Honda rider Jose Ignacio Cornejo took a step towards victory in the 2021 Dakar Rally’s bikes class as he opened up a lead of more than 10 minutes in the wake of Toby Price’s crash on the ninth stage.
Cornejo entered Tuesday’s 465km loop around Neom with one minute and six seconds in hand over KTM rider Price, having taken his first win of the rally on Monday.
Despite opening the road, Chilean came close to making it back-to-back successes, leading at the 198km point before losing ground to Honda teammate Kevin Benavides.
He eventually finished 1m34s behind Benavides, who notched up a second stage victory of the 2021 edition as the lead pair finished 13 minutes clear of the opposition.
Following the retirements of Price and Husqvarna rider Luciano Benavides due to crashes, and Ricky Brabec (Honda) and Sam Sunderland (KTM) both losing around 15 minutes to tend to the injured Price, Adrian van Beveren was third-fastest for Yamaha.
Matthias Walkner (KTM) and Joan Barreda (Honda) completed the top five on the stage provisionally, but with both Brabec and Sunderland both set to gain time back.
As things stand, Cornejo is now 11 minutes and 24 seconds clear of Benavides at the head of the general classification with three stages left to run, giving him by some distance the largest lead any rider has enjoyed of the rally so far.
Barreda has moved up to a provisional third, exactly 29 minutes back, but is set to fall behind Sunderland and Brabec once the times are finalised.
KTM rookie Daniel Sanders is likely to be sixth overall ahead of privateer Skyler Howes (KTM) and Sherco rider Lorenzo Santolino.
Yamaha’s miserable luck continued as Ross Branch – already outside of the top 10 owing to his earlier problems – was forced out of the event with engine trouble, leaving van Beveren as the manufacturer’s sole remaining factory representative in ninth.
Standings after Stage 9 (Top 10, provisional):
1 Jose Ignacio Cornejo
2 Kevin Benavides
3 Joan Barreda
4 Sam Sunderland
5 Daniel Sanders
6 Ricky Brabec
7 Skyler Howes
8 Lorenzo Santolino
9 Adrian van Beveren
10 Pablo Quintanilla
* Expected to be given back time by organisers.