Mikko Jalonen, Dakar correspondent
Competitors are pleased to have the vital Rest Day in Dakar event""
The first week of the Dakar rally-raid has seen many exciting battles and some very tough challenges to the riders and drivers. Dakar’s Argentina-Chile-Peru contest started on New Year’s Day (Sunday) with the special stage between Mar del Plata and Santa Rosa held in Argentina. It proved straight up how demanding a rally can be when the defending title holder of the car class, Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah, had early problems with his Hummer H3 and was forced to be towed by his teammate, Robby Gordon. Since then and despite two stage wins, Al-Attiyah has seen even more problems during the first week of action and is now sixth overall; over 40 minutes behind the Car leader.
The Car class couldn´t be more interesting through. ALL4RACING MINI hold the 1-2 in the overall standings with Stephane Peterhansel on top and Krzysztof Holowzyc is 11 and a half minutes behind him but the Hummer of Gordon is just 13 minutes behind the Polish driver’s MINI; which does not leave any room to take things easy. Where the MINIs have been shining is the more flat sections, the Hummers of Gordon and Al-Attiyah has been working very well on the sections with dune after dune playing the main role. Considering they have only taken on of the long and demanding stages of Chile; it will probably shed more light about who will win the Car class at the 2012 Dakar when they cross the border into Peru.
Early predictions in the Bike class for this year would be a battle between the rivals Cyril Despres and Marc Coma again and so it has been. In the early stages, the Chilean rider Francisco Lopez using the Aprilia was able to challenge the top two favourites but since stage four, the KTM duo has been racing at their own level and they lead third-placed Helder Rodrigues on a Yamaha by nearly 50 minutes. The gap between overall leader Despres and second-placed Coma is now around 7 minutes. But Coma will do everything to get pass Despres in the standings to take the win for the second time in a row. If Coma wins, it would be the first repeat Bike victor since the Fabrizio Meoni took his double wins in 2002 and 2001 when the Dakar was actually in Africa. So far the battle has been a great one to follow and among the fans it’s been one of the highlights of the Dakar Rally so far.
Trucks have been surprising from many points of view this year and all for good. First of all, the race is extremely tight at the top which always gains a lot of good publicity and increases the number of fans and secondly the fight between Kamaz, Tatra and Iveco has brought the colour of the trucks that the sport really needs. What I’ve always liked about the Trucks in Dakar and know other fans have also it to witness another great battle between the names: De Rooy and Loprais! This time around, the battle is between the younger generation. After one week of racing, Gerard De Rooy leads the Trucks with his Iveco while Ales Loprais is second, just 17 minutes behind in his Tatra. Third is the last African edition winner of the Dakar, who is also in a de Rooy team Iveco, Hans Stacey is 33 minutes behind. One of the surprises in the Trucks has been the trouble seen by the Russian Kamaz team through they do hold positions 4th to 6th and in the past Kamaz has been very reliable and again they are; but compared to De Rooy and Loprais, it seems to lack a bit of speed. Tough stages of Chile are made for the Kamaz liking and we might see them get back into the top 3 to mount a challenge.
Last year’s Quad winner, Alejandro Patronelli, is in front now by an hour over Tomas Maffei, who surprisingly led the category after the fifth stage [Sixth stage was canceled]. However, yesterday Maffei was forced to stop various number of times and lost more than half an hour compared overall leader. Third in class is Marcos Patronelli despite losing a lot of time on the most recent stage, just like Maffei did. Marcos admitted he made a navigational error. For Alejandro, the things are looking a bit easier now but it’s been delighting to see the Patronelli brothers have had some competition and hopefully the same continues in the following stages.
That’s all this time, hopefully people has been enjoying our Dakar reports and following the South American edition of the 2012 Dakar. I know I have truly been enjoying the action, the team work, the rivalries and following those who not might make the news but they also are doing the best they can!