PETERHANSEL AND COTTRET CLAIM FIRST STAGE WIN FOR MONSTER ENERGY X-RAID TEAM INTO IQUIQUE
- Peterhansel and Goncalves earn car and bike double win for BMW
- Frenchman Chicherit loses valuable time in new Mini All4 Racing
- Holowczyc and Terranova maintain pressure with 6th and 7th times
- Russian Novitskiy breaks his hand and is forced out of rally
- Spain's Carlos Sainz continues to lead Dakar Rally after five stages
IQUIQUE (Chile): The Monster Energy X-raid team crew of Stephane Peterhansel and Jean- Paul Cottret claimed their first stage victory of the 2011 Dakar Rally on the fifth special stage in the Atacama desert between Calama and Iquique on the Pacific coast, in the north of Chile, on Thursday.
The French duo were involved in a frantic tussle with Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah throughout the 423km desert special and Peterhansel's victory reduced Carlos Sainz's grip on the overall race lead to 2m 26s. The stage success marked a unique double for the BMW manufacturer, with Peterhansel's win in the BMW X3 CC coming on the back of a superb stage win for Portugal's Paulo Goncalves in the motorcycle category on his BMW G 450 RR. To make the day doubly sweet, Peterhansel regained second place in the general classification.
"It was not an easy stage at all for the first one in the desert," said Peterhansel. "There were many broken tracks, sand, fesh-fesh and tricky navigation. We managed to overtake Nasser and Carlos at the same time near the start when they made a mistake.
"Then we made a mistake, we were in the dust of Carlos, I had a puncture and we touched a rock. Then I pushed again towards the end and caught both cars just before the dunes. We have seen now that three drivers are quicker than the others. My car is perfect, but it will not be easy to be first on the road on the next stage. Sometimes it can be good. We will see."
The Monster Energy-backed Mini All4 Racing crew of Guerlain Chicherit and Michel Perin had been in excellent form through the early kilometres of the day's stage and were running as high as a virtual third position before they left the road and were forced to wait for Ricardo Leal Dos Santos to tow them back on to the track. The French duo lost over 30 minutes and eventually finished the special in 10th place and now hold 11th in the general classification.
Russia's Leonid Novitskiy and German co-driver Andreas Schulz began the day ninth on the road and were classified in 14th and 11th through the first two passage controls. But the Russian injured his wrist soon afterwards, after trapping his arm in the steering wheel, and returned to PC2 to be examined by race doctors.
Schulz took over driving duties and the Russian was in-line for a hefty penalty in the Iquique bivouac on Thursday evening, but an examination outlined a double break in the Russian's left hand and he was forced to retire from the rally.
"Never have I ever retired from a Dakar under such circumstances," said a disappointed two-time winner Schulz. "We were running really well and then we came across this hole which was not in the road book. Everything seemed fine, but Leonid said that he had a problem with his hand and could not carry on. It is so frustrating."
"It has been a mixed day with some positive and negatives," said team director Sven Quandt. "We had the stage win and it was fantastic with the bike victory for BMW as well. Stephane (Peterhansel) came very close to winning the stage yesterday and he had quite a good lead at one point today. There are downsides from today though. Stephan (Schott) had a broken suspension arm, Leonid (Novitskiy) hurt his hand quite badly and we had a delay for Guerlain in the Mini."
Krzysztof Holowczyc and Jean-Marc Fortin were classified fifth through the first, second and third passage controls and completed the special in sixth position to maintain fifth overall.
"Everything was going perfectly through the passage controls but then, for no reason, Krzysztof's door came open and he could not close it," said co-driver Fortin. "I suggested we stopped for two minutes to tie-wrap it together, but he decided to continue holding the door at the same time as driving through the sand dunes and we lost 15 minutes when we got stuck."
Orlando Terranova and Filipe Palmeiro began the stage sixth on the road and held eighth at PC1. They completed the test in seventh position. "We are here, but it was a very frustrating day," said Terranova. "We went left, right, left again, and we lost quite a bit of time."
Portugal's Ricardo Leal Dos Santos and Paulo Fiщza stopped to assist Chicherit and lost valuable minutes before the first passage control. They passed the control boards in 10th position and went on to finish the special in 12th overall.
Gemany's Stephan Schott and Holm Schmidt began the special in 20th on the road and 27th overall, but they damaged a suspension A-arm before the first passage control and were forced to wait for the MAN assistance truck, driven by Germany's Andrea Mayer. Schott held 88th on the stage at PC1.
Mayer is accompanied in the truck by Thomas Baumann and Phillip Beier and is offering crucial support to the entire X-raid team. Mayer overcame troubles earlier in the route in Argentina and stopped to support X-raid's stricken Kamaz truck on a couple of occasions. The crew were classified 54th in the truck category at the start of the stage into Iquique and were running 45th on the road.
Today's stage started at over 3,200 metres above sea level and descended to under 1,000 metres at PC1 (202km) before climbing again through an area of sand at the finish to around 1,200 metres. Stony ground was prevalent in the early kilometres and this gave way to soil and sand as the special progressed.
American Robbie Gordon was confirmed as the first major retirement of the event on the run into Calama and it was Peterhansel who made his move and had edged into a lead of over one minute by the third waypoint. He extended that advantage to 1m 19s on the descent through WP4, as Chicherit's pace lifted the Mini to virtual third on the stage.
Peterhansel was in flying form, had overtaken Al-Attiyah and began to extend his advantage as the stage progressed. He stormed into a 3m 45s virtual stage lead over Giniel de Villiers at the first passage control, but Chicherit was delayed. The Mini left the track and came to rest in a deep rut. The Frenchman has to wait for Ricardo Leal Dos Saantos to arrive and tow him back on to the special.
The leading BMW X3 CC passed PC2 (259km) 3m 39s in front of rally leader Sainz and had whittled the Spaniard's overall advantage down to just over a minute. Al-Attiyah regained a little time to the 10th waypoint and Peterhansel reached PC3 (323km) with a mere nine-second virtual stage lead.
But the Frenchman was not to be denied his first stage win of the 2011 Dakar and had pulled 57s clear of Al-Attiyah again by WP12. The Qatari reduced that advantage to 40s at WP13, but Peterhansel pushed again to take the stage win into the bivouac by the margin of 1m 24s.
Iquique is the capital of Chile's northernmost Tarapaca region, west of the Atacama desert and the Pampa del Tamarugal. Its duty-free commercial port and nearby copper mining facilities are its major commercial attractions, although it has been decimated by earthquake activity on several occasions in the past.
Tomorrow (Friday) teams tackle a 456km special stage between Iquique and Arica in the northernmost extremities of Chile. This is the last Chilean town before the border with Peru and the route includes numerous sand dunes and thick, choking dust or fesh-fesh (known as guadal in South America).