Danilo Petrucci becomes first MotoGP rider to win Dakar Rally stage

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Credit: Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool

Danilo Petrucci might not be racing in MotoGP in 2022 and have his eyes on a switch to MotoAmerica, but he can probably add rally raiding to his list of series to consider for the future. A penalty levied on Toby Price enabled Petrucci to win the fifth stage of the Dakar Rally, making him the first MotoGP alumnus to win a stage in the legendary event.

Riding the #90 for Tech3 KTM Factory Racing, Petrucci recorded a time of three hours, twenty-three minutes, and forty-six seconds in Stage #5, which was cut short as active medical aircraft were in the area. Fellow KTM rider Price completed the stage ahead of him by four minutes and fourteen seconds, but the two-time Rally winner was slapped with a six-minute time penalty after speeding in disallowed areas. This consequently relegated Price to fourth at 3:25:32.

Petrucci is contesting his maiden Dakar Rally. It has been a tumultuous effort for the Italian, who broke his ankle a month before the race and nearly tested positive for COVID-19 the night before the opening stage until it turned out to be a false positive. After finishing with the thirteenth-fastest time in the first stage and running in the top five for much of the second, an electrical issue ended his Stage #2 after 114 km; unable to contact his team after losing his cell phone and passport, he had to use a flare to signal for an airlift out. He was able to continue after using the “joker”, a waiver that allows retired competitors to rejoin the race, though it effectively eliminated him from overall contention as it came with an eleven-hour penalty.

In spite of the setback, Petrucci rebounded to complete the third and fourth stages in twenty-second and fifteenth, respectively.

“I started crying and I cannot believe it,” said an emotional Petrucci. “My father used to give me a present, video tapes from MotoGP and from Dakar, and every day, when I was coming back from school, I was looking always at these video tapes rolling, rolling, rolling. When I grew up, maybe too much for MotoGP, then I started to believe that maybe Dakar. I wanted to race in MotoGP, then when my body (was) not possible anymore to be competitve, I said, ‘Okay, we’ll try the Dakar.’

“I really didn’t expect to win a stage. I wanted to leave the mark in the motorsport, and today, I made it. I cannot believe it.”

The 31-year-old is a two-time race winner in MotoGP, which he contested from 2012 to 2021. Much of his career was spent on a Ducati with Pramac Racing and Ducati’s works team before joining Tech3 for the 2021 season. The switch proved to be difficult as he finished a career-worst twenty-first in points with a best finish of fifth at Le Mans, marking his first season without a podium finish since 2016, a campaign that saw him miss four rounds to injury.

Petrucci lost his ride at Tech3 as the team promoted Remy Gardner and Raúl Fernández, KTM riders who finished 1–2 in the Moto2 World Championship. Nevertheless, the team was more than happy to keep him around and help him enter the realm of rally raid. Besides Price, Petrucci has been supported by reigning FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion and 2018 Rally winner Matthias Walkner as well as defending Rally champion Kevin Benavides. Benavides finished Stage #5 in eighth and Walkner eleventh, and the latter is currently second overall for bikes behind Sam Sunderland.

While his post-Dakar plans have not been set in stone, Petrucci is likely heading to MotoAmerica with Ducati.

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Justin is neither a NASCAR nor off-road racer, but he has covered them for The Checkered Flag since 2018.
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