12th stage: Rio Cuarto - Rio Cuarto
Link section: 722 km - Special: 64 km -Total: 786 km
The 2017 Dakar will certainly go down in the annals as the world’s toughest race in South America, not necessarily for the terrain but because of the extreme weather conditions that caused a headache for the organisers, and the thousands of kilometres covered to reach the three capitals, Asunción (Paraguay), La Paz (Bolivia) and Buenos Aires (Argentina). From tropical heat with temperatures above 40°C and virtually 100 % humidity in Paraguay, to hail, snow and mud in Bolivia and a landslide in Argentina, this 39th edition ran the gamut of the earth’s climates.
What could be more logical, then, that the imperturbable and worthy winner should be a Brit, Sam Sunderland (KTM)! Last year, he had to sit out the Dakar with a broken femur after a crash in the Merzouga rally, but on two previous occasions, he had had to pull out. Today, he not only finished the Dakar for the first time but he actually won it! “It’s an incredible feeling”, he said. “When I crossed the line, I I was overwhelmed by emotion and I couldn’t keep back my tears. I was ahead in the Dakar for the last week and there is a huge amount of pressure. After the penalty for Honda, I didn’t want to think about winning but now my dream has come true and I am walking on the moon!”
The KTM rider won the 2017 with a lead of 32’ over his team mate Matthias Walkner, also injured last year, and Gerard Farres (KTM Hinoinsa)! The friendly Spaniard has some tough years behind him and he is thrilled to be on the third step of the podium with a private KTM! “I am 37 years old and I have ridden with the best like Chaleco and Marc (Coma)… It’s just incredible for me to be on the podium now. It’s the reward for 10 years of hard work!”
Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha) missed the podium by a small margin, coming 4th just 48 seconds adrift of Farres (KTM Hinoinsa). The two men attacked hard in this last special to get on to that third spot on the podium and their times were the same to within a second!
The first Honda rider, Joan Barreda, in fifth, is a little queasy, as he could have won the Dakar without the 1h penalty, as could his team mate Paulo Gonçalves, just 10’ behind. This was a fine performance for Pela Renet (Husqvarna) who has really found his wheels in Cross Country Rallies, coming 7th ahead of this year’s revelation Franco Caimi (Honda) and Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha). The first woman Laia Sanz (KTM), finished in 16th position after a very fine race indeed.
In quad, the winner is Russia’s Sergey Karyakin, who is cock-a-hoop over his first victory: “Winning the Dakar is like having a kid. The day it’s born you don’t really understand what is going to happen! This win was my goal for the past four years and I worked hard for it. I am proud to know that I am among the world’s best riders.” Ignacio Casale came second followed by Pablo Copetti, Rafal Sonik and Axel Dutrie while the indefatigable Camelia Liparoti finished her 8th Dakar in a row in 13th.
But as every year, it’s kudos to the 97 motorcyclists and 22 quads who reached the finish of the Dakar!