American Jonah Street proved the most skilled rider through the towering dune sections of the Atacama Desert on Tuesday after claiming a victory for the U.S. in Stage 9 of the 2011 Dakar Rally. The Yamaha WR450F rider obtained only the second Dakar stage win of his career and came back strong from two disappointing days in which he finished outside the top-20. Street pulled off the win more than three minutes ahead of Dutchman Frans Verhoeven, who was followed just two seconds later by France’s David Casteu. Meanwhile, KTM rivals Cyril Despres and Marc Coma took seventh and ninth respectively following the day’s difficult start.
Stage 9 may not have been a particularly long journey at 270 km, but what it lacked in distance it made up for in challenging terrain. The trek featured mammoth dunes which could easily bog riders down and a unique start that had competitors setting off in groups. The leading riders were released in a row of 10 while those behind set off 20 at a time. A navigational error right out of the gate allowed the second wave to catch the first almost immediately and the resulting mass or dirt bikes further complicated things with large amounts of dust. In the resulting chaos many riders took wrong turns and lost time while attempting to separate from the field. Street was part of the third wave and was fortunate not to be swept up in the early confusion.
The top-10 riders were the first to hit the stage and those included Coma and Despres among others. By Checkpoint 1 BMW’s Verhoeven had slipped into the lead ahead of Honda’s Thierry Bethys and Casteu. Meanwhile Despres and Coma remained well outside the leading pack back in 20th and 21st, respectively. Yamaha’s Helder Rodrigues also had a solid start and quickly moved into third following the first 33km of the day. By 63 km the Portuguese rider was in the lead with Verhoeven and Spaniard Jordi Viladoms hotly pursuing. At the 163 km mark Street made his way in the leading pack in second while remaining just under three minutes adrift of Rodrigues. Meanwhile, Coma and Despres continued playing cat and mouse behind the leaders with the Spaniard leading the Frenchman by 35 seconds.
By Checkpoint 2 Street had successfully made the pass ahead of Rodrigues for the lead which he kept across the finish line. The American’s resulting finish puts him back up to 14th in the overall order. Rodrigues’ day took a turn for the worst when he became lost and ran out of fuel. As a result Rodrigues gave up second in the order to finish back in 33rd while Verhoeven went by to finish 3:38 behind Street. Casteu scraped by just two seconds later in third while Spaniard Gerard Guell and Viladoms rounded out the top-five.
In the overall standings the order for the top-five remained the same despite Despres crossing the finish line more than a minute ahead of current rally leader, Coma. Aprilia’s Francisco Lopez remains more than 23 minutes behind Coma after finishing Stage 9 in 10th.
Jonah Street (USA – Yamaha) 1st, 14th OA
“I had to start in the third wave, which was good and bad; good that everyone up front new their position and were taking it easy and I got to charge through. The second wave caught everybody in the second to last sand dunes. Then in the last dunes, I think when there were only three bikes in front of me I went over the handlebars hard, straight into the sand, totally unannounced, but I was okay. I got back up and followed them in, because I figured that I started two waves behind them so I was doing alright. Today we didn’t have any bike problems, everything went really smooth, so I’m happy. It’s awesome. You know what? We’ve been capable of it all rally, it just hasn’t fallen into our plate. It’s awesome, totally awesome. It’s what we come here to do, to do the best we can and first is the best you can do, so to win a stage pretty special.”
Fran Verhoeven (BEL – BMW) 2nd, 25th OA
“For today’s grouped start, since I like motocross, I wasn’t stressed about being in between other riders. I attacked from the start. In the dunes and the mountains, there was a lot of fog, and I caught up with Ullevalseter. I couldn’t understand, because he set off five minutes before me. I guess the group in front got really lost and that I navigated really well. It’s perfect.”
KTM’s Cyril Despres could only muster seventh during the stage which featured a difficult start and sandy dunes.
David Casteu (FRA – Sherco) 3rd, 40th OA
“It’s wonderful. I navigated by myself, since there were no tracks. I rode with Verhoeven in the right direction, making sure I was crossing the dunes well. Soon, we started to see the bikes of Chaleco, Coma… We went hell for leather, right up to the finish. It was absolutely great. As a result, it helped me forget my gearbox problems a bit.”
Cyril Despres (FRA – KTM) 7th, 2nd OA
“After the start, we didn’t stay grouped for a long time because at the 17 km point Helder Rodrigues took a wrong direction and we all followed him. So, we turned round and ran straight into the second wave of starters. We were all riding in each others dust. It was a bit of a strange stage really. For the general standings, I assumed my responsibilities, because I’m fed up of playing cat and mouse for the last few years. We’ll see what this strategy produces. Now I’ll have to wait for the stage in Fiambala.”
Marc Coma (ESP – KTM) 9th, 1st OA
“With the grouped start and the fog, the start of the stage and the navigation was very difficult. In the first group, we got lost, turning right when we shouldn’t have. When we got back on track the second wave caught up with us. It was a bit of a mess. After that, a group of around twenty quick riders formed and we managed to ride the rest of the stage normally. But in the end, it was a difficult day.”
Helder Rodrigues (PRT – Yamaha) 33rd, 4th OA
“The day started well for me again. I was riding really well until the 215 km point, then I got a bit lost. I rode 9 km too much, so I turned back and ran out of petrol. Luckily, Felipe Prohens gave me some petrol. It’s terrible. 15 kilometers from here I had the best time, but that’s rallying for you.”
2011 Dakar Rally Stage 9 Results:
After placing ninth in the stage Marc Coma remains the overall rally leader by 08:14 ahead of Cyril Despres.
1. Jonah Street, USA (Yamaha) 03:06:56
2. Frans Verhoeven, BEL (BMW) 03:10:34
3. David Casteu, FRA (Sherco) 03:10:36
4. Gerard Farres Guell, ESP (Aprilia) 03:11:26
5. Jordi Viladoms, ESP (Yamaha) 03:12:42
6. Daniel Gouet, CHL (Honda) 03:12:58
7. Cyril Despres, FRA (KTM) 03:12:59
8. Pal Anders Ullevalseter, NOR (KTM) 03:13:55
9. Marc Coma, ESP (KTM) 03:14:04
10. Francisco Lopez Contardo, CHL (Aprilia) 03:14:49
2011 Dakar Rally Overall Standings:
1. Marc Coma, ESP (KTM) 35:32:56
2. Cyril Despres, FRA (KTM) 35:41:10
3. Francisco Lopez Contardo, CHL (Aprilia) 35:56:29
4. Helder Rodrigues, PRT (Yamaha) 36:34:47
5. Ruben Faria, PRT (KTM) 36:54:16
6. Pal Anders Ullevalseter, NOR (KTM) 37:35:13
7. Juan Pedrero Garcia, ESP (KTM) 37:37:40
8. Quinn Cody, USA (Honda) 38:12:36
9. Jean de Azevedo, BRA (KTM) 38:15:51
10. Ivan Jakes, SVK (Yamaha) 38:30:28
Video Courtesy of Dakar.com.