Due to the thunderstorms and flooding that had affected the area surrounding Riyadh, Stages 7 and 8 saw the organizers make an impromptu switch into “Marathon” mode. Usually, this means the drivers are not allowed any assistance from their teams and mechanics after the end of the first stage and must fix any issues encountered on their own while staying in a separate bivouac before returning to their teams after the second stage of the marathon segment.
Due to the short notice of the announcement, teams were allowed to meet the drivers after the Stage 7 special, with a two-hour window allotted to enable them to work on the SSVs. The Saturday route was modified accordingly and saw the crews take on over 800kms following on from a combined total of over 900km on Stage 6.
Stage 7 started with a 288km liaison from Riyadh to the start of the special, followed by a 333km timed section, after which the competitors were allowed their allocated two-hour vehicle service time. Then they had to travel a further 240km to the marathon bivouac in Al Duwadimi, where they will spend the night. A marathon stage not only makes it physically more demanding for the crews but also brings an extra element of tactics into play. The lack of assistance available means that finishing both stages often becomes the priority over pace.
Despite all the changes to the schedule, one thing remained consistent, the outright pace of the Portuguese pairing of Ferreira and Palmeiro. The duo had already claimed the YXZ1000R Dakar project’s first podium on Stage 4 after finishing in second, and they followed that up with another superb drive to third on Saturday.
Leading the way up until the final waypoint, when they were overtaken and affected by the dust trail kicked up by a truck, they completed the special in three hours, 41 minutes and 35 seconds, less than two minutes behind the stage winner. Unfortunately, due to not being able to complete the third stage after a technical issue, Ferreira will not be counted in the final classification as a Dakar finisher. Still, even so, the young driver has already impressed in his debut outing at the legendary race.
The Chilean duo of the three-time winner in the Quad category at Dakar, Casale and his co-driver Leon showed their strength once again, as they made it two X-raid developed Yamaha YXZ1000Rs in the top five, finishing the stage just two minutes and six seconds behind their teammates. This result means they are now 10th overall in the T3 general classification as the leading Yamaha machine.
Ahmed Alkuwari Fahad (QAT) and Manuel Lucchese (ITA) had another solid drive, with the pairing competing in their first Dakar together, ending the special in 19th. Leading the all-female charge in the T3 Lightweight Category, Annett Fischer (DEU) and Annie Seel (SWE) continued the consistency that saw them finish 15th in class last year. They completed the stage in 22nd and moved up to 13th overall as they look to defend their Women’s Trophy.
Competing in her 14th consecutive edition of the rally, Dakar Legend Camelia Liparoti and co-driver Xavier Blanco finished in 26th after experiencing a technical issue and carrying out some running repairs to their machine during the stage. Ricardo Porém (PRT) and Augusto Sanz (ARG) were in fifth after the first waypoint before they suffered a minor crash that saw them lose time, but they managed to fix their vehicle and finish in 37th.
After a night in the Al Duwadimi marathon bivouac for the crews, Stage 8 features a 95km liaison to the start of a 346km special, followed by a further 383km liaison that will see them reunited with the X-raid Yamaha Supported Team in Riyadh, marking the third day in a row they will have had to complete over 800km. The route involves a mixture of mountainous terrain plus the classic dunes associated with Dakar and will prove another stern test for all involved.