Dakar 2020

Portuguese biker Paulo Goncalves dies after crash in Dakar Rally

Dakar veteran's death casts a shadow over seventh stage as Sainz extends his lead over Al-Attiyah in the car category

13 January 2020 - 07:39 By Reuters and Motoring Staff
Paulo Goncalves in action on Sunday before his fatal crash.
Paulo Goncalves in action on Sunday before his fatal crash.
Image: Reuters

Portuguese motorcycle rider Paulo Goncalves died after a crash in the seventh stage of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, organisers said.

The 40-year-old Indian Hero Motorsports entrant, taking part in his 13th Dakar Rally since making his debut in 2006, fell after 276km of the special stage from the capital Riyadh to Wadi Al Dawasir.

“The organisers received an alert at 10.08 and dispatched a medical helicopter that reached the biker at 10.16 and found him unconscious after going into cardiac arrest,” organisers said in a statement.

“Following resuscitation efforts in situ, the competitor was taken by helicopter to Layla Hospital, where he was sadly pronounced dead.

“The entire Dakar caravan would like to extend its sincere condolences to his friends and family.”

The organisers have cancelled stage eight of the race for motorcycles on Monday “to give the riders time to mourn their friend”. The other categories will compete.

Goncalves was the first competitor to die in the gruelling endurance event since Polish motorcycle rider Michal Hernik in Argentina in 2015.

The Portuguese finished in the top 10 at the Dakar Rally four times and was runner-up in 2015 to Spaniard Marc Coma, who is competing this year as co-driver to double Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Goncalves suffered mechanical problems on Friday, having to change his bike's engine to stay in the race, and dropped to 46th overall after the sixth stage.

“The target now is to do my best, because the result at the end ... there is no way to get a good result. Instead I’ll try to do good stages every day possible and that's what I'm looking for,” Goncalves said then.

The experienced Portuguese had competed in the Dakar on three continents, from its origins in Africa to South America and this year's debut in the Middle East.

The 2013 cross country rallies world champion was representing the Indian Hero Motorsports team, with his brother-in-law Joaquim Rodrigues, after five years racing with Honda.

Goncalves crashed out on the fifth stage in Peru last year. Rodrigues broke his back in a Dakar crash two years ago, but returned after extensive surgery and was 27th after stage six.

Sunday's 546km stage, the longest of the event, was ultimately won by Argentina's KTM rider Kevin Benavides, who stopped to help Goncalves, but had the lost time reinstated.

American Ricky Brabec (Honda) extended his overall lead in the motorcycle  category.

Australian Toby Price, the defending motorcycle champion, also had lost time reinstated after assisting Goncalves and ended the day in fourth position, 28 minutes off the lead.

Spaniard Carlos Sainz, a two-times Dakar winner driving a Mini buggy, took his third stage win of the event in the cars category to extend his lead over Toyota's reigning champion, Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar, to 10 minutes.

Carlos Sainz extended his lead in the car category.
Carlos Sainz extended his lead in the car category.
Image: Reuters

Mini have now won six of the seven stages.

Stage 7 saw SA's Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Alex Haro lose 10 min 19 sec to stage winner Sainz. De Villiers injured his neck during stage five of the rally, and the injury has caused some pain and discomfort during the longest stage of the race.

“We also struggled with the top speed of the Hilux, which simply cannot match the two-wheel-drive buggies for outright pace,” said the man from Stellenbosch. “We really need some more technical terrain, so that we can use the Toyota’s four-wheel-drive abilities to attack.”

De Villiers’ sentiments were borne out by teammate Al-Attiyah, who used the small dunes at the start of the stage to his benefit, but in the end lost 2 min 12 sec to the hard-charging Sainz, and is now 10 minutes behind in the overall standings.

Fellow Hilux driver Bernhard ten Brinke finished the fourth stage after aerodynamic modifications were made to his vehicle, which paid off, as he came home just 46 seconds behind Al-Attiyah. Team manager Glyn Hall said the same measures would be in place for the rest of the team for the remainder of the rally.

Alonso had a good run in stage seven, despite suffering a delaminated tyre, which cost them more than 1 min 30 sec. They recorded the 6th-fastest time on the day, losing 7 min 49 sec to the stage winner, but doing enough to move up to 14th in the overall rankings.