Dakar: Repsol stage eight report

AFTER A COMPLICATED DAY, MARC COMA KEEPS THE LEADERSHIP IN THE OVERALL STANDINGS Despite finishing fifth fastest of he difficult navigation stage, the Repsol rider keeps the leadership with an advantage of more than 6 minutes over the second ...

AFTER A COMPLICATED DAY, MARC COMA KEEPS THE LEADERSHIP IN THE OVERALL STANDINGS

Despite finishing fifth fastest of he difficult navigation stage, the Repsol rider keeps the leadership with an advantage of more than 6 minutes over the second classified rider. Peterhansel, new leader in the car class and Roma, fourth, completes superb day for the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team

The Dakar moves on rapidly, and after eight race days, eight stages and almost 5,000 kms covered - more than half of the total route -, Marc Coma keeps the leadership in the overall standings. After the rocky tracks in Morocco, "The Wall" passage and the arid and inhospitable desert of Mauritania, the crews will enjoy tomorrow a rest day, which will be perfect to regain strength, heal wounds and recover machines. While the mechanics are right now intensively working at the bivouac, repairing and checking every piece for the stage on Monday, riders and drivers are trying to have some rest and to recover after intense eight race days.

To reach Nouakchott and to have the right to enjoy the rest day, participants have been forced to face today a very complicated stage, especially as regards navigation. A masked or hidden waypoint made things complicated for the fastest - especially in the motorbike class. Those who got lost trying to find the hidden point had to see how the others, who were coming from behind, made good use of it recovering considerable time and closing the gap the fastest had been managed to open along the 508 timed kilometres. Among those who were mostly harmed by this situation were Repsol riders Marc Coma, who lost something more than 8 minutes today, and Carlo de Gavardo, who lost 15 minutes. The victory went to Casteu, Blais was second and third Despres, who is still in the race despite the strong crash suffered some days ago when the Dakar entered Mauritania. Good performance today for young Jordi Viladoms, who finished ninth and problems for brave Giovanni Sala, who crashed, hurting a finger in his left hand. The Italian Repsol rider dislocated his finger and managed to reduce the dislocation all by himself during the stage. Australian Caldecott, with another good performance, finished sixth and keeps the same position in the overall standings. With Marc Coma in the lead, the next Repsol rider in the standings is Carlo De Gavardo, third overall, Giovanni Sala is fifth, Caldecott sixth and young Viladoms twenty-second.

Today's stage, the eight and last stage before the rest day, covered a total of 568 kms, starting in Atar and arriving at the bivouac in the Mauritanian capital of Nouackchott. It was the second longest stage of the rally. Traditionally the stages before the rest day, are very hard and long, and today's stage couldn't be less. After the start in Atar, participants followed sinuous tracks through sand canyons and waids, where navigation was the biggest difficulty when crossing from one valley to the other. Once this rocky and mountainous section had been left behind, participants were back in the middle of the desert, having to show their best navigation talent between dune chains and several kilometres of camel grass, which is physically very demanding.

In the car class, the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team remained firmly on course to defend its Dakar Rally title after the punishing eighth 508 kms special stage between Atar and Nouakchott in Mauritania. Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret began the longest stage of the event so far, a mere 3m 43s behind French team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard in the overall standings. The defending champions were evenly matched to the first passage control holding a slender 20 second advantage over alphand. Through a tricky sea of dunes and engulfing sand, both Mitsubishis struggled in dunes at around 240 kms from the second control. Finally, Peterhansel first and then Alphand regained the piste heading for the finish of the timed section. Peterhansel and Cottret duly arrived at the stage finish with a 3m 44s advantage over their colleagues, taking over the overall lead. Alphand, who was fifth fastest, dropped down to second, 32 seconds behind the leader before fourth and final Mauritanian stage between Nouakchott and Kiffa on Monday. Third-placed is Giniel de Villers, who lies 26m 16s adrift Peterhansel after eight special stages. Frenchman Thierry Magnaldi won today's special with American Mark Miller matching Peterhansel's equal second fastest time. Spanish Nani Roma and co-driver Henri Magne were classified seventh at the first passage control, but were running third on the road after a tricky waypoint between PCs one and two and eventually finished the stage with the fourth fastest time, thus moving up to fourth in the overall standings.

