Stage 7 was marked by a crash that claimed the life of Paulo Gonçalves, who was taking part in his 13th Dakar in the bike class. The victories of Kevin Benavides (motorbikes) and Carlos Sainz (cars) take second place, leaving the center stage to a memorial to Team Hero’s Portuguese rider held during the daily briefing with all competitors present.
As the first SSVs roll across the line, Mitchell Guthrie (who went through km 161 in third place) has been knocked out of the race by a mechanical. An infuriating development for the American rookie, who turned heads with his win in stage 4.
Francisco ‘Chaleco’ López struggled in the last part of the special during Stage 7 and lost 53 minutes to the stage winner and gave up the overall lead to Casey Currie. Currie capitalized on a stage spent on the attack with his teammates and now has a healthy margin of 32 minutes over the Chilean.
“We all stuck together today and we had a plan and it worked,” Currie explained. “The longest day of the rally is now behind us and, phew, I feel good. We had one puncture today that we probably lost three or four minutes to, but overall it was a great day. Gerard helped me in the sand dunes and really pushed hard. We knew that this rally is far from over. We had all three cars together all day, we pushed phenomenally hard and it all worked out.”
“I really just gotta get up to the two teammates for today’s stage because without them I don’t think we would’ve had the pace,” Currie continued. “Five more days, we just gotta keep pushing the way we are. Last night Ricky Brabec and Andrew Short came in the motorhome and kicked me in the pants and told me I gotta get my s*** together.”
Racing under Dakar Experience rules since his withdrawal in stage 2, Blade Hildebrand was able to shine in Stage 7 and show his true potential. He has won the stage by 11 minutes over fellow American Casey Currie and 13 minutes over Aron Domżała.