Honda’s Nacho Cornejo has won the special on stage 9 by 1’26’’ ahead of Kevin Benavides, 1’47’’ in front of Ricky Brabec, 2'06''ahead of Matthias Walkner and 2’10’’ in front of Joan Barreda, making it a very close top 5 today. In 8th and 9th place, Quintanilla and Van Beveren have finished 5 minutes behind the stage winner, whilst Sam Sunderland completed the stage 8'03'' behind. In the general rankings, the balance tipped in favour of KTM’s world champion on the last portion of the special. “Hiasi” Walkner now leads Sunderland by 2’02’’. VBA has managed to withstand the assaults of Quintanilla and the Yamaha rider trails Walkner by 3'56''. The leading trio is the same as this morning, but in a different order and it is the first time KTM have led in the 44th edition of the Dakar. Quintanilla, 4'41'' behind the Austrian, is less than one minute from the podium. Title holder Kevin Benavides has also closed in today and is only 10'22'' behind the new general rankings leader, accompanied by his Honda team-mate, Joan Barreda, 10'57'' behind. Price and Brabec are further back, trailing by slightly more than 35 minutes, though they will be the 10th and 11th riders to start tomorrow’s special.
After 200 km, Nacho Cornejo has taken the lead ahead of Ricky Brabec, Kevin Benavides, Joan Barreda and Pablo Quintanilla, all within the same one and a half minute time bracket. After two thirds of the special, in the virtual general rankings Sam Sunderland still leads ahead of Matthias Walkner (1'01'' behind) and Quintanilla (2'42'' behind). VBA trails by 3'20'' in a very close top 4. Behind them, the other riders are closing in, because Kevin Benavides is 10'58'' behind with Barreda trailing by 11'11''… today’s verdict will fall in 87 km!
After 160 km, just after the midway point of the special, the four official Hondas are among the five best times. Brabec and Cornejo are separated by 40’’ whilst Kevin Benavides on his KTM trails the stage leader by one minute. Barreda occupies 4th place, 1'15 behind, followed by Quintanilla who is 1'42’’ from the front of the stage. The three leaders of the Dakar at the start of the special are holding steady. Walkner is 2'02'' behind Nacho, VBA is 2'47'' behind the Chilean, with Sunderland 3'15’’ behind. A clearer picture will be available when the bikers reach the next check point after 200 km.
After 118 km, Quintanilla has done it! He has kicked VBA of the virtual podium by just 3 seconds. The Honda rider is in 5th position on the special, 1'12’’ behind Brabec, who is dominating proceedings followed by Cornejo. Sunderland and Walkner still lead the virtual general rankings at the moment, though Barreda and Benavides have moved to within 14 minutes of the British rider, putting two Hondas into 3rd and 5th place! Will the situation remain the same on completion of the 287 km? Who knows, but we are surely in for an exciting day and breath-taking week!