Mikko Jalonen, Dakar correspondent
Peterhansel sails over sand dunes while Gordon appeals a disqualification
377 km long special stage between Iquique and Arica proved to be a vital for those fighting for the victory when the caravan spends its last days at the very demanding desert scenery of Chile before moving over the border to Peru. The battle may not be over until the dust settles and today’s stage was a good example of how demanding and cruel the event can really be, even for the ones fighting for the victory. In this report we take a closer look how the stage was tackled through each category starting from cars all the way to quads.
In the Car category, the intense battle between the Hummer of Robby Gordon and the MINI of Stephane Peterhansel has been one of the main stories of the 2012 Dakar so far and today the MINIs of X-raid took the two fastest times of the special stage with Nani Roma winning the stage 21 seconds ahead of his teammate and overall leader, Stephane Peterhansel.
Do I think I can win again? Of course.
The Italian now has three stage wins this year and was obviously happy with his performance. Roma said, “The stage was good. Winning again is good motivation. For me, it's just another win, but it's really motivating for the guys who are working on the car. It's good for Mini and it's good for X-Raid. In any case, I'm very happy, but my aim is not to win stages. I'm looking at the bigger picture and I want to finish in Lima in the best position possible. For the moment, there are no instructions. It's important to do things correctly like we have done up to today. Stephane (Peterhansel) is 18 minutes ahead of me, which is a bit far, but you have to believe and drive like we have been doing since the start.”
Second today, Peterhansel admitted that he had a big battle with Gordon and was wondering what went wrong with the American after seeing the American’s big moment. “Today it was a big fight with Gordon. At the beginning he was a little bit slower than us. We overtook him when he made a navigation mistake, but at the end he overtook me again. He was really fast on a very short corner to the left, very tight, and he went straight on and jumped off a small cliff. I was sure that he rolled, but when I saw again through the dust he was on his wheels. I think something happened with his car, I don't know exactly why or what – maybe the tyre? I don't know…“
Third today was South African Giniel De Villiers in a Toyota Hilux. For the 2009 winner of the Dakar, the rally has been harsh and a good result today boosts up the confidence considering the last four stages. De Villiers is now fourth overall but a bit more than an hour behind the Car leader. De Villiers stays happy by being the best of the vehicles using the new regulations. “I think it was the toughest stage so far. It was really tricky at the beginning with a lot of rocks and a lot of fesh-fesh and you really had to be quite sharp,” he said.
“In the dunes it was also difficult with the visibility; it wasn't easy to see, although the crossing was not too difficult. But for sure, there was the fesh-fesh and very bumpy roads and also in some places we had quite tricky navigation as well. We just tried to follow the road-book exactly and we didn't make any mistakes. The Toyota ran well again today, so no complaints. Well, I think the cars are running pretty good. We've had no technical issues and nothing from a reliability point of view. It's been excellent. We lack the power and performance to compete up front, unfortunately we cannot quite be there, but, like I said, we've got to look to the future. We're running with a new regulation already, with a standard engine and the front cars are running with highly modified engines, so if we take that we are doing pretty good. We tried to push. If we have stages like today I think anything is possible because on a stage like today a lot of things can happen. It's not easy, but that's what we're looking for: the more difficult it gets, the better it is for us,” added de Villiers.
Now to report on what happened to Gordon as the stage was a disaster for the American. He already received bad news earlier before he set out to challenge the MINIs with his Hummer H3. On top of his teammate withdrawing from this year’s Dakar edition, Gordon was disqualified but he filed an immediate appeal which allows him to remain in the competition for now. No date was set for when the committee will meet to make a final decision. Per dakar.com, “the Car Race Officials Committee has decided to disqualify No. 303 from the race” and the reason given was “following observation of technical non-compliance”. The area of concern is in “article 1P and 3P of the technical rules”.
For the Hummer of Gordon the stage was a disaster through considering the overall race as he had to stop just 60 km before the finish line. In the process, Gordon lost more than 11 minutes and despite finishing the stage as fourth fastest, just a bit over 14 minutes slower than Roma, the American was dropped to third overall almost 20 minutes behind the MINI of Peterhansel. Gordon wasn´t happy man at the finish line and was blaming Peterhansel for not moving out of the way when passing this after a navigational error.
The American through, has not thrown away his changes to win the race despite the time loss, heavy damage and even a threat of being disqualified for the race: "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 work on and there's a lot of damage from what I can see. Now we'll push, push, push even harder."
For the overall Car standings, Peterhansel now leads the rally by 19 minutes in front of Roma in another MINI and about the same time ahead of Gordon and his mighty Hummer. X-raid MINIs even could have had a triple lead but another bad luck warrior today was the driver from Poland, Kzristov Holowczyc. The crew has yet to finish the stage after stopping twice in try to repair the broken power steering. Holowczyc was holding the third place in overall standings before the problems of today.
In the Bike category, the battle between two KTM riders, Cyril Despres and Marc Coma has been more intense than ever before in the history of Dakar but today, the headlines were stolen by Joan Barreda Bort. The Spaniard, despite a severe injury to his right foot picked up after 35 km mark, managed to win today’s special stage, 1 minute and 32 seconds ahead of his countryman, Coma. Bort was delighted to take the stage win and hopes to finish the Dakar on high note despite an injury.
