Mikko Jalonen, Dakar correspondent
Cyril Despres wins stage 3 and takes the bikes lead after Marc Coma makes a navigation error. Meanwhile Joan (Nani) Roma wins the stage and another Mini driver, Krzysztof Holowczyc takes the car lead.
Today's special stage between San Rafael and San Juan for Day 3 of the 2012 Dakar Rally was said to be a tough challenge to the riders and drivers. This 208 kilometer stage for cars and trucks and 270 kilometer stage for bikes and quads featured a lot of rocks, altitude changes and demanding challenges of navigation. In the cars category it was the Spaniard Joan (Nani) Roma in a Mini to take the stage honors with the time of 2 hours 26 minutes and 51 seconds in front of the another All4Racing Mini and the new overall leader, Krzysztof Holowczyc. At the end of the stage, Roma was happy with his driving which lifted him from fifth to fourth overall and allowed him to catch some of the lost time in the first special stage.
Nani Roma: "We'll have to wait for the other cars to arrive, but for the moment, it's good and we are happy about it. We drove really well with Michel, without making any mistakes, but we were fortunate to set off later on, follow the tyre tracks and see where to brake. But all in all, it's more important for us that we drove really well, rather than the stage victory."
Second in the stage today was Holowczyc who, just like Roma, didn't made any big errors on today's demanding special and had a very steady stage being close to the top at every checkpoint. In the end, Orlen Mini All4Racing driver Holowczyc lost the stage win to Roma just by 1 minute and 9 seconds. After the stage Holowczyc was more excited to lead the whole Dakar Rally than about a good performance at today's stage.
Krzysztof Holowczyc: "It was good, actually very good! I believed this day would come. I've waited a couple of years this day. Along the way there has been failures and moments of doubt and some people just smiled when I told about my goal to win the Dakar. Now, I did the first major step for that direction. Thanks to all those which has been supporting me all the time! The finish line is still very far and a lot can still happen but I'm so glad all the time!"
Third fastest today was the defending Dakar Rally winner, Nasser Al-Attiyah. The Qatari had a very bad start to the rally due to oil pressure problem which he suffered at the first special stage and has been driving furiously ever since. Al-Attiyah was once more in an excellent form despite starting the stage first on the road and probably making a few navigation errors during the stage. The Hummer driver lost 1 minute and 29 seconds to Roma today but is closing up fast the top three at the overall standings. Al Attiyah is now sixth overall 6 minutes and 34 seconds behind the overall leader, Holowczyc.
One of the key moments of today's special stage was the unexpected punctures and the drop of the main favorite Mini driver, Stephane Peterhansel. The former Dakar winner looked to set a very competitive time after earning the fastest split at the first two checkpoints and being ahead of Al Attiyah at the third, but suffered two punctures during the last 50 kilometers of the stage. This dropped Peterhansel from the overall lead into fifth overall, two minutes and 41 seconds behind the leader.
The Silk Way Rally winner, Holowczyc now leads the Dakar Rally in the car category with the slight margin of 54 seconds in front of the Speed Energy Racing Hummer H3 of Robby Gordon. Gordon was fifth fastest at today's special. Third overall is the Imperial Toyota driver and the 2009 Dakar winner, Giniel De Villiers just 1 minute and 40 seconds in behind the leader.
In the bike category today's stage win went to KTM ace Cyril Despres who now takes the overall lead of the bike category after the previous leader and title defender Marc Coma, also using a KTM 450cc bike, went straight at the junction between the routes dedicated to the bikes/quads and the cars/trucks. At the 164 kilometer point of the stage while going neck and neck with Despres for the stage win, Coma made the crucial wrong choice and was racing the car/truck route for more than 4 kilometers before realizing his mistake and turning back to the real route. Despite very hard pushing and effort to make up the lost time, his detour cost him 13 minutes and 4 seconds compared to his rival Despres. At the overall standings Despres now has a big lead but at the end of the stage wasn't too happy to hear what has happened.
Cyril Despres: "It was a very complicated special stage for me! It didn't start well this morning, because when I hit a hole, I ripped off a fingernail on the clutch. 60 km later, my compass repeater stopped. We reached the mountains and I wanted to keep the same pace, because I knew that Marc was riding very fast in front of me, but when we got to a stream, I must have slowed the pace when I had to check my GPS. To cap it all, I broke my rear brake on the big climb, so the descent was very tricky, but I made sure I was careful. Over the last 50 kilometres, I couldn't see many tyre tracks, so I wasn't sure that Marc was up ahead. In the end, I finished first and I've been told that he chose the wrong track so that's going to be to my advantage. It's good for my position, even if I'm never happy about other people's setbacks."
