Mikko Jalonen, Dakar correspondent
MINI drivers pull out a hat trick while Gordon again had trouble
Today’s special stage between Arica and Arequipa saw the Dakar rally move from Chile to Peru for the first time since the organisers moved the endurance event out of Africa and into South America. With another demanding stage today, there are only three stages to go before the crews can celebrate the end of the rally in Sunday. The ones fighting for the victory are making their final push to be crowned the champion in their categories. The final finish and celebration will in Lima, in the capital city of Peru. In this report, we take a closer look to the key moments of today’s special stage.
With his 4th stage win, Cyril Despres increased his overall lead to his main rival Marc Coma for the 2012 Dakar Bike victory by 2 minutes and 22 seconds overall; both are using KTMs. The Frenchman who started the 11th stage behind the two Spaniards, Joao Barreda Bort and Coma, was able to keep the a rhythm throughout the stage despite making the same navigational error at the 40km mark of the 534 km long special stage that Bort and Coma made ahead of him. After catching Coma, Despres followed his rival to the finish line and eventually finished 2 minutes and 1 second ahead of his rival but expects a tough stage tomorrow due to Coma having a better road position.
It was a tough day, all in all!
“After a modification to the road-book, one of the tracks wasn't very visible. I rode 100 metres to far, but I saw that Marc was turning round, even though he started two minutes before me. The day already started with a bath in a stream, pushing alongside the bike. It was a tough day, all in all! An important development might be if someone moves in between Marc and me. In any case, apart from attacking and riding, there wasn't much to do today. Mind you, if Farres has actually finished 2nd, it's not good for me. Tomorrow will be complicated, but anything can happen on the Dakar,“ said Despres.
Second today was another Gerard Farres Guell; the Spaniard was attacking very hard in his Bardone-Ferrari KTM and by finishing 1 minute and 39 seconds behind the Frenchman. Guell’s good friend Coma now has a chance to gain four minutes instead of two minutes in tomorrow’s special. Guell holds a fine sixth place for the overall results; even before today’s special.
Guell said that it was very important for his team to have a good result. “Being able to finish 2nd is important for me and for the team. When I arrived at the neutralised stage, I was told that I was in the lead. I increased my speed from there on to continue like before and try and win a stage on the Dakar. In the end, it wasn't possible, but I'm happy because yesterday I was suffering physically but today I'm feeling much better. We are having a good Dakar. All the team is doing well. We are consistent and have managed some well placed finishes.“
Third today was the 2011 Bike title holder. Coma will be giving everything he has to catch his rival but knows that it won’t be an easy task. “We had a mixture of several types of terrain: earthy, sandy and stony. It was predictable that Cyril would gain time on me today. I'm going to try my utmost right until the end.”
Coma added, “There are three days left to give it everything. It's difficult to define a strategy when Cyril is riding flat out in front! I'll just have to follow him. It won't be flat out, but the pace will again be quick, like it has been since the beginning of the race.”
For the overall Bike standings, Despres leads Coma with three days to go. Currently in third place, over one hour behind Despres is Yamaha rider, Helder Rodrigues. The Portuguese through experienced a tough day after stalling his engine on a river crossing; same as many other top riders including Ruben Faria, at the 21 km point of the special and eventually finished the stage almost eight minutes behind Despres. Rodrigues though is holding the last step of the podium by being almost 17 minutes ahead of his closest treat, the fourth-placed KTM rider, also from Spain, Jordi Viladoms.
In the Car category, it was the All4Racing MINIs team mates who celebrated a hat trick for the results with Stephane Peterhansel taking a crucial stage win. It was crucial for the Frenchman to take the win as Peterhansel is hunting his first Car win in the pan-American edition of Daker; of course he did land three Car championships in the African editions of Dakar. He scored his second stage win today by finishing the 478 km special stage 3 minutes and 44 seconds ahead of his teammate, Nani Roma.
