Dakar: Preparing the final battle

Monday January 13th Rest day (Siwa) Some are enjoying a good book, some are listening to music, but all are working on the vehicles. Welcome to Egypt and long live the Dakar rest day! After the first 11 days on the Telefonica Dakar 2003, all ...

Monday January 13th
Rest day (Siwa)

Some are enjoying a good book, some are listening to music, but all are working on the vehicles. Welcome to Egypt and long live the Dakar rest day! After the first 11 days on the Telefonica Dakar 2003, all the competitors...including those blocked at the border after yesterday's incident, are taking a well deserved rest on the bivouac. On Tuesday, the battle resumes in all categories. In the car race, the final sprint to Sharm El Sheikh promises to be fascinating with in the leading roles, Peterhansel and Masuoka. On two wheels, Meoni will try and continue his heroic comeback on Sainct while in the trucks all remains extremely open between the De Rooys, Tchaguine and De Azevedo.

Postcard from Siwa.
Photo by Nissan Europe.

Twelve days after the start of the rally in Marseille and six before the finish line in Sharm El Sheikh, 109 bikes, 70 cars and 32 trucks remain in the race. Quite a performance on behalf of the bikers with 63% of the competitors left after 162 bikes started the rally. 53% of the cars (70 left of the 130) are still present despite a lot of mechanical and navigational upsets while 32 trucks out of the 51 on the start line still keep hope alive to make it to the end.

"The remaining part of the rally promises to be superb. Anything can still happen", insisted Competition director, Hubert Auriol, in his traditional rest day press conference. "The battle will be fantastic in the car race and it's far from finished in the bikes."

Indeed, the 25th edition of the rally is one of the most exciting ever with extremely small gaps between the leaders and still 3264kms left in the race. In the bike competition, the gap between Sainct (KTM - n.3) first and Despres (KTM - n.7) second is of 12min47 but what is really of interest is the time difference with third man Fabrizio Meoni (KTM - n.1). Between the Italian and the Frenchman: over 28 minutes, but does that mean the race is over for the two-time Dakar winner? Certainly not... Based on his recent performance between Sarir and Siwa, finishing first 9min33 ahead of Sainct, Meoni's 'impossible task' has slightly changed.

"It all depends on the course", admitted the Tuscan. If the stages are fast, Meoni's twin-cylinder KTM has the upper hand on Sainct's 700cc bike. Adding to that, a mechanical incident, like Meoni's, can well hit Sainct.

"Maybe he can do it. It's going to be tough for him because Sainct is a very clever guy", was Swede PG Lundmark's (KTM - n.16) point of view on the 'battle royal' on two wheels. 5th overall, Jean De Azevedo (KTM - n.25) leads the Production, Marathon and Amateur standings.

A fierce battle is also what the last week in the car race should be. A face-to-face between current leader Stephane Peterhansel (Mitsubishi - n.206) and team mate Hiroshi Masuoka (n.200), 16min32 adrift. After claiming six titles on a bike, the Frenchman is in good position to become, after Hubert Auriol, the second in Dakar history to win in two different categories.

"Every second won is important on the way to a possible victory."

Masuoka will certainly do all he possibly can to clinch a second consecutive win: "I believe I can beat Peterhansel on any kind of terrain."

Behind the two Evos, the quest for a place on the podium is wide open. For the moment De Mevius (BMW - n.205) has the uper hand and will be counting on the help of team mate Luc Alphand.

"It's great to have him helping me out. He works well. Now, we're going to do our best to keep our position until the finish", explained the Belgian driver.

37min13 behind De Mevius is a very hungry Jean-Pierre Fontenay (n.202) followed by other Mitsubishi boys Biasion (n.207) and Sousa (n.211). One however that can forget about 3rd place in Sharm El Sheikh is Jutta Kleinschmidt (n.203). After a splendid first part of the race on her brand new Volkswagen easing up to fourth place, she made it back to the bivouac behind an assistance truck during yesterday's stage. The German even had to wait until the morning to finish the stage after the mine incident concerning a truck at the Lybia-Egypt border.

"Of course it's a pity because we were close to the podium. We'll try to get back in the top ten in the next days" admitted Kleinschmidt, now 11th, 6h08min behind.

The smallest gaps concern the trucks. First is Gerardus De Rooy (DAF - n.414) whose only ambition when starting the race was to make it to Sharm EL Sheikh. "That was an open answer. So it can be first or fifth or seventh of the race. I'm starting to think about the possibilty to win the Dakar. But it's going to be hard."

Difficult indeed with experienced Vladimir Tchaguine just 4min52 adrift. The young Dutchman remains rather optimistic: "We looked at the road book, the stages to come have a lot of sand so that's pretty good for us. I hope there will be two De Rooys on the podium."

-aso-

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Series DAKAR