Nancy Knapp Schilke, Dakar correspondent
Coma in command for Bike title; Iveco triples in Trucks and the Patronellis sail away in Quad
The second new stage of the Dakar was split into two routes; one for the Bike and Quad and one for the Car and Truck categories. It is actually the 12th stage in the 2012 edition of the demanding and very challenging endurance event. Today the competitors left Arequipa and headed to Nasca in Peru. For the Bikes and Quads, they had a 259 km trek while the Cars and Trucks would have longer liaison sections of 412 km. Yet all four groups would take on the timed special that was 245 km in length.
Nazca is well known for the mysterious motifs that were created on the land and can only be seen from the air. The route today, if one viewed it from the air, would be different as it would end up looking like a dragon in the sand. The dunes continue for nearly 20 km and for the challengers in today’s special, it would seem like a never ending string of dunes – one after the other. It could also break of make the cream of the crop before the final stages. For those who competed in the African Continent, they might be reminded of the dunes in Mauritania.
The surprise in the Car class was not that Robby Gordon won the 12th stage but that he took the victory in his Hummer H3 by 15:18 minutes! The second surprise when Stephane Peterhansel was stuck a sink hole between the dunes just past the 145 km mark. Over the years, “Peter” has been one of the top riders and drivers across the dunes; after all he owns 9 championships! Today, it was not the Frenchman’s best stage but it was the American’s top performance. Not a surprise as many have seen Gordon fight back and put the pedal to the metal in a competitive environment and it was remarkable considering he started today 22nd. It was Gordon’s second stage win in the Pan-American Dakar, and his sixth in Dakar history.
I kicked their asses.
Gordon did not hold anything back in his quote today: “It was a great stage, with big dunes and the car's fast. Last night I went through a whole thing and went on Youtube. You can go to Robby Gordon – Dakar – Air inflation; check it out, it's posted and explains the whole system. It's the same system that the French officials approved one year ago and now they've changed their minds. There, that's the system plug, with no possible chance of air. We schooled these boys. I'm pissed. I'm pissed at Stephane and I'm pissed at Nani for challenging my character about being a cheater and today I kicked their asses. I'm going to prove something every day for the rest of the rally. We're going to win every special from here on home.”
It was a day that saw many competitors get stuck or slow down as they took on the challenge of the dunes and the sudden sand storms. Second went to Leonid Novitskiy as the Russian was the MINI team star today. “We probably had the right tyre pressure right from the start,” said co-driver Schulz. “Navigating also turned out to be difficult as the visibility was extremely poor.”
South African Giniel de Villiers ended third on the stage and was seven minutes behind the top MINI in his Toyota. Fourth was the Dutch racer, Bernhard Ten Brinke, who has shown he can run with the cream of the crop. While new to the Dakar, he has shown that he is fast and is learning as he competes in his Mitsubishi.
De Villiers commented, “A real dune fest, African style. Today was a really difficult day at the Dakar. Navigating was also a challenge today, and we were able to make up time again when our rival Krzysztof Hołowczyz went off course but we noticed the mistake in time. Unfortunately we ground to a halt in the final third of the dune field, which had alot of soft sand and small, short dunes. We were stuck there for a few minutes. We let out some air and came through without any further problems after that. Then, just to round things off, we were greeted at the bivouac by a sandstorm.”
Peterhansel had to be worried as he was stuck for a long time and in the end the overall Car leader lost nearly two hours to his main rival for this year’s championship – X-raid MINI teammate, Nani Roma. The two MINI drivers were first on the road with the Frenchman out ahead due to his win yesterday. Both had problems when Roma also got stuck; but the Spaniard did not lose as much time. Once he was free to continue, “Peter” was on the move to regain the lost time and nearly overtook Roma but missed out by just less than three minutes. Roma ended the stage in fifth and the French ace was seventh. Between the two MINIs was the Toyota of Argentinean Lucio Ezequiel Alvarez.
Peterhansel, of course, kept the overall lead despite his problems today; it did help that his main rival, Roma, also was stuck today. The Frenchman leads the Car standings by 20 minutes. De Villiers is now just over one hour behind the two top MINIs; but unless they break down, he is looking at finishing third but he also needs to watch his back as Gordon remains in fourth and less than 40minutes away from the final podium spot.
“As soon as we crossed the first dunes, we went over a crest and behind it was a sink hole, immediately penalising us as we got stuck. Time passed and the minutes seemed long. We lost at least 20 minutes, which meant that we would also lose the lead in the general standings. We cleared some sand and moved the car forward centimetre by centimetre to get out of there. Afterwards, I have to admit I took risks to claw the time back. That was the 50 km where I've attacked the most during the whole rally. In the end we caught up with Nani several kilometres from the finish, so he must have had problems too. I've been saying for a while that by getting stuck in the dunes it's possible to lose half an hour. Today we came close to a real setback,” explained Peterhansel.
Marc Coma now has taken a commanding lead in the Bike category and there's little doubt that not being first on the road helped him. Yet, taking all things into consideration, the KTM rider from Spain put in a great performance setting the fastest time at 2:24:38 today. The surprise was that two other Spaniards were second and third. Coma’s main rival Cyril Despres ended up with the fourth best time on today’s stage.