The 10 time Dakar winner will plan to take things easy now but keeps an eye at his teammate. “We didn't drive at a really fast pace, but we didn't have any technical or navigation problems, so it was a good special, but not very pleasant to drive because of the fesh-fesh. There wasn't much visibility, even opening the road, because the wind blew the dust up making it difficult to see. I overtook Nani several kilometres from the finishing line: he got stuck on a little dune trying to avoid a biker, but he didn't even need to get out of the car to get going again. As for Gordon, whatever happens now, he will just be carrying on to Lima for the enjoyment. There's around twenty minutes between Nani and me now, with two big stages of dunes to come. There'll be a lot of dune cresting and we know that if we get stuck in a hollow between them we could lose a lot of time. We'll have to play it safe. It's always been like that. Each time I've won the car race, I always had a team-mate hot on my heels: Masuoka, Alphand… There's always been this sort of pressure to handle,“ explained Peterhansel
Second-placed Roma in his yellow coloured All4Racing Mini however, got stuck on the small dune while trying to avoid a collision with a Bike rider and lost around two minutes in the process. The Spaniard was still happy to his day even when it wasn´t as good as yesterday when he won the stage. “I had two bikers ahead of me and a small dune and one of them fell in front of me, so I was stuck for two minutes, but it's not too bad. I didn't lose too much time, perhaps two minutes.
“Everything is ok, we're happy to be here now and with Stephane, we drove a very good race. I don't know if I have a chance because Stephane is quite far ahead. But I'm happy for all the team. There are twenty minutes between us and you can lose that much when you get really stuck in the sand. It can happen to anybody, but when I say that I'm not thinking about Stephane. With the experience that he has, he's someone who doesn't make many mistakes. In fact, I'm not counting on what the others do. I prefer to try and do my best by myself to finish in a good position in Lima,” added Roma.
Third today and completing the X-raid team’s MINI hat trick was the Portuguese pilot on the team, Ricardo Leal Dos Santos. He had a good battle today with the Toyota of Giniel De Villiers since the first checkpoint. In the end of the stage, Santos kept his head cool and despite losing 8 minutes and 56 seconds to his teammate, Peterhansel, the Portuguese driver finished the stage 30 seconds in front of the South African.
One of the major stories today was about the problems of American driver Robby Gordon. The Hummer H3s have been the major threat of the MINI team throughout the entire rally; but mechanical failures have been a concern. Today, the only remaining Hummer and driven by team owner Gordon finished the stage nearly two hours behind Peterhansel and therefore thrown away all changes of victory. At the first checkpoint, Gordon was leading the stage by almost 3 minutes ahead of Peterhansel before slowing down and finishing 6 minutes off pace when coming to the ZONE1 time control. In the end, Gordon was forced to make repairs in the Link Eoute between the end of the first part of the special stage before starting out the second part of the stage. In the overall standings, Gordon is now 2 hours 10 minutes and 31 seconds behind Peterhansel and dropped down to fourth place in the Car standings.
Gordon explained his day, “We lost a CV joint boot and when we finished the first special we tried to change it. It took us too long to change and we missed the transfer section. At the end it was very bad and the silt is all inside the clutch, so we've lost the clutch and a wheel fell off… We've just had a bad day – we had a horrible day. The only way we'll win is if the other guys have problems, but I'm pretty sure De Villiers got past us too. But, you know, that's the Dakar. You fight, fight, fight and hopefully it doesn't get you, but today it just got us, for no reason. A 1 dollar part, a hose clamp broke. That put is in a position to miss everything else, so it was a bad day for us, but we'll just keep fighting until the end. We won't give up. You never know what will happen, so we'll ride to Lima.”
In the overall standings, the MINI team now has now a comfortable double lead with Peterhansel leading the Car standings by 22 minutes and 49 seconds ahead of Roma. The Toyota of de Villiers is now third, over one hour behind the legendary Bike and Car competitor, “Peter“.
I didn't know about Gordon, but it's good news for us,
De Villiers commented, “It was a pretty tough stage, I must say. I've never seen so much fesh-fesh in my life. I think it must be really tricky if you're further back. I'm just happy we that we are running far up front, but it really wasn't easy. The first part of the stage was tricky and the second part of the stage was tricky, with a lot of rocks. There was one climb in the canyon which was really steep. I must say, I'm glad I had four-wheel driver there, the Toyota came out of there first off. I didn't know about Gordon, but it's good news for us, though the main thing is we have to focus because there are two more difficult days left for us and the rally is not over yet. I've seen many of these rallies in the past and the team needs to stay focused, we need to do a good job and get the car to the finish now. It will be like a win for us if we can manage that, but first we have to finish the stages.”
In the Truck category, today’s special stage was won by the Kamaz Master Team of Alexey Karginov. It was the first win for the legendary Russian team and a good victory. Karginov which and his Russia co-pilots started the stage behind Team Astana’s Kamaz of Ardavichus. The Russians were in superb speed especially at the second part of the stage after trailing behind the Iveco trucks at the end of ZONE1. The stage win was the first one for Karginov and the second one for the Kamaz as Ardavichus took the stage honors yesterday.
