Marc comes tantalisingly close, "Peter" brings the Hummer down
The defending champion took his 18th career stage win at the Dakar, but his goal of conquering the general classification will have to wait. He was only able to claw back 2' from Cyril Despres, whom he still trails by 8'10". On his side, Stéphane Peterhansel seized his 58th special win, which could be a pivotal moment in the 2012 edition.
One cannot build a bridge across the ocean, or so the saying goes. Marc Coma sometimes faces the same problem. Especially when he is targeting Cyril Despres, the leader of the Dakar general classification. There is something of a déjà vu to this situation, and the Spaniard has already proved on several occasions that he is more than capable of closing a gap of ten minutes or so. Coma set a high pace from the very beginning and had already overtaken Casteu, Rodrigues, Gonçalves and Verhoeven by km 137. Despres, leading the field at top speed, was losing 1'51" at that point, which increased to 3'49" at CP2, 115 km later. It looked like the Catalan rider was going to halve the gap in the general classification. In the end, he posted the best time but was unable to steal more than 2'02" from his rival.
The impossibility of competing "on a fair level" is becoming more and more obvious behind the KTM stars. After four days of racing, the candidates to the final podium already lie roughly half an hour back. Frans Verhoeven was the best of the rest, 8'26" back, despite suffering electrical issues which took him a few minutes to repair. Just behind him, Hélder Rodrigues is the best placed rider in the general classification to take advantage of any mistake made by the duo of favourites. But he still lies 26'48" back! The Yamaha pilot, who already got a spot on the final podium last year, overtook David Casteu in the GC after the latter made a navigational mistake at the beginning of the stage. In one fell swoop, he also overtook "Chaleco" López, who joined Casteu in the group of riders who lost around 15 minutes between San Juan and Chilecito.
A new hierarchy has been established in the car category, closer to pre-race predictions. Stéphane Peterhansel showed he is the boss of the race by taking today's special. The stage to Chilecito also earned him the top place in the general classification, with a margin of 5'41" over the second-placed driver. Apart from his X-Raid teammates, Giniel de Villiers may turn out to be the man to watch for the Dakar recordman. The South African is an extremely consistent driver, having finished all but one of his eight Dakars in the Top 7. Just like in 2009, he will be lurking just behind the other competitors, ready to pounce whenever they make a mistake. And the Toyota pick-up he is using at the Dakar for the first time is up to the challenge. Orlando Terranova finished second in today's stage at the wheel of another Hilux.
The impression given by the Hummers during the first few days was confirmed by the performance of Nasser Al-Attiyah, who led the race at the first two checkpoints (km 137 and 252). But the fears on the defending champion and his teammate were also confirmed. 288 kilometres into the special, the driver from Qatar got stuck in a muddy area. It took him 13 minutes to get out of it and he now lies 30 minutes behind "Peter" in the general classification, in what is a serious blow to his ambitions of winning the rally. His teammate Robby Gordon, second in the general classification this morning, also lost heaps of time in stage 4. A series of flat tyres cost him 18 minutes, pushing him back to 16'23" behind the French leader.
The Argentinean contingent has more than confirmed that they are back in charge of the quad category. Four of them hog the Top 5, with only young Chilean Ignacio Casale being able to mount a challenge. Tomás Maffei leads the scratch ahead of the Patronelli brothers, while Lucas Bonetto was able to clinch a fifth place in today's stage. Maffei rounded off the day by taking the lead in the general classification, where he has a gap of 2'52" over Alejandro Patronelli and 6'10" over his brother Marcos. The break has been made. All other competitors lie over one hour behind the leading trio.
In the truck category, members of De Rooy's team can smile again, following his third consecutive special stage win at the 2012 Dakar. Actually, this is a double-triple: in addition to Gerard de Rooy's victory, today's podium is made up of Miki Biasion and Hans Stacey. The same trucks occupy the first places of the general classification, where the Ivecos already seem to be making the difference. Ales Loprais lost some time due to a broken windscreen, while Eduard Nikolaev conceded over 20 minutes to De Rooy today. Kazakhstan's Ardavichus remains Team Kamaz's best-placed driver, 13 minutes back in fifth.