Three American drivers—Casey Currie, Mitch Guthrie Jr., and AJ Jones—sit firmly within the top 10 of the SSV category at the halfway point of the 2020 Dakar Rally, which relocated to Saudi Arabia for the first time in its history this season. Currie, who returned to South Racing for the second time this year after a fourth place finish in his 2019 debut, sits just nine minutes and 48 seconds behind defending event winner Chaleco Lopez for the overall lead.
Five different racers have won stages in the event so far, with Poland’s Aron Domzala kicking things off in the first stage and Lopez winning the second. With top five finishes in each of the first three stages, Currie clawed his way into a 15-second lead over Lopez, but gave it up the next day with his first of three consecutive seventh place stage finishes to get to the halfway point of the event in second.
The heralded debut of the Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team saw Guthrie score his first career Dakar stage win on the fourth day of the event, while Cyril Despres did the same the very next day. Unfortunately, both Despres, the mentor of the team, and Blade Hildebrand are running under the Dakar Experience banner after clutch issues for Hildebrand on the second stage and engine trouble for Despres on the third rendered them ineligible for the overall classification. Alongside his teammates’ stage victories, Hildebrand scored a best stage finish of sixth on Thursday.
Russia’s Sergei Kariakin, a former quad champion, completes the podium as it stands, with Jose Antonio Hinojo in fourth and Guthrie completing the top five. Jones, meanwhile, sits seventh overall after top 10 finishes in five of the first six legs of the event. Despite three rough outings with stage finishes of 28th or worse, Gerard Farres became the first multiple stage winner of the event on Friday, enabling him to jump four positions to 14th in the overall standings.
34 racers remain eligible for the overall classification, although 39 made it to Riyadh for Saturday’s rest day to gear up for the second half of the event. The next six days will see racers complete well over 4,000 kilometers of driving, with 2,720 of them timed. Recaps of each day’s action will air on the NBC Sports Network; click here to see full TV listings.
Words by: Chris Leone // UTVUnderground.com
Photos via: ASO/DPPI