Red Bull KTM factory rider Kurt Caselli (USA) took his first ever Dakar stage win on Friday, completing the 220 km timed special in one hour 51.31. Caselli is competing in his first Dakar Rally standing in for the factory team’s injured Marc Coma.
The fast timed special at high altitude allowed Caselli to exercise his speed and skills, recently sharpened with a second place for the KTM US team in the Baja 1000. Caselli averaged a speed of 117 kmh for the 218 km of the timed special and became the first newcomer to win a stage since factory teammate Ruben Faria did it in 2006 at the start of the Dakar Rally in Portugal.
Caselli: “Everything for me was fine. I’m learning the navigation better and I can understand it. This is my first Dakar so I’m just learning a lot. I didn’t have any idea what to expect when I first came here. It’s fun and I’m enjoying it.”
On a day when riders first made the heady ascent up to the highest mountain pass in the Andes during the long liaison of 586 km, five top KTM riders finished in the fastest ten at the finish in Salta (Argentina) but the KTM factory team’s lead rider Cyril Despres was not among them. The French rider had some technical difficulties with the bike that hampered his speed in what should have been a very fast special and the time he sacrificed has dropped him down to fifth place in the overall standings. He now trails leader Olivier Pain by just over 14 minutes. Stage Seven and tomorrow’s Stage Eight are ‘Marathon’ stage in which riders must rely on their own mechanical knowledge in the event of problems. They overnight in a bivouac without the rest of the support team.
While it was an unlucky day for Despres, the other KTM riders who were well up the order including Chile’s ‘Chaleco’ Lopez who finished 1 minute 23 behind Caselli. The two official KTM Factory Team support riders Ruben Faria of Portugal and Joan Pedrero of Spain finished fifth and sixth. KTM Factory B team rider ‘Kuba’ Przygonski of Poland was seventh while his teammates South Africa’s Riaan Van Niekerk and Darryl Curtis were twelfth and twenty second respectively. Despres was eventually classified at thirty-fourth and now has the task of fighting his way back into the lead.
With just one stage left before the one rest day on Sunday French rider Olivier Pain leads the overall standings, followed by Lopez, David Casteu, Faria and Despres. On their last push before the rest day, riders go from Salta to San Miguel de Tucuman in Argentina on what is the longest stage in the 2013 edition. They must travel 247 km in the liaison section before a massive 491 km of timed special.
The seventh stage of the 2013 edition was marred by the death of a French rider Thomas Bourgin who was the victim of a fatal accident during the liaison section prior to the day’s special. Organizers said he was involved in a collision with a police car but no other details were announced. Bourgin was racing his first Dakar. KTM expresses sympathy to the family and friends of this rider.
Image courtesy KTM