The rocky Fiambala-Copiapó stage saw the triumph of a support driver and the reemergence of an old threat. Nani Roma won in his Mini while Frans Verhoeven went fastest in the Bikes.
As the 2013 Dakar Rally winds down on its way back to Santiago, the competitors have begun to let off the throttles, hoping to preserve their machines just long enough to make it to the Pacific coast with their hard-earned positions intact. To make a mistake now would be the ultimate disappointment.
And yet, that’s almost what race leader Stéphane Peterhansel did today, getting stuck in the sand just after the start of the stage and nearly throwing away his 50-minute lead. The defending champion was lucky to get his vehicle moving again, and only lost a few minutes overall to closest pursuant Giniel de Villiers.
“Today's stage was a lot tougher than I expected it to be,” the South African said. “With a long liaison this morning at high altitude… it needed a lot of concentration. There were quite long dune crossings and really tricky places in the dunes. Then, on the tracks there were lots of rocks, so you really had to be very precise so as not to hit any rocks. It was not an easy day.”
Heading to the finish, he follows Peterhansel with a good buffer over Roma, now in third. While the Toyota team’s provisional spot is an improvement over last year, they will still hope for some last-minute drama for their X-Raid Mini rival.
In the Bikes the gaps aren’t nearly as wide. KTM’s Cyril Despres keeps only a five minute advantage of Ruben Faria, but is lucky that the Portuguese is his teammate. Faria, too is lucky to ride with Despres, for today Cyril dropped back from the first starting position to avoid the risk of a navigational error and help his longtime water carrier score second place on the day.
“I didn't want to open the track today so I let them go,” Despres explained. “It was also important for me today to try and help Ruben. He's been helping me for the Dakar 2010, 2011, 2012 and also 2013, so today I decided to help him to try and stay in second place overall.”
“I kept on pushing from the start to the finish and I caught about three guys: Faria, (Ivan) Jakes and (Alain) Duclos. We were riding really hard and really good. I'm very happy to have won this stage”
Perhaps the biggest surprise in Fiambala was Joan Barreda’s arrival at the start line. The Husqvarna rider reported an intense pain in his shoulder after a crash near the finish yesterday, and rumors that his rally of many singular successes was over. But not only did he start the race today, he placed third. It was another incredible showing from Dakar’s latest top challenger.
The Trucks race was an all-Kamaz affair today, with Andrey Karginov driving to secure his spot on the podium and battling with teammate Ayrat Mardeev in the process! Karginov won this round, but Mardeev holds second while following Kamaz number one Eduard Nikolaev by half an hour. Barring a mistake by these top three, the final podium in Dakar will be a 100% Russian one—from the vehicles down to the second navigator.
Tomorrow’s penultimate stage will be the drop out of the Andes and down to La Serena on the coast. It will be the last realistic spot for an attack—or mistake—by any of the competitors, and will make the results of Dakar 2013 that much realer.