Well, in the end, I've lost 13 minutes. It's a lot, but when you make a mistake, you shouldn't be surprised that the gaps open up.
Marc Coma was obviously a disappointed man: "After 170 km, there was a different track for the bikes and the cars. I checked the road-book and thought I was on the right track, but then I saw that wasn't the case, because the next note was after 8 km and it wasn't correct, so I turned round! 16 km is a lot! So, after that, I went on the attack to tray and gain back some time, but today was a difficult day, even if the scenery was spectacular... Well, in the end, I've lost 13 minutes. It's a lot, but when you make a mistake, you shouldn't be surprised that the gaps open up. That's racing for you. Yesterday was my day, but today definitely wasn't!"
Second fastest at today's special was Frans Verhoeven riding the Sherco SR450 as last year. Verhoeven rode well today and despite losing 8 minutes and 37 seconds to the stage winner, Verhoeven got back a lot of lost time which he was suffering at the first few stages and climbed up in the overall standings. At the overall race through, Verhoeven is not yet a threat to the top three and is now 13th overall about 30 minutes behind the leader, Despres. Before the Dakar a lot was talked about Sherco's reliability and despite intensive tests which made the bike more reliable it looks like that just as last year its a very fast bike but a slightly unreliable.
Third fastest in bikes today at the 270km special stage was the Portuguese driver, Paulo Concalves. Concalves, who is often found from the top battles just like Verhoeven, has had his problems already and before today's stage was well out from the fight of the overall lead. Today was a good stage, where he lost 8 minutes and 39 seconds to Despres but was lifted from 22nd overall to 7th just 26 minutes behind Despres and 10 minutes behind the third placed Yamaha rider, David Casteu.
One of the main stories today was two very big retirements as the Polish KTM 450cc replica rider Jakub Przygonsky, whose engine blew after 68 km while 4th overall after two days of action. The second big retirement in the bike category was the American Honda rider Alexis Quinn Cody , who had a very heavy fall at the 173 kilometer mark of the special stage. After the fall, Quinn Cody tried to continue but after stopping and showing the damage to the medical crew the decision was made to pull him out from the race and flew him to the medical center via helicopter. Later it was discovered that he had broken his collar bone at the crash.
At the bikes Despres now leads the race by 10 minutes and 12 seconds ahead of his closest rival, Marc Coma while the another Frenchman, the Yamaha rider David Casteu, is third already 17 minutes and 16 seconds behind the leader. So far it looks like Casteu's switch from Sherco to Yamaha this year has been good and it only remains to be seen if the KTM duo can be beaten.
In the trucks the fierce battle between Gerard De Rooy's Iveco team and Team Astana Kamaz seems to be the norm. It was the Iveco's which got the better hand in the stage when the crew of the ex. Rally Ace, Miki Biasion took the win by 1 minute and 9 seconds in front of the Kamaz crew of Artur Ardavichus, which now leads the race overall after De Rooy didn't have the best of days and finished 7th overall, almost 8 minutes behind the fastest time. For the 1988 and 1989 World Rally Champion while behind the wheel of the Lancia Delta Integrale, the stage win was the first one of his Dakar career. After the stage Biasion was very tired.
Miki Biasion: "We didn't have any problems today, only the dust from the trucks in front of us, but even so we drove really well and didn't get any punctures, so that's good. But it was really hot, especially on such a technical route. It really was a very, very tiring day."
Third today 2 minutes and 19 seconds slower than Biasion was another Kamaz crew, driven by the Russian Andrey Karginov.
At the overall standings, Kamaz was able to steal the overall race lead from the De Rooy team. Yet, Ardavichus with Kamaz now leads the race by only 8 seconds in front of the Iveco crew of Gerald De Rooy. Third in standings is Miki Biasion's crew just 1 minute and 51 seconds behind the leader. For many years, the trucks haven't been as tight as they are now, which promises a great race and battle to the end.
For the quads, the Patronelli brothers now lead the overall race as the early leader, Uruguan Sergio La Fuente lost more than an hour today and dropped to 7th overall, 52 minutes behind the Patronellis. This meant that the defending champion, Alejandro Patronelli now leads the Dakar in quads by 55 seconds in front of his brother, Marcos Patronelli. Third overall is Tomas Maffei, also from Argentina using also a Yamaha, just like the Patronellis. Maffei is 2 minutes and 41 seconds behind at the overall standings.
Tomorrow's stage will take place between San Juan and Chilecito with the 750km in total and 326km being the length of the special stage.