The ninth stage of the 2021 Dakar Rally saw motorcycle pilot Matthias Walkner of the Salzburg KTM team fall behind due to navigation errors. After completing the 686 km stage, Walkner placed 27th in Haradh, a significant 25 minutes behind the winner, Luciano Benavides of Argentina.
Reflecting on his performance, Walkner expressed his frustration stating, "I screwed up pretty bad today." Despite this setback, he still maintains a lead of 44:36 over the nearest Husqvarna rider, Skyler Howes, currently in eleventh place overall.
Walkner had attempted to make up time by focusing less on navigation and instead following the lead drivers, a strategy that ultimately proved detrimental. Heavy rainfall over the past few days had made the slopes noted in the road book hard to spot, causing the KTM driver to get lost for almost 20 minutes on the 358 km special stage.
"It's very frustrating for me. Even if my driving performance is very good today, more or less it is for me," he reflected, taking full responsibility for the navigation errors.
Second stage win for Benavides
On the other hand, Benavides, riding for the Husqvarna team, celebrated his second stage win of the rally.
The American, Skyler Howes, currently sits in second place overall, just three seconds ahead of Australian KTM rider Toby Price, with five stages remaining. Kevin Benavides, also of Argentina and riding for Husqvarna, is in third place, almost five minutes behind the leader.
The stage saw several other riders face challenges, with Joan Barreda of Spain falling and requiring transport to a hospital in Riyadh due to back pain. American Mason Klein, also riding a KTM, fell twice but managed to finish the stage.
The ongoing 2021 Dakar Rally, known for its grueling terrain and navigation challenges, continues to test the limits of even the most experienced riders. As the rally enters its final stages, the competition remains intense and any navigational errors could prove costly for those with aspirations of victory.