If there’s one thing that’s always certain about the Dakar Rally, it’s that everyone involved—whether they’re racing the event itself or just cheering from the sidelines—should always expect the unexpected.
That certainly holds true in the Side-by-Side class in 2019, as Rodrigo “Mamoro” Moreno currently leads defending event champion Reinaldo Varela in the overall standings by one minute and 42 seconds at the event’s halfway point. Varela appeared to be on his way to becoming the first repeat stage winner of the rally on Friday in the run from Tacna back to Arequipa, but it was Moreno who instead became the fifth stage winner in five days by a margin of just 1:12.
The rest of the field was more than half an hour adrift on Saturday. Third place finisher Gerard Farres, who had been second coming into the day, fell to third in the overall standings as well, now nearly 15 minutes off of the lead. The news was even worse for Stage 4 winner Sergei Kariakin, who finished in ninth on the day, 58:37 behind Moreno. That dropped him from the overall lead to fourth place, where he now sits 28:37 behind the top spot.
American Casey Currie, meanwhile, continues to adapt to the challenge of his first Dakar as part of the Monster Energy Can-Am team alongside Varela and Farres. While he’s not currently in podium contention with his two teammates, Currie is the top rookie in the Side-by-Side standings at sixth overall. After navigation issues dropped him outside of the overall top 10 in Stage 2, the Californian rebounded by posting a fourth place the very next day in the run from San Juan de Marcona to Arequipa, and another top five on Friday. If not for 20 minutes worth of penalties, he would be right behind Stage 1 winner Chaleco Lopez and on the verge of cracking the overall top five for the first time.
It’s been anything but an easy Dakar for Team Speed, which is competing in the larger Car class under the new UTV Open rules package. Between mechanical issues that began on Stage 3 and a clerical error that briefly made it sound like he was excluded, Robby Gordon has dealt with a ton of adversity through the rally so far. Stage 5 on Friday was another difficult day, as Gordon dealt with alternator issues and heavy fog shortened the stage as he had only hit the fifth waypoint.
Between Gordon’s struggles and Cole Potts skipping Stage 5, that leaves Blade Hildebrand as Team Speed’s top competitor. The Dakar rookie and Stadium Super Trucks racer is officially scored 43rd overall, just over 13 hours adrift of the overall lead. That result so far is good for a respectable ninth place among Dakar rookies.
Saturday may be a rest day, but competitors will need every second of it as they prepare to re-enter the rally on Sunday with the run from Arequipa back to San Juan de Marcona. At a whopping 838 kilometers (over 520 miles), with 336 kilometers (208.8 miles) of special stage, it’s the longest stage of this year’s event. From there, there are two loop stages (San Juan de Marcona on Monday and Pisco on Wednesday) and two point-to-point stages before the rally concludes back in Lima on Thursday.
Words by: Chris Leone // UTVUnderground.com
Photos via: ASO/DPPI