The statements

Marc Coma: "Today's special was 500 kms long and, just as the previous ones, it's been a very hard day. Maybe not as hard as yesterday, but also difficult. Fortunately we have reached the bivouac in good conditions. There was a lot of riding and navigation today, especially the first 160 kms between dune mountains, but in the end the desert started to open itself. I made a mistake and unfortunately I lost a lot of time looking for a masked waypoint. We found it and I managed to make up some time towards the end."

Andy Caldecott: "I'm very happy to have made it to this point and in this good shape. I lost my GPS navigation today and I had trouble finding the waypoints. I hope that this doesn't get me in trouble with the stewards. On the other hand, the terrain was quite complicated and the sand really soft. I sunked several times, but I finally managed to reach the finish and the rest day."

Jordi Viladoms: "I'm very happy with today's stage. It was a really complicated day as regards navigation, but I followed the road book perfectly well. I didn't have an excessively fast pace, but since I made impeccable navigation, closely following every note in the road book, I managed to finish the stage in a good position."

Giovanni Sala: "The pre-rest day hasn't been bad at all, although I had an early crash after 160 kms. I was checking the CAP of the road book and didn't see a hole in the sand. It was a banal crash, but one finger sunk in the sand and it dislocated. I fixed it by myself and immobilised it supporting it with another finger. I rejoined the track and although it hurt a lot on bumps, I managed to continue without further problems. I remained in the group but we made a navigation mistake trying to find a masked waypoint and we lost some time. It's been a shame because the rest of the stage went well and we managed to recover some minutes. Fortunately we have the rest day tomorrow and I'll use it to recover for the hard stage on Monday."

Carlo De Gavardo: "Today's stage has been easier than the previous ones, although it's been faster. We went through several dune areas and it was important to be very careful with navigation. Marc, Isidre and I were riding together, and in kilometre 280 we had a lot of problems to find a waypoint. We finally found it, but we lost a lot of time and Casteu and Despres, who were coming from behind, found it quickly thanks to us, making up a lot of time. From that moment on, we tried to escape, but in a dense dune area with a lot of fes-fes, I got stuck and I really had trouble getting the bike out. That made me loose several minutes and, starting first, all the others made up the time I had in my favour at the start. Anyway, I'm happy for Cyrils performance, he's done a great job despite his injury. After eight stages, I feel very well and happy with my performance in the rally. Now I'm only thinking about taking a bath and making good use of the rest day to relax and reactivate energy for the last stages. The marathon lies ahead and the route changes abruptly, because we're entering the African savannah. It is there were the race is going to be defined."

Stephane Peterhansel: "I got stuck in the sand and we also had two flat tires. The latter part of the stage was very fast and we reached 196 km/h with a tail wind on this section."

Luc Alphand: "It was a bad day for me. I got stuck for about a quarter of an hour and we got lost for a time. It is disappointing to lose four minutes to Stephane as well."

Nani Roma: "It was a very difficult stage with a lot of sand and we spent too much time trying to find a difficult waypoint. We spent five or six minutes trying to find this point. But our three cars are here in one piece and some of our rivals have had problems, so we should be very relieved at this point."

Dominique Serieys, Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team Director: "It is only half way to Dakar, but I will not deny that we have had a very positive couple of days. But this is the Dakar Rally and anything can happen at any time. We will just keep our focus and maintain our concentration next week and see what develops."

Tomorrow's stage
Rest stage. 8 January

Now that the half-way point of the race has been reached, participants will enjoy a well deserved rest day. Without relaxing too much, teams, mechanics, riders and drivers will use this day to thoroughly prepare the next stages and leave the machines ready to face the second half of the rally. Latecomers will also have the chance to rejoin the caravan. The participant selection during the eighth stages raced so far and especially during the Atar-Nouakchott stage has been significant and differences have already started to become patently clear.

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Mark Miller , Luc Alphand , Henri Magne , Stéphane Peterhansel , Jean-Paul Cottret , Gilles Picard , Giovanni Sala , Nani Roma , Marc Coma , Carlo de Gavardo , Andy Caldecott , Jordi Viladoms , Thierry Magnaldi