Nancy Knapp Schilke, Dakar Correspondent
Coma takes Bike lead, Lafuente keeps Quad lead and de Rooy grabs top of Truck leaderboard
Yesterday, no one would have placed their bets that Nasser Al-Attiyah would make the comeback that he did by taking the second stage win in the Car category, let alone by a wide margin. After his Hummer H3 had an oil pressure problem and he had to wait for teammate and team owner Robby Gordon to tow him across the finish line in the short 57 km first stage, his charge today was a surprise. The problem yesterday left him nearly 10 minutes behind the leading MINI and in 12th place on the leaderboard, but this is The Dakar where legends are made. The defending 2011 champion knows that and today he laid all his chips on the line in the 290km for the second stage of the 2012 edition.
Said Al-Attiyah, “I said we had to show that we were still here!”
While early reports had many confirming Stephane Peterhansel taking his first stage win this year, one needs to be patient as the Car class has two groups; those who are running the manufacture designed and developed factory racing machines and the open group of the independent teams. Peterhansel is still with BMW and X-raid but this year he is behind the wheel of the new MINI so basically contesting this year’s Dakar in a new vehicle. Yet is the same for Al-Attiyah who took his Dakar victory in 2011 with the former Volkswagen team and for the 2012 rally raid, he is behind the wheel of a car he has not raced before as the driver of one of Robby Gordon’s Hummer H3s.
We must be more clever.
“We started in 38th position and we passed a lot of cars. We broke the window and it was very, difficult because we took a lot of time to pass many cars. But I said we just had to keep a good strategy and had to show that we are still here. I don't know how much time we took, but I hope we have a good time tomorrow. We must be more clever,” said Al-Attiyah.
Peterhansel understands that the Hummers are a threat for the overall victory and he also waited it out but no doubt was just as shocked as others were when Al-Attiyah stormed across the finish line with a gap of 54 seconds over Peterhansel’s time. Still the three time Dakar Car class winner holds the overall lead by 2 minutes and 28 seconds but the Qatari took a major jump up the leaderboard into sixth overall.
“The start of the special was fast, so it wasn't possible to steal a march on any of the other drivers, but we felt better at the end when it started to bump around a bit and get trickier around the dunes. We managed to gain some time back on Holowczyc, but especially we had fun at the end,” said Peterhansel after he finished the second stage.
Third in today’s third stage was Robby Gordon, proving that the 4x4s were well suited for today’s challenge. Gordon moved up to second overall followed by Krzysztof Holowczyc in another of the MINIs and Giniel De Villiers is fourth in his new Toyota ride. Obviously the top drivers in the world can drive the wheels off of any type of racing machine in off-road and rally raid events; no matter the country or terrain. The Car class appears to be wide open after the first two stages of the 2012 Argentina-Chile-Peru endurance contest.
“It was a good run for our Hummer, the speed of the car ran good. The tyres were good but I clobbered one rock following De Villers and got a puncture. So without the puncture I think we could have won,” said Gordon. “But the most important thing is that we kept the car on the race track all the time and that we haven't had any issues – we've been cruising very comfortably the whole time.”
It really was not a surprise to note that Marc Coma took command in the Bike class; especially in the second stage as the competitors left Santa Rosa to San Rafael as they remain in Argentina. The KTM rider sailed into the second stage victory and taking the overall lead. Second belonged to the Spaniards teammate, Cyril Despres. Stage one winner, Francisco Lopez ended fourth today on his Aprilla behind Joan Barreda Bort on a Husqvarna. The riders (Bike and Quad) covered 295km in their special second stage and after yesterday’s close times with just seconds separately the top of the field, today the gaps are now starting to show in minutes and this is only the second of 14 stages in this year’s Dakar.
“The start of the special was very fast today. Chaleco [Lopez] and me were riding at top speed and let me tell you, the Aprilia is very, very quick,” Coma said. “After that, we arrived at the second part of the special with sand and dunes. It was a lot more technical, with some navigation to do as well. I took the lead and kept riding at a good pace. I'm happy because I didn't get lost. So, it's been a good day for me!”
Coma is laying down the mark to beat as he aims for his fourth Dakar victory and today’s 17th Dakar career stage win definitely helps his cause. His lead over Lopez is 2 minutes and 30 seconds; the Chilean has an edge of 22 seconds over Despres.
Lopez explained his GPS problem but he know it is a long way to the end. He said, “I opened the road until the 240 km point, with Marc following me, but then when we got to the dunes, he overtook me. I found it a bit difficult to follow, because I had a problem with my GPS aerial and I'm also quite tired. But these first two days of racing were important for me, to see how I am physically. I'm happy to have reached the finishing line. For the moment, I'm not thinking about the general standings, but I think there was a lot to lose today, because the special was very long and tricky.”
Sergio Lafuente repeated his first-ever Dakar stage win by scoring the fastest time to pocket two Quad class special stage victories in the 2012 Dakar. The Uruguayan had several challenges today including the difficulty of the 295km special and no doubt the top runners are paying attention. The 2011 Quad winner, Alejandro Patronelli is now 6 ½ minutes behind in second. Nearly 10 minutes off the pace in third is Tomas Maffei. Just a few seconds out of third overall is two-time Dakar champion Marcos Patronelli but the Yamaha riders need to watch their backside. The youngest ever Dakar competitor is not far off their pace. Argentinean Lucas Bonetto rides a Honda in his Dakar!
The Truck winner today was in his own team’s Iveco! It was a great day for Gerard de Rooy as it was his first win in the Dakar in three years. The Dutchman said, “I think the beginning was the same for everyone at the same speed. I couldn't close the gap even full at 150 kmph. The dunes were good and in the wet I think I made a difference. I passed a Man truck there. The last part was also good for me.”
Adding to the Team de Rooy was Hans Stacey who placed third. However the Kamaz young stars are on the move with Eduard Nikolaev placing second and Ayrat Mardeev was fourth. Not far off the pace was Ales Loprais for Tatra. Today’s stage finish makes up the order of the Truck category overall. De Rooy has a five ½ minute lead to Nikolaev who is just 19 seconds ahead of Stacey.