Dakar: South Africa drivers stage 13 report

The countdown has begun for the French with six times motorcycle hero Stephane Peterhansel leading the cars and two times motorcycle winner Richard Sainct leading the motorcycles only three days from the final stage in Sharm El Sheikh on the East...

The countdown has begun for the French with six times motorcycle hero Stephane Peterhansel leading the cars and two times motorcycle winner Richard Sainct leading the motorcycles only three days from the final stage in Sharm El Sheikh on the East Coast of the Red Sea in Egypt.

Stage 13 of the 2003 Telefónica Dakar Rally took the competitors south east across the Egyptian deserts from Siwa to Dakhla and strengthened the grip which Pajero and KTM has over their rivals.

Dakhla is an oasis, situated in the Western Desert, on the road between Cairo and El-Kharga. Between Siwa and Kharga, many oasis stretch from north to south, including the 5 largest: Baharia, Farafra, Siwa, Dakhla and Kharga. Real islands of greenery and life in the middle of the desert, they are staging posts on the old caravan roads. In this extreme western part of the Sahara, the last dunes of the Great Sand Sea dive down towards Farafra and on to Dakhla and the Sudan.

"It was a real nice day today!" said a satisfied Fabrizio Meoni of Italy, at the bivouac in Dakhla. He attacked over the entire 569 kilometers, the result: Meoni clinches today's stage, and gains 13 minutes on Richard Sainct in the overall lead. "I have really risked a lot today. But I just had to do it. The only thing left for me is to attack. Today it worked out perfectly. If it runs as smoothly tomorrow, too, there will still be hope." Meoni was obviously proud of his power ride.

Richard Sainct takes his ride towards his 3rd Dakar win easy. "I did have a mechanical problem today. The connection cables for gasoline didn't work. So I had to stop and make repairs on the cables. Therefore, I lost some time, but nothing too serious. The remaining days will not be as fast as today. I don't think Fabrizio can gain this much time every day." He only has a small chance left; nevertheless he wants to use it. He accomplished a 13"16' lead, the biggest gap a stage winner has claimed in this year's rally so far. He gained about 13 minutes on Richard Sainct, who is still leading the overall. Sainct came in 2nd today. Cyril Despres (all of them Team Gauloises KTM) passed the finish line in 3rd position.

Today's special stage can be considered one of the highlights of this Dakar. To cross right across the "Great Sand Sea", with an ocean of dunes -- but not just any dunes, 'cathedral' dunes, some of which were over 100 metres high. The second part of the stage crossed the 'White Desert'. A sinuous track that winds its way between great limestone mushrooms, typical of this region. The stage finished with the crossing of a magnificent pass between the canyons, before going down the cliff to the Dakhla oasis.

Stéphane Peterhansel, who pulled his Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution / Montero Evolution even further into the lead of the rally with his stage win yesterday, further extended his advantage over his Mitsubishi Motors team-mate, Hiroshi Masuoka, in the 13th stage. He now has a commanding margin of 25 minutes and 50 seconds over Masuoka, despite finishing today's stage in fifth place. Stéphane is now 3h 13m 51s ahead of his nearest non-Mitsubishi rival, sixth-placed South African Giniel de Villiers.

After three consecutive stage wins for the Mitsubishi Motors Team, Nissan's Ari Vatenen set the fastest time on today's 569 km special stage. It was the four-times Dakar winner's second stage win and he consolidated eighth position overall. Frenchman Luc Alphand was second, in the sole surviving BMW X5.

'It was a nice, fast stage with big mountains and huge dunes', Peterhansel explained. 'But it was not the best of results for us. Yesterday we took a lot of risks, but this morning we decided to take things more slowly. I wanted to control the situation with Hiroshi. The most important thing for me was to stay with him. I don't need to keep pushing to try and win each stage. I saw Hiroshi behind me at one point, running with one of the Nissans, and then he dropped behind again'.

Ari had warned yesterday that he intended to claim more stage wins before the end of the rally -- Mission accomplished for today -- leading at each of the three checkpoints, he reached Dakhla just over a minute ahead of Luc Alphand, and just over 8 faster than Giniel de Villiers. This was Ari's 47th special stage win--

Despite everything, this stage was far from restful for the Scandinavian duo Vatanen-Thorner: "We started off strongly today. We caught Luc Alphand shortly after the start, about 50 km, and just afterwards, we took off while going over a very fast dune. The landing was extremely violent, which totally bent my accelerator pedal, and more importantly gave me a terrible pain in the back and chest. Afterwards, I was rather worried that the bump could have had some consequences. Driving with a pedal in that condition was quite difficult, as it was not moving freely and kept jamming in the accelerating position. Moreover, my back was really hurting, a pain that took my breath away. A beautiful stage, with alternating rolling and bumpy sections, with dunes and plateaux. Beautiful black plateaux between two strings of dunes. At the end of the stage, we strayed slightly from the path, but soon got back on route. Luc was very fast in a straight line, faster than us. We stayed with him, and caught up with Giniel and Sousa. At one point the four of us were running together. It was great fun and very spectacular. When I passed Giniel, I could feel that he was taking my rhythm, I was almost pushing him to go faster. I think I was a good teacher today!"

As for Giniel de Villiers, he was not about to contradict Ari's analysis: "In the first couple of kilometres, we took a wrong turn and we lost 2 minutes straight away. We were cruising for the first 100km until Ari (Vatanen) caught up with us. We then really attacked a lot. The tracks were really very fast. We had no problems and just had to be careful because it was quite rough on some sections. I now know why I was going so quickly: Ari's a good person to follow and he had his accelerator stuck wide open. I couldn't believe how fast he was going. I think the Mitsubishis had a bit of a rest day today, but it's still nice to catch them. It's great for Nissan to finish 1 and 3 of the special. In the overall, there is a possibility to finish in the top five. We're only 23 minutes behind Sousa. There still are a few stages left and anything can happen."

Tomorrow, the 14th stage heads east across the Egyptian deserts to the mythical city of Luxor, world-famous for its ancient archaeological treasures and sites like the Valley of the Kings and Tombs of the Queens. After 53 km of liaison, the 274 km special stage will be contested, followed by a further 375 km of liaison before reaching the bivouac; A total distance of 702km. The stage uses camel tracks, which were used in the days of the Pharaohs as a link to Sudan, as well as a variety of winding desert trails, including one, which passes the renowned Temple of Karnack.

-cvz-

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Series Dakar
Drivers Luc Alphand , Hiroshi Masuoka , Stéphane Peterhansel , Giniel de Villiers , Fabrizio Meoni , Cyril Despres , Richard Sainct