Second today was the de Rooy team’s Iveco of Hans Stacey. The Dutchman was fighting against the Kamaz of Ardavichus for the second place and managed to do better than his rival at finished by just three 3 minutes. “I wanted to start at maximum attack speed, but after fifty kilometres in the first section I went through a river and nothing happened, but my springs were broken so I had to slow down. I pushed in the first section but in the last section I took care and prayed to God that my suspension would hold out until the finish. It was a very dangerous stage for trucks but I'm happy to be here at the finish again. I hope I'm still fighting with Ardavichus to keep second place because I passed him and he stayed behind. Every minute he stays away from me gives me more time, but it's still a long way to go,” said Stacey.
Third today was Miki Biasion in the third Iveco of the team leader, Gerard de Rooy. Biasion lost five minutes to the fastest time but finished a minute ahead of the overall leader and his teammate, de Rooy. In the overall Truck standings, De Rooy holds a 56 minute lead ahead his countryman, Stacey while Ardavichus in the leading Kamaz is third, almost 20 minutes behind Stacey. Ardavichus lost 22 minutes today to the fastest man after searching a right track alone in the stage.
De Rooy admitted he was taking it easy: “Today was a nice stage, with a little bit of everything. It was fast with a lot of bumpy off-piste. The truck felt great, put we were not pushing. For me it was just a question of driving safely to the finish and not losing a lot of time to Ardavichus and Stacey, so I think it's been good. Hans passed us at the beginning of the stage, but he made a mistake navigating and we passed him again, so I think he lost a lot of time. Hans and Ardavichus are still behind me, so there's no problem with that.”
The Patronelli brothers were in control again today in the Quad category after losing yesterday to their Argentinean rival. Today with Alejandro Patronelli took the 534 km long stage win; just 31 seconds ahead of his brother, Marcos. Alejandro had to catch his brother Marcos who started the stage ahead of him; but for most of the time the two brothers from Argentina were riding together and even helping each other when facing the trouble.
“It was a great special and we've managed to get to Peru,” smiled Alejandro Patronelli. “I'm happy because Marcos and I are together. There was a lot of navigation, but we took it easy. We were very lucky and fortunately my brother was there with me. My quad got stuck in the mud and one of the wheels just wouldn't shift, it was stuck in the tyre tracks. Marcos was a few seconds behind me and if he hadn't been, I'd probably still be there. Our solidarity is very moving. After the link route, there was a section where we came across a 200 metre descent with a 45% gradient. The quad started skidding into the stones. It was scary, but really majestic. I think we can accomplish something good. We'll try and continue like that. I salute Peru and long live Argentina!”
For Marcos the stage was fine despite getting stuck in the water where various numbers of other riders were reported to be in trouble. The brothers tried to take the things easily as damage in this stage in the worst case could have meant an end for the rally. Riding together has its benefits as Marcos Patronelli explained, “It was a magnificent but difficult stage. At times, it looked like Egypt. There was a lot of desert and I had to be careful with the quad since this is a marathon stage. We were lucky that nothing bad happened. We finished safe and sound with Alejandro. At the start of the day, it was a bit difficult to cross the two streams. In one of them I got stuck in the water. I managed to get out by heading left, but it was very muddy. Alejandro was also stuck for a while so I helped him. That's why we try to ride together as well. The desert here is different to the one in Chile and instead is quite like Egypt like I said. There are fewer mountains too. I think that the remaining stages won't be very simple.”
Third today was yesterday’s fastest man, Tomas Maffei. For the Argentinian, the stage wasn´t easy either as he had taken a wrong turn after 20 km of the stage and lost a lot of time when getting back to the track. In the end, Maffei finished the stage, 18 minutes and 57 seconds behind the winner.
In the overall Quad standings, Alejandro Patronelli is leading the race by a bit more than an hour ahead of his brother, Marcos while Maffei is third, a bit more than two hours behind. Yamaha holds the first six places in the overall standings.
Tonight, the Bike and Quad competitors will have their own specific bivouac where the assistance vehicles will not be authorized in the maintenance area and where only the motorcyclists and quad riders will be able to help each other. The concept has not been used since the camp of Foum Zguid in Morocco during the 2007 Dakar when the race was still running in Africa.