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What ‘troubles’ star rookie Petrucci about the Dakar Rally

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
4 min read

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Two-time MotoGP race winner Danilo Petrucci had a successful Dakar Rally debut in the 2022 edition – but there are still aspects of the event that give him pause.

Competing in the marathon was a long-standing interest of Petrucci’s and was finally realised this year thanks to an offer from KTM, who hooked the Italian up with a ride as something of a consolation for him losing his Tech3 KTM MotoGP seat and dropping off the premier-class grid.

Jan 26 : Danilo Petrucci's Dakar adventure

Petrucci said in the lead-up that the danger involved in tackling the Dakar on a bike gave him pause, though – yet put that aside to embark on his maiden campaign in the now Saudi Arabia-based event and clinch a landmark maiden stage win.

Yet when asked during a special episode of The Race MotoGP Podcast whether his first participation in the Dakar had soothed his worries over the safety of the event, Petrucci was clear that it had not.

“I really had a lot of fun, it’s a lifetime experience, it’s like a pilgrimage. But accepting that it’s so risky, it’s one of the things that’s stopping me from doing it again properly – I have to really think about it,” said Petrucci, albeit having also made it obvious that he wished to return at some point.

“You forget, when you are safe at home, you forget how much risk you had, and especially when you see some accident and when you risk your life, it’s something that you don’t accept.

“It’s something that keeps me really really troubled, for the future. Because we spend a lot of time in MotoGP on safety measures, on safety rules, to be more acceptable.

“And for me, getting into this completely different race when sometimes you go in the opposite direction to a pickup – it happened to me, I found a farmer in the opposite direction where we were racing. Or crashing and maybe going behind a cliff and no one seeing you.

Petrucci Danilo

“It’s really one of the most incredible experiences of my life, but there is still a point at the bottom of the experience that I cannot really accept.”

The vast majority of the competitor fatalities in the history of the marathon had come in the bike class, and three motorcycle riders perished in the two editions that preceded Petrucci’s debut.

These were Edwin Straver, Pierre Cherpin and the experienced Paulo Goncalves, who passed away aged 48, 52 and 40 respectively.

“Sincerely I want to also be more involved, to try to be more safe during this sport – for all the effort we did in MotoGP, that it became a safer sport, I would like to improve also this sport [rally-raids] and be more safe, maybe change a bit the format of the race,” Petrucci said.

“But I am quite new and I need to get into these rules.”

Petrucci admitted he’d had the idea to pull out of the rally the day after his stage win, as it had left him ‘opening the road’ and he crashed immediately, sustaining a “really, really big” cut to his elbow, before subsequently getting lost – only for the stage to be suspended due to the “deterioration of the track” soon after his navigational mishap.

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Another testing moment came effectively after the finish, when Petrucci was riding on the road section to the ceremonial finish in Jeddah, having already completed the final timed stage.

“Going from Bisha, we had a 200km [initial] liaison, almost a 200km special stage, the last one, and then 300km to Jeddah,” he said of the final day of the rally.

“I crashed two corners to go, so really also the interviews post-stage, I was deeply, deeply hurting, my wrist and my knee were really really hurting. And I had the shoulder [injury after a fall] the day before.

“With the right shoulder, I couldn’t open the throttle, even if we were on the highway. And the road was so so dangerous.

“We went around Mecca, because I discovered that non-Muslim people cannot go in La Mecca, so we went into this valley, this mountain road, with just two lanes and some local trucks trying to pass the slower ones on the uphill, the same thing happening downhill… it was really really really dangerous, really dangerous.

“And that moment my only thought was – I wanted to jump into the plane with my bike. I wanted to arrive to Jeddah and go up inside the airplane, and leave the bike there and go away.”

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