The longest special stage of the 2013 Dakar Rally so far and the first in Chile after five days in Peru was expected to see a shake-up among the front runners. A total of 767 kilometres including 454 of special stage racing presented the sternest test of the 151 bikes, 122 cars, 68 trucks and 31 quads still in the race (183 bikes, 153 cars, 75 trucks and 38 quads set out from the start in Lima, Peru, on January 5).
Al-Attiyah has been pushing race favourite Peterhansel as the Dakar Rally approaches the rest day in Tucuman, Argentina, on Sunday, some 5 300 kilometres into the 8 500- kilometre marathon. On Thursday he won his third special stage in four days and closed the gap to 10-times Dakar winner Peterhansel to just 1 min 18 sec. Peterhansel was second and Americans Robbie Gordon and Kellon Walch (Hummer) were third.
The gap to De Villiers and Von Zitzewitz in overall third has grown to 42 min 31 sec after the 2009 champions lost around 12 minutes on special stage six between Arica in Peru and Calama in Chile. They bogged down in soft sand as they stopped to avoid the stranded Mini of Spain’s Nani Roma and French co-driver Michel Perin, who had driven into a deep hole when De Villiers suddenly came upon them. Peterhansel was more fortunate, his Mini team-mate waving him away to avoid the sand trap.
“It was a frustrating incident and happened after we had been stuck behind Roma in his dust for some kilometres. We pushed hard afterwards to make up some of the lost time and are happy to have kept our third place in the race. There is still a long way to go. We will continue to race our race and do our best. It’s not about winning stages (Peterhansel has only won one), but all about maintaining a good pace each day and finishing without any major delay.”
Immediately ahead lies the marathon 806-kilometre challenge of stage seven on Friday from Calama in Chile to Salta in Argentina. The ascent of the Andes Mountains will be in the small hours, taking all the drivers and riders in convoy for a 534-kilometre liaison stage finishing at a record altitude of 4 975 metres above sea level, at the top of Argentina’s highest mountain pass. The temperature will drop to 15 degrees from highs of more than 40 in the opening days. The 220-kilometre special stage will be at altitudes fluctuating between 3 400 and 4 000 metres, but the speedometer will rarely go below 100 km/h.