When the news came out that Danilo Petrucci was leaving the MotoGP paddock, I expected to hear shortly afterwards that the two-time MotoGP race winner (Mugello 2019, Le Mans 2020) had signed for a WSBK team. But that news never came. Instead, we heard of his plans to compete in the Dakar Rally. Nice one. He certainly wouldn’t have been the first ex-MotoGP rider to enter the Dakar. But, after a few stages into the 2022 Dakar Rally, it looked as though Petrucci might just be the first ex-MotoGP rider to win one. And now he is.
I say that because right from the off, Petrucci has been seriously impressive at the 2022 Dakar Rally. Unfortunately, he won’t be anywhere in the overall standings, thanks to a mechanical DNF in stage two, but he’s kept going, and he’s absolutely flying.
The fact is, that he’s not just fast for a rookie; he’s fast full stop. He was fourth fastest when he broke down in stage two, he was leading at one point in stage four, and he has only gone and stuck it on the top of the podium in stage five this morning. Outstanding, old boy!
Out of nowhere, Danilo Petrucci is mixing it with Dakar legends; smoking previous winners like Toby Price, Sam Sunderland and Matthias Walkner. I can’t stress how impressive that is. It’s his first Dakar Rally. The bloke has never been a World Champion enduro rider or anything like that.
I’ve done some number crunching, and worked out that, at this point, had he not suffered the mechanical DNF in stage two (assuming he maintained the fourth position he was in at the time), he’d be ninth overall. That’s with the ten minute penalty he received in stage four (presumably for speeding in a neutral zone). Without the penalty, he’d be fifth right now.
Maybe it’s beginner’s luck. Or maybe he’s just really, really, really good on a bike. My money is on the latter. And if I were a betting man, I’d also bet money on the fact that Danilo Petrucci, before the 2022 Dakar is over, will bag another stage win. I’d also bet a few quid on him one day winning a Dakar outright. If he’s this fast as a newbie, imagine how good he’ll be with a few years’ experience under his belt.
I’ll be keeping a close eye on Petrucci for the rest of the ’22 Dakar Rally because I’m really excited to see what he can do. I’m just trying to ignore the fact that it’s almost certainly another person that’s going to beat Fagan and me when we make our Dakar debut in a year’s time.