American energy proved unbeatable as Dakar competitors faced the fearsome Fiambala stage today, with Red Bull KTM’s Kurt Caselli and Speed Energy Hummer’s Robby Gordon taking wins in their respective classes as flash flooding shortened the day’s action.
As though the changing terrain of Day 11’s La Rioja-Fiambala route didn’t already make it one of the toughest on the Rally, the skies opened up over Argentina to soak the tracks and swell the rivers. The top bike riders, however, had left their bivouac any rain fell, and enjoyed the early morning dampness as it packed down the stretches of sand for an uncannily smooth first part of the stage. With the focus then being on navigation, Kurt Caselli was in his element and stormed to a second career win just days after his first. With those performances, the KTM substitute rider can hardly be considered a Dakar rookie any longer.
“It was perfect,” he said at the finish. “The dirt was wet so you could see fine and the weather was good, so it was a nice day.”
Right behind Caselli was Paulo Gonçalves, but this success will be of little concern to his Husqvarna team, whose hard-charging lead rider Joan Barreda crashed not far from the end, injuring his shoulder and putting the rest of their rally in question.
“I fell because of the mud and my dirty goggles,” Barreda explained. “I don't know what's wrong with my shoulder but it's really painful.”
“We'll have to see if I can carry on.”
But there was no change in the overall lead today, as Cyril Despres made sure of by coming in third. And though he retains his considerable advantage over nearest opponent Ruben Faria, the stages are by no means a walk in the park for the four-time winner.
“Fiambala really is a s**t-hole,” he explained. “There was a storm in the dunes and it started raining. It wasn't easy to navigate. We came across some streams full of mud and water, which brought back bad memories from last year. I don't know what today means in terms of results, but I'm just happy to be here without too many problems.”
In the general standings Francisco Lopez (fifth today after a navigational error) holds third, but barring accident or breakdown Despres is in position for the victory in just a four day’s time.
The Cars entries got no benefit from the wet weather, for when they set out in the afternoon rain was falling in torrents. After only a few hours under race conditions, the ASO deemed a pair of flooding, raging streams too dangerous to ford, and ended all timing as of the CP1 stage marker.
Going fastest at CP1 was Robby Gordon. Having so far endured a dreadful race, Gordon’s breakthrough success was a small reward for his entire Hummer effort and makes the NASCAR driver an eight-time Dakar stage winner.
SMG’s buggy pilot Ronan Chabot also made the most of the partial route for a career best second place. Lucio Alvarez powered his Toyota Hilux to third. Far at the head of the field overall, Stéphane Peterhansel leisurely picked his way through the obstacles to sixth but retains a lead of almost an hour over Giniel de Villiers. Like Despres in the Bikes, Peterhansel has his sights on a consecutive victory in his Mini, and now must simply run steadily to attain it.
“On every day that brings us closer to the finish,” he said. “It's important to finish them without making any big mistakes, so it gets us nearer to the podium.”
In the Trucks, former leader Gerard de Rooy won the Start-CP1 stage but gains little time towards the far-off Eduard Nikolaev. With Kamaz leading the race that made them famous, it will take a big push by the Iveco-driving Dutchman to change the predictable outcome.
A newcomer stepped up to the top of the Quads category podium today. Aussie Paul Smith wrestled his Honda in the mud to a solid four-minute triumph over Gaston Gonzales and Marcos Patronelli. Patronelli still leads by a hardly-conquerable margin, though, and is that group’s favorite for the 2013 win.
Tomorrow teams will continue their race back to the Pacific, returning to Chile and battling dirt, gravel, and sand on the way to Copiapó. It is a trying stage that will require the utmost concentration just to finish—else the work of twelve days of Dakar be lost just days from Santiago.