Sainz takes second stage win at Dakar

Carlos Sainz used his World Rally Championship experience to his advantage to take the second stage victory for Volkswagen on the Lisbon-to-Dakar rally, and to build on his overall lead.

Carlos Sainz and Andreas Schulz.
Photo by Volkswagen Motorsport.
Sainz, who holds the record for the most WRC career victories, and co-driver Andreas Schulz sped away in the Race Touareg 2 to win the stage which was ran on muddy and slippery mountain roads in Portugal by 25 seconds over Mitsubishi driver Luc Alphand.

"That was a perfect start," exclaimed Sainz. "To win both European stages is obviously a great way to start my first Dakar Rally. The Race Touareg 2 ran perfectly and the spectator barriers lining the route for the many fans were very good."

Sainz now holds a 3:45 lead over Alphand, whose result moved him from seventh to second. But with some 8100 km remaining of the total 8300 km, the two European stages were but an appetizer.

"I expected today's stage to be drier than yesterday, because of the higher altitude," Alphand recounted. "The important thing was to stay in touch with the leaders without taking any risks and dropping too much time."

Behind Sainz and Alphand, the BMW X-Raid team put in another good showing in the new X3 CC, as Nasser Al-Attiyah took third place on the stage, 28 seconds behind Alphand, following on Guerlain Chicherit's fifth place on the first day. Al-Attiyah and Chicherit are now 8th and 10th overall.

"I am very happy -- the car is great even if it is a bit too big for the kind of course we had on these first two stages," the Qatari raid/rally specialist explained. "That's why I really focused on driving very safely. But we were good today. We overtook Schlesser and many other cars. It looked a bit like WRC and I loved it! I could have been even faster if I was not delayed behind other cars and bikes ..."

St?phane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret.
Photo by Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports.
But the big improvement on the day was for the Repsol Mitsubishi team. After a stumbling start to the rally that saw only two Pajero pilots in the top ten on the first day (Nani Roma 6th and Alphand 7th), the team took not only the second place on the stage, but Hiroshi Masuoka, Roma and the defending champion, Stephane Peterhansel, took 4th through 6th places on the stage, respectively.

Peterhansel suffered a puncture, again, and was understandably frustrated: "We had to stop to change another tire and lost more time. I will not have fond memories of my passage through Portugal on the Dakar Rally!"

Apart from Sainz, other Volkswagen drivers drove more cautiously today, and Giniel de Villiers suffered a puncture. Still, that was enough to put three of the team's five cars in the top ten in the standings before the start of the first African stage.

On the two-wheeled side, local hero Ruben Faria took the victory in the final Portuguese stage, beating Gauloises KTM factory rider Isider Esteve Pujol by just over a minute.

"It was pretty tough today because I couldn't use the disc brake at the back of my bike," Faria said. "On the other hand, I knew very well the course because I live in the region and lots of people supported me."

Faria, who was just four seconds slower than first-stage winner Cyril Despres yesterday, would now hold a comfortable overall lead in the standings, if it were not for a 12-minute penalty he was hit with for arriving late to the start of the first stage yesterday -- because he had trouble paying for fuel for his bike!

Team Gauloises KTM: Isidre Esteve Pujol.
Photo by Herwig Peuker.
"The track was a real ice-skating rink today," Pujol reflected on the day. "I couldn't ride as fast as I wished, but it was an enjoyable stage. But of course, the real Dakar has not started yet."

As things stand, Esteve Pujol holds the overall lead, eight seconds ahead of Marc Coma (Repsol KTM), while Faria is 9:57 behind, in 26th place.

In another surprise, Portuguese privateer, Helder Rodrigues, rode his Yamaha WR450 to his second fourth place of the event, a minute and a half ahead of Yamaha's lead factory driver, David Fretigne. Rodrigues now stands third overall, 43 seconds behind Esteve Pujol and 35 seconds behind Coma.

"Like yesterday, today was very technically demanding," Rodrigues recounted. "Because of these changing conditions, I didn't know how fast I could ride. I am happy since I managed to keep cool. Actually, I was so happy about my 4th place yesterday that I couldn't believe it. So you can guess how great it is for me to finish 4th once again!"

Despres was back in 11th today, 3:38 behind Faria at the finish, and falls to fifth place in the standings, behind teammate David Casteau, who finished today's stage third fastest. But there is a whole continent yet remaining!

Faria was honest about his chances of success once the rally moves to the traditional Dakar environment: "Now is the time for a new story in Africa. I don't know the desert, I don't even know how to use GPS. I want to learn and reach my goal: Dakar!"

In the truck category, it was another Tchaguine day, as the Russian ace piloted his Kamaz 4911 to a stage victory, once again ahead of Andre de Azevedo (Tatra) and Miki Biasion (Iveco).

Karl Sadlauer had his moment in the spotlight, as the Austrian brought the KTM factory team's MAN to the finish in fourth place, eight minutes adrift of Tchaguine, and just ahead of Pep Vila's and Markku Alen's Ivecos.

Loprais Tatra Team: Karel Loprais, Petr Gilar and Ales Loprais test the Tatra Dakar 2006 4x4.
Photo by Milan Loprais.
However, Karel Loprais' Tatra was the only other truck able to finish the stage, as Tomas Tomecek crashed his Tatra heavily, blocking the road for the following competitors. As a result, the organizers awarded the identical time of 2:17:50 to all other competitors.

Tomecek incurred a five-hour penalty for exceeding the time limit on the stage, and joins some 15 other trucks that got hit by the penalty on the relatively tight mountain roads of Portugal.

At the front, Tchaguine is clearly on form early, and holds a five-minute lead over de Azevedo. And the mood in the Motorsport Italia's camp must be upbeat at this point, as the team's three Iveco Trakkers are running 3-4-5 in the hands of Biasion, Vila and Alen.

But Africa is calling, and after the overnight crossing, the first Moroccan stage will show the competitors the "real Dakar". With over 1,000 km of specials in the next three days, by Wednesday night the contenders will have been sorted out from the pretenders.