Dakar: Stage four report

Sainz likes Africa too In the car category, Carlos Sainz (VW -- no. 307) clocked up his third Dakar victory and his first on African soil. He also grabbed the mantle of overall leader at the top of a 100%-Volkswagen provisional podium. On two ...

Sainz likes Africa too

In the car category, Carlos Sainz (VW -- no. 307) clocked up his third Dakar victory and his first on African soil. He also grabbed the mantle of overall leader at the top of a 100%-Volkswagen provisional podium. On two wheels, the honors also went to Spain, with Isidre Esteve winning his sixth stage victory on the rally at Ouarzazate, but the best performance of the day goes to Marc Coma, who moves to the top of the overall ranking ahead of his KTM - Repsol team-mate.

The battle for the lead in the bike race requires uncommon riding skill, ultra-high-performance machines and unfailing physical toughness, but the day's special also illustrates the need for a keen tactical sense in order to prevail in the Dakar. For the fastest riders, it is much more advantageous to set off far behind one's rivals, then to try to catch them or at least make up plenty of ground along the route. This is because it falls upon the leading drivers to do the navigational work, a responsibility that prevents them from traveling at a high speed. In short, it is easier to follow your rivals than to leave them trailing in your wake!

Yesterday, it was Cyril Despres who benefited from this favorable position, while his team-mate Isidre Esteve Pujol has taken advantage of it today. Starting out in 19th place, he was able to swoop down on those ahead of him to record the best CP1 and CP2 passing times. Without even having caught up with the head of the race, the rider who has twice finished fourth in the rally clocked up the best time at the finish. Marc Coma has adopted similar tactics, which have helped him take the overall lead. Having set off six minutes behind Cyril Despres, the titleholder's declared rival really shifted to catch up with his rival, accomplishing his mission between CP1 and CP2. The two big favorites continued on their route with Carlo De Gavardo, without any member of this trio managing to go on the offensive. In the end, Coma took command of the rally, 4'51'' ahead of Esteve and 5'06'' in front of Despres...who will start four minutes behind him tomorrow morning.

There was much wondering yesterday about the ability of Carlos Sainz to convert his undisputed rally driving talent into Dakar success on African soil. The Spaniard replied with his steering wheel and gear lever, and the response was an unequivocal 'yes'. For his first Dakar, Sainz has already shown himself to be both effective and restrained on Moroccan territory. The right formula is always difficult to find, but after all, the world record-holder for rally victories is still as renowned for his consistency as for his technique. With such qualities, Sainz has taught a lesson to a fair few drivers with more experience than him on the Dakar.

Even Stephane Peterhansel and Hiroshi Masuoka, with 10 Dakar victories between them, have fallen foul of traps in Morocco today. The two Mitsubishi drivers, who led by some distance at the head of the race after passing Jean-Louis Schlesser, the previous day's winner, did not strut their stuff for long. The Japanese rolled his vehicle, causing it serious damage, although that didn't prevent him from finishing the special (delayed by 27'). But on the return to the bivouac, the examination of the Pajero Evo IV by the "Mitsu" technicians produced a unanimous verdict: Masuoka's Dakar is over. "Peter", meanwhile, despite avoiding such uncontrolled maneuvers, had troubles of his own as a navigational error cost him a total of 17 minutes at the end of the special. Finally, Jean-Louis Schlesser did a relatively good job of managing the handicap of starting out first, finishing in the stage's Top 10. What's more, he also had the satisfaction of seeing his new team-mate Thierry Magnaldi clinch second place on the day, 2' behind Sainz.

The individual performance of Carlos Sainz also confirms the competitiveness of the Race Touareg II and the cohesion of the team put together by Volkswagen, as the German make holds the first three places in the overall ranking, with Bruno Saby on 4'51'' and Jutta Kleinschmidt on 5'09''. In terms of the battle with Mitsubishi, it is Luc Alphand who remains most in touch with the VWs, both in the ranking for the special (3rd with 3'10'') and overall (4th with 6'39'').

In the truck race, Vladimir Chagin has continued his flawless trajectory by winning his fourth consecutive victory in Ouarzazate, 2'42'' ahead of Hans Stacey. So far on the Dakar 2006, he has been quite simply unbeatable. His advantage over the competition is already bordering on insolence, since his nearest overall rival, Karel Loprais, is 1h08 behind after just two Moroccan stages!

-dakar.com-

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Series Dakar
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Luc Alphand , Jean-Louis Schlesser , Jutta Kleinschmidt , Hiroshi Masuoka , Stéphane Peterhansel , Cyril Despres , Bruno Saby , Karel Loprais , Marc Coma , Isidre Esteve , Vladimir Chagin , Thierry Magnaldi