Ricky Brabec scored his first stage win of the 2021 Dakar Rally as the event resumed on Sunday, while Honda teammate Jose Ignacio Cornejo snatched the lead from KTM rival Toby Price.
Reigning champion Brabec had been sitting only 13th heading into the first part of the marathon stage, a 453km test between Ha’il and Sakaka.
But after a relatively sluggish start to the day, Brabec slowly started catching early leader Price before finally pulling clear at the eighth waypoint.
Fellow Honda rider Kevin Benavides threw a spanner in the works when he emerged out of nowhere to take the lead at the 10th waypoint, but dropped over 10 minutes in the remainder of the stage, allowing Brabec to reclaim the top spot.
This marked the American rider’s first stage victory of 2021, not counting the Prologue that determined the starting order of the rally’s first stage proper.
Cornejo finished just over two minutes behind Brabec to make it a Honda 1-2 at the top of the leaderboard, ahead of KTM privateer Skyler Howes and Austrian marque’s top factory rider Sam Sunderland.
Debutant Daniel Sanders made it three KTM riders in the top five, the trio separated by less than one minute, with Xavier de Soultrait not far behind on the Husqvarna in sixth.
After losing the lead to Brabec, Price dropped as low as ninth before improving marginally to claim seventh place, finishing five minutes off the top spot.
Luciano Benavides finished eighth for Husqvarna, ahead of top Hero rider Joaquim Rodrigues and the Yamahas of Franco Caimi and Adrien van Beveren.
The Japanese marque suffered a major blow when Ross Branch, its leading rider in the standings, crashed just 31km into the stage. Branch was eventually able to repair the bike and take the finish, but lost over 40 minutes to his rivals and is now out of top 10 contention.
With the first half of the marathon stage complete, Cornejo has become the latest rider to take the overall lead in the rally raid, moving one second clear of Price, with Sunderland sitting just over two minutes adrift in third.
De Soultrait holds fourth place from Kevin Benavides and Honda’s Joan Barreda, who finished down in 14th in Sunday’s stage, with Howes seventh.
A first stage victory of 2021 has propelled Brabec to eighth overall, with Sanders and Luciano Benavides completing the top 10.
Standings after Stage 7 (Top 10):
1 Jose Ignacio Cornejo
2 Toby Price
3 Sam Sunderland
4 Xavier de Soultrait
5 Kevin Benavides
6 Joan Barreda
7 Skyler Howes
8 Ricky Brabec
9 Daniel Sanders
10 Luciano Benavides