was complicated because there were the first dunes. We needed just a few of them to feel more comfortable, and after that we tried to reach our ideal pace. The navigation was complicated, but we tried to pay attention for the right directions and check the roads for any traps, but our tactics were good for today and we are happy to finish” 

 

Dmitry Sotnikov, Ruslan Akhmadeev, Ilgiz Akhmetzianov, Kamaz – Master, Images Supplied by ASO, Photographer Frederic Le Floc’h

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