After the first 9 stages of the rally and over a week on the rally, the remaining competitors of the Telefonica Dakar 2005 enjoyed a well deserved rest. Time to have a shower, work on the car, check out the overall position and start thinking of the upcoming stages...
Mauritania is usually known for its desert landscapes and hot sun. Well desert and sand is certainly what the competitors of the 27th edition of the race got in the second African country crossed. On the other hand, the weather conditions were not quite what many were expecting. Sand it was but not only on the ground and concerning the sun, well it was nowhere to be found (especially during the Zouerat-Tichit stage that should be remembered for a long time). In his thirteenth year in the rally organisation, never had race director Patrick Zaniroli witnessed such horrible conditions. A grey (or rather brownish) sky, sand winds and bad visibility made the rally "30% harder than planned" according to Zaniroli. And to add to that, the 276 remaining competitors in Atar (129 bikes, 99 cars, 48 trucks) had their share of rain while enjoying the rest day.
At the same time (around 13h00), Fabrizio Meoni (KTM) discovered that he was once again overall leader of the bike race. Just before going to bed, the Italian had been told that he was given a 10' penalty (5' + 5') based on the XTE GPS corridor rule. The next afternoon, the penalty had been reduced to 2' (1' + 1') as the officials had considered that there had been no intention of cheating. Meoni now leads the rally with a 55" advantage on Despres and 2'51" on Coma. The bike race remains absolutely fascinating with the seven leading riders in a 15' gap which obviously means that nothing is yet decided for the final podium in Dakar. The KTM bikers on the same machine are having problems to make a difference and remain bunched while David Frétigné (7th overall) on his lighter Yamaha is proving to be just as competitive. The enduro World champion has not only won three specials but is also showing that when it comes to the long desert and dune stages, he's still around...
Meanwhile, in the 'first time' standings, American duo Blais and Walch (10th and 12th overall) are promising prospects for the next editions. In the marathon category, Frenchman David Casteu (16th overall) has the lead while Amparo Ausina (114th overall) heads the women's standings in front of courageous Ludivine Puy (123rd and ... only 21 years of age).
The first part of the rally in the car category saw the fast stage drivers dominate the European and Moroccan stages, with McRae (NIS) and Gordon (VW) sharing the first four special victories. But the Scotsman was forced to withdraw during stage 6 to Zouerat after a crash while newcomer Gordon also went for a roll but was able to carry on however bidding farewell to a good overall position.
Time then for the Mitsubishi armada and the more experienced competitors to take over the leading positions in the heart of the rally: Mauritania. After getting rid of a bad cold, Stephane Peterhansel posted two consecutive stage wins including an outstanding performance in the toughest special to Tichit and over 25' on Al Attiyah (BMW) second on the day. 'Peter' then let his team mate Luc Alphand capture the following stage to Atar. The third Mitsubishi Pajero Evo 3 driver, Hiroshi Masuoka is however no longer in the race for final victory after losing 3 hours during stage 6 due to mechanical problems. The Japanese is now a "very very fast" assistance for the leading Mitsus.
A question now remains in the car race: who can worry the Mitsubishi duo? Well, one would have thought that in Barcelona, Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser in his buggy had a car to compete with the very best. A rear wheel problem before CP1 of stage 7 forced the two-time Dakar winner to quit the race. What about Ari Vatanen? Damage on the transmission box of his Nissan Pickup meant that the Flying Finn lost close to 8 hours on his way to Zouerat... Third overall, Jutta Kleinschmidt looks now like the most serious rival. In her Volkswagen Race Touareg, the German is only 40' adrift. In the other race standings, the T1 class lost both Jean-Pierre Strugo and World champion Isabelle Patissier, and is currently led by the Toyota diesel of Asaga (19th overall) with Pascal Thomasse, (31st) leading the fuel class category. Concerning the first timers, Daniel Locatelli is the best placed (26th overall) ahead of the 18 other newcomers.
The truck race lost its strongest contender for final victory on the road to Tichit. Indeed Vladimir Tchaguine (KAM), a winner of three stages so far, had to wait for fuel assistance in the Mauritanian desert and dramatically lost all hopes of a fifth crown. But Kamaz still have control of the race with Kabirov in top spot with a 1h41' advantage on Bekx.
