Stephane Peterhansel notched another stage win at the 2010 Dakar Rally today, his 53rd, as he seeks to make up lost time on the three leading Volkswagen Touaregs. In the Bike category Marc Coma is on a similar mission, scoring his 9th career stage victory as he chases Cyril Despres for the overall lead.
'Peter' had dropped to tenth place yesterday, having lost two hours with gearbox problems, but is determined to move back up the leaderboard.
"I am surprised that we have done as good a time as we have, because we spent 200 kilometers in the dust of others," he said. "But, for 150 km, we found a good rhythm, ensuring good navigation. We scaled our goals down, for sure. It was the victory and it is now much more complicated."
The challenge for the Dakar legend is making up the ground to the Volkswagen juggernaut; the German works team holds a convincing 1-2-3 lead with Carlos Sainz atop the standings, 15:24 ahead of Nasser Al-Attiyah, and a further 2:23 in front of Mark Miller.
With the problems the BMW drivers have suffered, the closest BMW X3 CC challenger is now Guerlain Chicherit, 1:51:42 behind Sainz, with Peterhansel another 12 minutes adrift -- and Joan 'Nani' Roma had to retire earlier in the event already. So with eight stages remaining, it's a defensive strategy for the VW team, driving fast enough to defend against Chicherit and Peterhansel, but still bring the cars to the finish.
"Today's leg was even more demanding than those on the days before," said Sainz, who lost just 47 seconds to Peterhansel on the day. "Particularly with respect to navigation it was possible to lose a lot of time. We still haven't covered even half of the 'Dakar' yet, so during the next few days the same thing will apply that I took to heart today: to drive in a way that's as easy as possible on the material and to think one day at a time."
However, last year's Dakar winner Giniel de Villiers languishes in 16th, four hours adrift, after multiple problems, and the team's local hero, Mauricio Neves, had to retire from the event today after suffering a severe rollover. Neves and co-driver Clecio Maestrelli were taken to a hospital for checks, and Neves was found to have just two cracked ribs, with no serious injuries to Maestrelli.
De Villiers might have challenged for the stage victory, but gave up that challenges as he stopped for some 30 minutes to assist Neves. In the event, he finished just 24:32 behind Peterhansel, and moved up two positions in the standings.
"After 135 kilometres we arrived at the scene of Mauricio and Clecio's accident and stopped there for almost half an hour to call the helicopter and assist them," de Villiers explained. "Afterwards just finishing the stage was the only thing that counted for us yet again. But the last ten kilometres in the dunes were simply incredible and really good fun."
Robby Gordon dropped back two places, from fourth to sixth, as he lost 49 minutes on the day, and Carlos Sousa (Mitsubishi Lancer) and Krzysztof Holowczyc (Nissan pickup) moved past Gordon's Hummer H3.
Coma, who has been delayed by multiple mechanical problems on his KTM bike, also has an uphill battle, but his odds look better than Peterhansel's. The 2006 and 2009 winner took victory for today's stage by a margin of 10:34 over Despres, another Dakar legend. Despres' lead is now down to 1:06:21 over fourth-placed Coma -- and 42:15 over Francisco Contardo, who placed fourth on today's stage.
Helder Rodrigues, the top Yamaha rider, finished third today to maintain his third place overall.
In the Trucks, Vladimir Chagin continued what seems to be an unstoppable march to a sixth Dakar title in the category. The Russian desert ace scored his 52rd career stage victory -- one behind Coma -- as he added another 12 minutes to his lead over teammate -- and two-time Dakar winner in his own right -- Firdaus Kabirov. Kabirov is now 38 minutes behind Chagin, and the powerful Kamaz team's third truck, piloted by Ilgizar Mardeev, is in fourth just over four hours behind.
Slotted in between Kabirov and Mardeev, though, is Marcel van Vliet, with the young Dutchman experiencing his best Dakar yet. However, van Vliet lost 28 minutes to Mardeev on today's stage, and is now only six minutes ahead of the Russian.
After yesterday's problems, Alejandro Patronelli, who won the fourth stage, made up ground today and finished second -- again to his brother and the Quad leader Marcos Patronelli whose overall edge over his nearest competitor has increased to one hour and 26 minutes. Chasing the Yamaha Raptor of the overall leader is yet another Argentinan, Jorge Miguel Santamarina in a Can-Am Renegade. He finished third in today's sixth stage.
Tomorrow's marathon stage is a long and arduous one, and with 600 km of special stage on offer, the stage from Iquique to Antofagasta is the longest of the 2010 event.