Today’s winner said, “After the rear wheel problems I had on the 3rd day, I've been taking it day by day. On the last stages it has been better and yesterday, for example, I saw that I could go on the attack, so I went for it. On today's stage, I had a problem with my foot. On a very quick bend, where I was at 120 kmph, I hit a stone with my foot and I thought that the impact had torn my leg off. When I arrived at the refueling zone, I took some painkillers and it was ok until the end of the stage. I even sped up. We'll see what's happened to me. I thought I might have fractured my shin, but I don't think I have. I don't know how serious the injury is, but I think I should be ok and be able to finish in Lima.“
Today’s second fastest, Coma was also happy to his day after taking the advantage of his road position compared to Despres. Coma is now only 21 seconds behind his main rival in the overall standings and believes to see the battle to be settled at the stages of Peru: “It's the tone that's been set for the rally and I think we'll keep on battling until the end. We keep trying to make the difference all the time and the entry into Peru will be decisive. The race will hinge on the smallest of margins. When the performance level is equivalent with the same team and the same bike, it's very difficult, both for him and for me. But when it comes to the crunch, it will be entirely to do with one rider or the other.“
Third today was the overall leader, Despres. The KTM rider may have lost 3 minutes and 32 seconds to the stage winner and 2 minutes and 7 seconds to his main rival, Coma, but all and all was happy with today’s stage despite a navigational error and was among the first ones to congratulate Bort for his excellent stage today.
“It was all going well for me until the 225-km point and I'd managed to keep up a good pace. But I made a small navigation mistake and that's when Marc overtook me. He was with Joan Barreda, who I'd like to congratulate on riding a superb stage. At this level, every second counts! It's a scenario that I thought might happen, so I'm not surprised. I'm just happy to have got through another day. In any case, staying out in front for the whole 377 km whilst riding flat out isn't easy. If I finish in his dust or him in mine, it doesn't change that much,” said Despres.
For the overall Bike standings, Despres leads Coma just by 21 seconds with only four stages of the Dakar to finish. Third is the Portuguese Yamaha rider, Helder Rodrigues, almost 46 minutes behind the KTM riders. Earlier today, it was announced in the Bike category, many riders including Despres and Coma had picked up a 15 minute penalty due to engine changes which is listed in the Dakar regulations.
The Truck stage today was fulfilled with a lot of navigation errors especially for the leading Iveco crews of Team de Rooy and this helped the Kamaz crew of Artur Ardavichus to take the special stage win, just 2 minutes and 14 seconds in front of the Russian Kamaz crew of Andrey Karginov. Surprisingly the stage win brought by Ardavichus in the tenth stage was just the first one for a Kamaz in this year’s edition.
Ardavichus said the day was difficult, "Really today was such a difficult day. There was good navigation and very nice dunes, really big and difficult dunes – we like this. For us this was a normal stage. Everything was good today: good speed, good terrain. Everything was ok, the truck is good and this is much better. De Rooy is very fast. I don't know why today he went a bit slower. Maybe there is a problem with his truck, but normally de Rooy is much too fast, faster than me. One kilometre before the finish, de Rooy overtook me. It was a good day."
Third today and first of the Ivecos were the crew of the overall leader, Gerald de Rooy. For de Rooy through, the day wasn´t easy as his crew had a few navigational errors and his truck even came to the stop at the 256 km mark of the special stage. In the end, the team leader missed the stage win by a bit more than 2 minutes and came close to finishing second before clocking a five second slower time than Karginov.
De Rooy still holds the Truck overall standings through with more than an hour lead over his teammate, Hans Stacey, who lost a bit more than 14 minutes due to navigational errors at today. Third in the overall results is Ardavichus, now just 5 minutes behind Stacey in the Turck classification.
De Rooy explained his issues at the end of the day and stayed as positive to the race outcome. "We went the wrong way and followed yesterday's special. We lost a lot of time there. The Kamaz passed us, but I overtook them again, so we didn't lose a lot of minutes to him today, a maximum of one minute or something, but that's life. The rest was good: the special was nice and the dunes were good. A lot of people were stuck in the dunes, but we didn't have any problems. I'm happy and I'm counting every day, hoping not to lose the gap that I have. I hope we will survive and make it to Lima."
In the Quad class today, the fastest man came from Argentina but wasn´t one of the Patronelli brothers as Tomas Maffei finished the stage on a high and took the stage honors by 13 minutes in front of the Patronelli brothers. Maffei, who was leading the overall race until stage 7, was quickest through every single one of the checkpoints and without a doubt was the fastest Quad rider in stage 10.
Maffei took things pretty normally despite a stage win. "It was a very varied, quick stage and I was quite nervous about it. After the long stage at Antofagasta this one was shorter and it was better. The navigation was complicated. I lost a way point and had to look for it. But, all in all, it was a superb stage, with a magnificent passage through the mountains. There was a lot of earth and the wind wasn't blowing it away, meaning it stayed on the tracks, especially in the last 20 to 30 kilometres of the rally. Now I have to look after the quad and avoid losing contact with the leaders in the general standings. We're going to be entering Peru and there will be the marathon stage. It's sure that being on my own makes it more difficult, but either of them could have a problem."
For the overall Quad standings, the Patronelli brothers are still leading the race with Alejandro having a lead of 1 hour and 20 minutes over Marcos. After the stage today, Maffei is 1 hour and 36 minutes behind the leader and a bit more than 17 minutes behind Marcos in second place.