After a series of mishaps, the Gauloises De Rooy trucks are 9th and 15th overall and have been forced to limit their ambitions to special victories and three trucks on the finish line in Dakar.
The race is stil long and the upcoming two stages promise to be very difficult and as Patrick Zaniroli insists: with the tough weather conditions expected until Mali, the rally could again be 30% harder...
Cyril Despres (Gauloises KTM) 2nd overall (at 0'55)
Although we are half way through the rallye I have the sentiment we haven't really done much. The first special in Morocco was cancelled for the bikes and then the special from Tichit to Tidjikja was cancelled for everyone. It is one of the reasons why we are all so tightly grouped. On the positive side -- even though it is early days yet -- I am in a good position overall. More important still I haven't made any mistakes, haven't hurt myself and am feeling good on my bike -- which is performing perfectly. Right now I am using the rest day to do just that -- rest, have a massage and generally prepare myself for what is to come.
Fabrizio Meoni (Gauloises KTM) 1st overall
Even before receiving the 2 minute penalty I wasn't at all happy about the new navigation system. When I arrived at the bivouac yesterday and unaware of any penalties I still went to see Etienne Lavigne and Patrick Zaniroli to tell them what I thought of the new rules. The thing I don't understand is all year they said there would be more navigation. In reality, with the new system, you have to stay within a 6 km 'corridor' with the GPS telling you where you are all the time.
Alfie Cox (Gauloises KTM) 4th overall (at 4'23)
I'm pretty happy with my current position and how everything has gone so far. I haven't had any big crashes, the bike is running well and I am still in the hunt. Everybody is saying that the 2 stages after the rest day are going to be particularly hard, but we have heard that in the past so I will be taking each day at a time.
Jean Brucy (Gauloises KTM) 15th overall (at 1.59'07)
I put in an appeal asking the FIM (the governing body for the motorcycle race) to take as the result of the Zouerat -- Tichit special the positions at CP2, as after that many riders, myself included, ran out of petrol and lost a lot of time. Finally today they have refused the appeal and I have to say that I am very disappointed with their decision. While I am the water carrier for the Gauloises KTM, and know that I might have to sacrifice myself at any moment for the other members of my team, I am still in the race. To find myself so far behind for any reason other than helping my team mates is very difficult to accept.
Eric Verhoef (Gauloises KTM) 29th overall (at 5.44'06)
I had the same problem as Jean (Brucy) and supported his appeal. Obviously I am disappointed by the motorcycle jury's decision but now all I can do is accept it and keep on racing. But it isn't going to be easy.
Yvo Kastan (KTM Gauloises) 20th overall
Alain Duclos (Team Gauloises Toni Togo) 39th overall
Stephane Henrard (Gauloises VW Buggy)
We have a small 1.9 TDI engine and a very limited structure. I can't go flat out like the factory teams and have my car rebuilt every night, so my tactic from the start has been to take it easy, make a minimum of mistakes and move slowly up the leader board. So far it is a tactic that has paid off, and while I don't wish for anybody ahead me to be forced out, I will continue to race as I have been up until now with the hope that it will pay off. The good news today is that my T4 assistance truck has turned up with my spare gearbox, that will be fitted ready for tomorrow's stage.
Simon Jean Joseph (Team Gauloises Groine)
After getting towed into Tichit we thought our race was over, but then at 8 in the morning the day after the cancelled Tichit -- Tidjikja special a spare transfer box turned up. Myself and a mechanic fitted it in 1.5 hours and then we charged off to Tidjikja to try and get to the start of the special from Tidjikja to Atar. Despite driving flat out we arrived 15 minutes after the start had closed, effectively putting us out of the race. After that we had no choice but to drive another 1100 kms by road and arrived here in Atar at 1 o'clock this morning. In the end we drove 1400 kilometres for nothing! I'm really disappointed because, even if it would have been impossible to have finished anywhere near the T1 podium, I would have liked to have been able carry on and gain as much experience as possible.
Jacky Loomans (Team Gauloises Bowler) 13th overall
Josep Maria Servia (Team Gauloises Schlesser) 47th overall
Syndieli Wade (Team Gauloises Nissan) 59th overall
Jan De Rooy (Team Gauloises DAF) 9th overall
Gerard De Rooy (Team Gauloises DAF) 15th overall