Nancy Knapp Schilke, Dakar correspondent
Team SPEED Energy Racing’s Robby Gordon has never been one to walk away, even when he was an open-wheel racer and kicked the Ford blue oval logo on his CART car, he continued to race and later was even back with Ford. Winner of three Baja 1000 events is still one of the top off-road racers, even if he does not run a full season. His record of seven SCORE championships is remarkable. Gordon has raced on the dirt, on ovals and on road courses. The current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner and driver has seen his share of ups and downs over the years but Gordon has always marched to a different drum and he will speak out and challenge what he believes is right.
The independent team owner and racer is now going through a new challenge during the Dakar Pan-American rally-raid that is covering three countries: Argentina, Chile and Peru. He actually turned 43 on the second stage of this year’s Dakar edition while in Argentina. Driving his Hummer H3, Gordon and his co-pilot Johnny Campbell earned the 9th stage victory in the Car category; they have also notched three second place finishes thus far this year.
That system was specifically inspected, tested, and approved by the organizers...
The good news is that Gordon remains in the event, even under a disqualification handed to him after his win, which was the same day that his teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah retired. The Car Race Officials Committee did decide to disqualify the No. 303 Hummer H3 from the race for “technical non-compliance”. The area of concern is in “article 1P and 3P of the technical rules”.
Per the press release late tonight from Gordon’s team, the area of concern is the “tire inflation system”. They have made an appeal which allows Gordon to continue to compete in the 2012 Dakar. Adding to the black cloud hanging over their heads is the on-going mechanical issues that has dropped, as of today, Gordon out of third in the Car overall standings. The American now is in fourth after losing a chunk of time on the 11th stage. Yet, Gordon is tough and he knows how to fight back!
The statement from the team read: “That system was specifically inspected, tested, and approved by the organizers for both the 2011 Dakar Rally and the 2012 Dakar Rally. Further, it is the same system that Robby Gordon and the Team have used on the Hummers for each of the past 5 years that they have participated in the Dakar Rally.”
It will take time before the appeal is even heard; let alone a decision at that time. The fate of Gordon rests on the shoulders of the Dakar’s governing body.
Gordon continues to focus only on the challenge and has not commented on being disqualified and with the dangers that the competitors face each day that is what he should do. However the team has expressed its shock and disappointment of the decision made by the officials.
The team’s spokesperson also added a comment after what happened today between the overall Car leader, Stephane Peterhansel and Gordon on the 10th stage. Gordon did make a comment concerning the incident: "I hit a rock with both right-side tyres and as you can see this wheel is way out, so we've got some broken parts. Do I think I can win again? Of course. I was passing him [Peterhansel], he didn't move over and I clobbered a rock and got two flat tyres at the same time. So, we've got our work cut out for us. We've got a damaged race car that we're going to have to work on and there's a lot of damage from what I can see. Now we'll push, push, push even harder."
Team SPEED and Gordon are obviously not happy campers. First the system that caused their disqualification was observed on every stage and is the same system used in past Dakar events. Secondly Gordon was a serious threat to the X-raid MINI team; especially to the team’s main driver, Peterhansel. The third reason per the team release states: “It is equally troublesome that this decision has been made at the same time that French national and race leader Peterhansel has been effectively excused from any responsibility for failing to comply with the rule obligating all competitors to give way when the sentinel is pressed by a competitor who is about to pass.”
The team’s hope is that they can continue to challenge on the specially laid out route; especially Gordon and Campbell will need to focus as Peru is a new territory and a mistake could cost them dearly. Of course the appeal of the previous approved equipment will not stand in the way of a good battle between the Hummer and the MINI team on the remaining three stages and the rally-raid final outcome in the Car category will be based on the actual competition and “not as a result of a political battle between competing teams or national interest” per the press release.
Prior to the start of this year’s Dakar, Gordon said, “In order to win, you really need to be on the limit. This year, we have to get through the first stages without any problems in order to envision the following days with optimism. But we are ready. After the Baja, the Dakar is our world-wide event and like each year, the goal will be to win. We are going to do our best.”
There is no doubt that Gordon, Campbell and Team SPEED will focus on making it to the finish and they will aim for stage wins!