Victory at Dakar becomes a mirage in the desert, and some of the race’s biggest names saw that mirage evaporate today in the sands between Nazca and Arequipa. Carlos Sainz, Robby Gordon, and Lucio Alvares all dropped out of the fight for the lead in Cars while Nasser Al-Attiyah won a second consecutive stage in the category and Joan Barreda launched himself back into the heat of the Bikes battle.
Qatar Red Bull’s Al-Attiyah started the day with the handicap of setting off first, and though he had to sweep the route for the other cars, a hard run in his buggy following bike tracks for the mostly-shared stage put him at the top of the time sheets.
"It was very difficult to open the road," he said." but we are so happy to finish today without any problems or mistakes."
Guerlain Chicherit in the SMG buggy followed him, proving the surprising capability of the rear-wheel drive machines. But neither performance could knock Stéphane Peterhansel out of the overall lead, while he again finished third on the day in his X-Raid Mini Countryman.
"We went over a dune," he later explained. "Idled into it just enough to tip us over the front, honestly, five miles an hour probably, it wasn't a big rollover. Except it put all the weight of the vehicle on the front, broke the windshield and flopped it on its roof."
"It's been a disappointing rally for us; we expected so much more."
The final major loss before nightfall in Arequipa was of Argentine Toyota driver Lucio Alvarez, who had held a solid third through reliability and consistent pace until a breakdown 17 miles in. His absence has promoted Leonid Novistkiy in the Mini to third, trailing Al-Attiyah and Peterhansel. Giniel de Villiers follows those on the provisional podium in his Toyota Hilux.
But the young Frenchman was rather subdued about this major achievement: "I don't want to get overexcited about my place in the overall, the rally's still long and my objective is to finish in the Top 10 every day, and I hope to continue doing this well until the end."
Pal-Anders Ullevaalseter plummeted to tenth overall with a poor showing today, while Honda’s leader Helder Rodrigues made up some time with a fifth-fastest stage run—but only enough to sit 16th on his new and somewhat disappointing Honda. Francisco Lopez dropped as well down to ninth, but can surely mount the same comeback as he already has once this race.
The Quads category was the only stable one today, delivering the usual result of Marcos Patronelli leading Sebastian Husseini. Their battle now extends by an hour over the nearest competitor.
The next stage will take the competitors into Chile and finally see a break from the rolling sand walls of Peru. As a result, rocks will become the greatest danger of the terrain, and the resulting punctures and breakdowns could severely thin out the field—not to mention the new navigational challenge of the countless parallel Andean valleys. The question is: will new combatants emerge from Peru’s trying sands?