Dakar: South Africa drivers stage 12 report

A more technical day in the 2003 Telefonica Dakar. Siwa oasis is surrounded by a fantastic landscape between dunes and mountains with palm trees and lakes. Stage 12 of the 2003 Telefonica Dakar was based on two loops forming a clover; firstly in...

A more technical day in the 2003 Telefonica Dakar.

Siwa oasis is surrounded by a fantastic landscape between dunes and mountains with palm trees and lakes. Stage 12 of the 2003 Telefonica Dakar was based on two loops forming a clover; firstly in a southerly direction from the oasis, through the Egyptian dunes and after passing by Siwa, in an eastern direction before returning to the bivouac at the military base. The way through the dunes was well marked but the competitors had a sensational day on the very steep descents.

Sometimes going down the dunes war very steep. Even desert foxes like Fabrizio Meoni and Richard Sainct fell off their bikes, luckily without any further consequences. 108 bikes 69 cars and 31 trucks started the stage from Siwa in Egypt. A massive open fight raged amongst the motorcyclists today, with a number of amateurs playing in amongst the professionals, whilst Stephane Peterhansel of France and Hiroshi Masuoka of Japan fought it out ahead of their Pajero teammate Jean-Pierre Fontenay of France and Miki Biasion of Italy having it out with the Belgium, Gregoire De Mevius.

At 10:42 a news bulletin announced that former Formula 1 driver, Ukyo Katayama, racing a Toyota had an accident 108km into the stage. The car was upside down, but the two team members were fine and outside the vehicle.

Then, 5 minutes later the news broke: "The massive DAF truck of Dutchman Gerhardus de Rooy had crashed heavily after jumping a dune 152km into the stage. The truck appeared to be seriously damaged."

In the motorcycle category it was Italy's former World Enduro Champion Giovanni Sala who won the stage on his big 950cc twin-cylinder KTM. He has suffered along the race with a bad case of flu and was happy to win a stage in his condition. The tactics of Meoni, Sainct and Despres were doing Sala and the top amateurs a great favour. Neither of them wanted to win today because they do not want to set the track in the sand tomorrow. Tomorrow the starting gap between Meoni (place 16) and Sainct (place 11) is marginal: Meoni starts just 2 ½ minutes after Sainct. That means, as soon as the Italian catches up with the Frenchman, Sainct will stick to Meonis rear wheel. He does not need to do anything else.

Richard Sainct Is a thoroughbred racer, he remains calm when the pressure is on, "My strategy has worked out perfectly so far. I wait and look at what the others are going to try out. And it's going to stay that way: I want to stay up front and if necessary I'm going to attack. After all I'm in the best position. I'm up front and therefore I'm able to control the race. Further I believe the next stages are slower and more twisty. That will work out fine for my single-cylinder bike." Even about Cyril Despres, who came in 7th today and took out 2 minutes of Sainct's gap, the leader feels secure. "Cyril is driving the same motorcycle I do and we're going at the same speed. If he speeds up I'll do the same." However, even Sainct does not deny that the race has not yet ended. "You never know what will happen. You could crash or have a mechanical problem. Anything can happen if you make a mistake. I'm going to concentrate and then we'll have to wait and see what happens."

Richard Sainct leads the overall with a time gap of 10'48 on Cyril Despres. Fabrizio Meoni is half an hour back of the leader. On his own he probably will not manage the longed for hat-trick. "I'm still going at it. And I'll try to use any kind of chance that will open up. But I'll have to wait for this chance. To attack daily would be way too dangerous. For sure it's going to be tough. But the race will not be over before the last day has gone by." Fabrizio Meoni was not particularly surprised about the outcome of today's race. "There were no tracks in the sand and I had to set them. Therefore, I was riding slower. Other good private pilots were able to use this advantage. Just like Gio."

The fast KTM race assistance truck with Gunter Pichlbauer, Johann Peter Reif and Arnaldo Nicoli were not able to compete in today's special. Their truck had struck a mine two days ago, and they were able repair it sufficiently to enable them to return to Alexandria on its own. To think about competing further in the race is out of the question. The rear axle was damaged just too much.

Even though, there are still more than 3.000 kilometers ahead of the pilots, whoever wants to push his way to the front needs to attack now. Sometimes going down the dunes war very steep. Even desert foxes like Fabrizio Meoni and Richard Sainct fell off their bikes, luckily without any further consequences. Tomorrow the rally will cross the so-called "Great Sand Sea", a large area of dunes. Fascinating on the eye, but also one of the loneliest places on earth. The organizers of the rally did everything that all competitors will reach the other end of the sand. At some of the higher dunes they have set up orientation marks to indicate where it is safe to cross. Along breathtaking canyons the special leads to the oasis Dakhla.

-cvz-

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Hiroshi Masuoka , Stéphane Peterhansel , Miki Biasion , Fabrizio Meoni , Cyril Despres , Richard Sainct , Giovanni Sala , Gunter Pichlbauer