As Toby Price challenges for his second Dakar Rally victory, two fellow Aussies are doing well in the rookies category of the gruelling Peruvian event.
There is a record 135 Dakar rookies this year, 49 of which are in the motorcycle category.
They include Victorian Ben Young, aged 47, (#72 Duust Rally Team) and Canberran James Ferguson, 32, (#121 KTM).
Ben finished stage 6 in 54th place, his best position yet and is 63rd outright and 20th among the 49 rookies.
James is not far behind in 77th outright, 23rd among the novices and 12th of the 29 riders in the Original by Motul class which means they have no assistance.
But the event has not been plain sailing for the two rookies.
Ben is nursing a possible broken hand and James has gravel rash from a crash in a liaison section.
“This is the hardest race I’ve done,” says Ben, a part-time racer who has been training with Toby.
“It’s been an average of 12 hour days with the longest 14 hours. The course is really hard and challenging.
“I’m physically ok. Had a crash yesterday (stage 5) and hand is a bit fucked up. Team physio thinks the bone is fractured. I’m not going for X-rays as I don’t want to know. I’ll tape it up and keep going,” he says on his Facebook page.
In preparation for the Dakar, Ben finished 18th in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and 24th in the Morocco Rally on his KTM.
Navigation the key
James says the stages are difficult, but his navigation has been good.
“I’ve said from the start that the stages are hard but they are safe in that you can ride to your ability and speed,” he says in his latest Facebook post.
“Unfortunately last night (stage 5) coming home 280km in the liaison I hit something on the road at about 90kmh and sent the bike down the highway on its side.
“Luckily I was fine and quickly picked the bike and myself up before it was run over. My rest day hasn’t been much rest, new handlebars, foot pegs, hand guards, wheels, grips plus oil and filters has kept me busy. Body is sore but I’m not giving up.”
He posted a photo of his KTM’s clogged air filter after the first day of racing through the stand dunes.
About 70% of the event will be staged in sand, but James has plenty of experience in sand having competed in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge last year.
KTM factory rider Toby Price is inching closer to his second victory while nursing a still-mending broken wrist.
He finished in fourth place in stage 6, leaving him third outright and a little over five minutes behind leader Pablo Quintanilla on a Husqvarna and 40 seconds behind Ricky Brabec on a Honda.
KTM is chasing its 18th straight win, but it hasn’t all been going the orange company’s way this year.
Of the six stages so far, only last year’s winner, Matthias Walker, has won a stage.
Honda has won two stages, and Yamaha and Husky one each.
It’s going to be a nail-biting finish with less than 10 minutes separating the top five which includes one Husky, two Hondas, one Yamaha and Toby’s KTM.
If fellow Red Bull KTM Factory Team members Matthias Walkner (sixth) and Sam Sunderland (seventh) remain behind Toby, they will have to help him if he needs assistance or a spare part.