The three time Dakar champion now has taken five stage wins in the 2012 edition of Dakar. Even with a loss of time on the third and ninth stages, he has placed himself in the position to be the first back-to-back Dakar Bike champion since 2002 when Fabrizio Meoni took the double. If the Catalan does accomplish the feat, perhaps it set his sights on tying the record of Peterhansel who is the only one in Bikes to take a triple champion. Coma now has 21 special Bike stage wins in the Dakar.
“It was a difficult day. I set off four minutes after Cyril and I managed to catch up with him. For the entire first part of the special I mainly focused on navigation, because there was absolutely no room for mistakes. After that, I knew that there would be good opportunities to attack in the second part and that's where I managed to regain ground on Cyril. It's no way near over, because there's another big stage tomorrow,” Coma said.
Joan Barreda Bort again proved he is a contender by finishing second to his fellow countryman by nearly three minutes but for Bort, he now has six top-five finishes, including his win this year on the 10th stage. The Husqvarna rider has to be pleased with his performance.
“Apart from the problems experienced during the first week, everything has been fine. Every day, I was finishing with the best. I was fifth once and today I'm second. It's good and I'm happy. This morning, there were a lot of tracks on the beach and it was difficult to follow. I decided to concentrate on the road-book and to try and navigate well at my own pace. I'm really pleased: finishing in 2nd place is great. I think that the two leading riders are head and shoulders above the rest. They are experienced and quick, but I'm going to carry on working this year, working hard. Perhaps next year I'll be able to fight for a place on the podium,” said Bort.
KTM rider Jordi Viladoms was third by just over three minutes.
Despres was first on the road and while he did his best to curtail the strategy of Coma, it ended up not working when the Frenchman had a grip problem on the final dunes and he lost time as he was only 30 seconds off the pace of his KTM rival but in the end, Despres was nearly four minutes behind Coma.
“It was a magnificent stage, one of the finest specials that I've ridden on the Dakar over the last few years. In sporting terms, I expected that Marc was going to catch up with me and that it wouldn't be a good day. But it was majestic. I don't have any regrets, because I attacked throughout the first part,” said Despres.
Tomorrow will be the big moment for the two KTM aces. Coma’s lead is just one minute and 35 seconds over Despres and the Spaniard will be first on the road tomorrow. The Frenchman will start fourth. While those two fight it out to see which one will notched their fourth Dakar championship, Yamaha’s top gun, Helder Rodrigues, now has the threat of Viladoms for the final Bike podium step. Finishing seventh today, the Portuguese lost time to the fourth place Viladoms.
Despres added, “You have to go for broke on this Dakar; it's not a race where you can play the waiting game. Against Marc Coma, I'm doing battle with an excellent rider. He's quick and clever. So, I try and find the right pace. Apparently, there are riders in between us, so that's good news for the start tomorrow.”
The action in the Truck category was interesting. Yesterday, Russian Kamaz-Master driver Andrey Karginov took his first stage win in this year’s Dakar; it was the first victory for the powerhouse Russian team that dominated the Dakar both in Africa and more recently in South America. Since 2000, the Russian team landed nine championships out of 11 Dakar editions but their two top drivers retired and the younger generation has yet to make its mark. In today’s special stage, Karginov was nearly three hours behind the winner, Gerard de Rooy!
Today was a victorious day for Iveco team from the Netherlands as they ended with the top four fastest times. De Rooy was 32 seconds ahead of Stacey who actually tied with the Dakar rookie Miki Biasion. Fourth was taken by Joseph Adua, who was over 10 minutes slower than de Rooy.
For the de Rooy team, their lead driver earned his fifth stage win of the 2012 Dakar. De Rooy holds a lead 56:30 over his teammate, Hans Stacey. The Dutchman can rest easily but still needs to take his heavy truck over the tricky 13th stage tomorrow, and then arrive safely on Sunday in Lima.
There is still a Kamaz in third place in the Truck standings as Artur Ardavichus kept his Team Astana in good position for the final two stages.
Marcos Patronelli was fastest in the Quad category today, besting his brother Alejandro. While the other Quad riders have been dropping over the Chile and Peru stages, the Yamaha riders have been for holding the top positions for most of the event. Marcos Patronelli was 42 seconds faster than his brother, who is the overall leader. Taking third on the stage was Tomas Maffei was 13 minutes behind Alejandro Patronelli.
The three Argentineans are in perfect position to sweep the Quad standings. Alejandro is still an hour over his brother Marcos, who in turn has over an hour margin over Maffei.
The penultimate stage tomorrow will take them out of Nazca to Pisco. It will be far shorter but again they take on majestic sand dunes near the Pacific Ocean. Those who are now aiming only for the finish in Lima might want to take it a bit easy and enjoy the view; but they all need to use their navigation skills and not allow the long days bring on feelings of fatigue as both the dunes and the valleys can lead to confusion. Saturday will not be easy.