Dakar: Petersen/White Lightning stage six report

Michael Petersen Moves to 21st Overall After Stage Six of Euromilhues Dakar 2007 Petersen/White Lightning 26th Quick in Special Tan Tan to Zouerat Stage ZOUERAT, Africa January 11, 2007 -- With the first six stages of the 15 stage, 7,708 ...

Michael Petersen Moves to 21st Overall After Stage Six of Euromilhues Dakar 2007

Petersen/White Lightning 26th Quick in Special Tan Tan to Zouerat Stage

ZOUERAT, Africa January 11, 2007 -- With the first six stages of the 15 stage, 7,708 km/4,790 mile Euromilhues Dakar 2007 complete, American Michael Petersen (Las Vegas, Nev., USA) sits 21st overall. The No. 351 MMPIE/PAWS/?.com/BF Goodrich Chevrolet T1.3 class buggy moved-up five spots in the overall rankings after finishing 33rd in today's special stage, the longest of the rally. The jump in the standings came despite a three minute penalty sustained for a rules infraction in today's 817 km/507.7 mile race from Tan Tan to Zouerat, Mauritania. Petersen and co-driver Matthew Stevenson (Ipswich, England) traversed the 394 km/244.82 mile special stage in three hours, 48 minutes and 44 seconds. That was just 49 minutes and 47 seconds behind the stage winner and multi- time Dakar participant Robby Gordon.

It has been a tough trial for the full contingent of Petersen/White Lightning teammates. While Petersen and Stevenson have fought the rough conditions and difficult navigation of the stages, program manager/entrant Dale White (Bozeman, MT., USA) has traveled a more direct but no less strenuous route in his No. 671 Toyota Land Cruiser overseeing the effort. White's main task for the '07 Dakar is to look-ahead and prepare for the 2008 and '09 programs that will fall under full Petersen/White Lightning preparation and organization.

The un-sung heroes of the program continue to be longtime team technicians Nico Castellaccio (Tracy, Calif.) and Dennis Chizma (Las Vegas). Along with their French driver from buggy-supplier Team SMG, the two Dakar rookies have faced long days traveling in support of the race buggy in their No. 891, three person, six-wheel T5 class truck. Like White, the No. 891 cannot leave the night's bivouac until all the official competitors; motorcycles, cars and trucks, have left. They must then chase the rally down a parallel path to today's bivouac, all the while being on call in case Petersen and Stevenson need assistance somewhere on the journey.

As there is no rest for the weary, once at the final stop for the day, Castellaccio and Chizma must prepare for the No. 351, then, once the buggy arrives in camp, begin the nightly repairs and preparation for the next day's stage. Even the routine itself stops being routine as desert sand storms can brew-up at any second forcing a quick action to protect equipment while continuing the work. The sand not only wreaks havoc on the preparation and replacement of parts as the duo hectically but precisely tends to that night's job list, but on the amount of time they can commit to the each task. On Wednesday night, the long list of repairs to overcome the day's daunting fifth stage was hampered by the driving sand forcing the use of goggles and masks. Even then, the two award- winning technicians were forced to seek shelter every ten to fifteens minutes to relieve the unending needle-like attacks of the sand and their skin, eyes and lungs. Once the night's actions were complete, the difficult working conditions left only one hour of rest prior to the morning wake-up call to head to Stage Six. This routine has played-out night-after- night putting a clear focus on the professional approach of Castellaccio and Chizma and the overall commitment to success by the whole Petersen/White Lightning organization.

Stage Six was the longest stage of the rally at just short of 820 km/508 miles. The terrain was the same sand, pebbles and undulating dunes that Petersen and Stevenson will face in tomorrow's seventh stage as well. Navigation was key, as was keeping the buggy in one piece, as they covered nearly 1,000km in total across the country of Mauritania. The 394 km/244.82 mile special stage was broken up by two liaisons; the first a long 414 km/257.25 mile trip to the start of the timed portion, the second a short, 9 km/5.59 mile sprint to the bivouac in Zouerat.

Still short of the mid-point of the event, Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing has spent 19 hours, 53 minutes and 57 seconds in the timed specials of the first six stages. That leaves them three hours, 33 minutes and 53 seconds behind the overall leader after six straight days of competition. The day brought six more entries to their knees. To date, a total of 37 cars have been officially withdrawn from the 177 that began the competition on January 6.

Tomorrow's seventh stage, the last day's activities before an Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.) scheduled "rest" day on Saturday, January 13, is a 580 km/360.4 mile test of the team and the buggy. The Zouerat to Atar stage is dangerous for more than its course. The Petersen/White Lightning team will have to keep focused on the day's activities rather than allow themselves visions of the oasis of the rest day that lies ahead. Two checkpoints dot the 542 km/336.78 mile special stage, both offering fuel. A myriad of surfaces again dot the course with the liaison/connections on pavement but the special stage strewn with a "track" ranging from pebbles to sand, to dunes to camel grass. At approximately the 305 km/189.5 mile marker Petersen will come across some of the largest dunes he has faced thus far. This will demand special attention to navigate through. Once clear, the battle is not done as he will have to pilot through mixed soil and sand to the end of the timed section. Upon conclusion of the special stage it is back on the pavement for the final 34 km/21.13 miles into Atar and the rest day.

-credit: Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Matthew Stevenson , Michael Petersen