YAMAHA’s Jonah Street found a cup of gold today in the town of Copiapó, Chile when he took a different route than the leaders and came up with a surprise win in the elite motorcycle class on stage 9 of the world’s most famous rally. It was literally a cup of gold for Street; that’s the town’s name translated and he finished the race about 2 miles from where 33 miners stayed trapped for 69 days in August of 2010.
Street has suffered a number of mechanical setbacks in this rally, which have essentially taken him out of contention for an overall victory and he started today’s special stage in the 34th position. In the prior stage he lost a brake line and odometer which cost an additional +1:24 hours on top of the +1:34 hours he added with an electrical issue on stage 7. Today’s win for the US, the second in as many years since Street’s last stage win in 2009, was due to Street’s speed and navigational prowess. He noted, “I rode really well and pushed really hard all day.” His supporters on Facebook have been urging him during the past few days to hang in there and reminding him that its his style to keep pushing even when the cards are down.
Another factor in Street’s win today was the rare “mass start” or line-start as it’s referred to in North America. Because the riders took off from the start in waves of 10 (top ten finishers from stage 8) and then waves of 20; Street was on the third wave, which meant the riders we’re grouped together rather than spaced apart. One of the many complexities of the Dakar Rally is navigation, a strong point for Street. Thus, when the first pack of ten riders followed Helder Rodriguez (PRT) onto a dead end route, Street picked up time by choosing the correct route. By the time the leaders returned to the correct waypoint, Street had caught them and settled into a physical spot where he could simply follow them into the finish area for an easy victory. Street quoted a gem of wisdom passed down by some of the greatest racers in history after his win today in the catering tent of the rallies bivouac, “One of the best quotes in racing is go slow enough to win. Today I was able to catch up to the lead group and kind of just hang with them. I knew I didn’t have to push it any harder than that once I caught em.”
Even though the odds for Street to bring home the first ever overall Dakar victory for the US are virtually impossible, today’s win for Street and Yamaha is a very important accomplishment for everyone involved for a number of important reasons, not the least of which is proving to his sponsors that he is very capable of winning stages as an underdog. It’s also important when you look at the financial differential between Street’s campaign and those of the top European riders like KTM’s Cyril Despres (FRA) and Marc Coma(ESP). Street’s overall budget for this one race was in the $100,000 range while those of Despres and Coma are over 10 times that amount. Financially speaking it’s David vs. Goliath. Also, the amount of time, preparation and testing the others are able to commit are a year round effort while Street’s deal to race the Dakar only commenced around the middle of October.
On stage 10 tomorrow, which will cross over the Andes Mountain range back into Argentina and reach an altitude of more the 16,000’, Street will be required to start in the first position. That means he will likely lead the many of the rally’s top contenders into the treacherous sand dunes. While Street is very comfortable in this section, where he also lead the rally in 2009, it is generally viewed as an undesirable spot to be in beginning this particular stage. And Street knows this.
“I know those dunes over there are really steep and short and lots of vegetation so I’m sure they’ll catch me and that’s just part of being the leader in the dunes and that it’s very tough to lead and find the compass heading and go. But I’m going to”
Stay tuned to RDC for continuing coverage from on the ground in Argentina and Chile.
Video interview with Jonah Street.