Nani Roma celebrates his second special-stage win
• Stéphane Peterhansel defends overall lead
• Boris Garafulic works his way up
It was one of the longest special stages of this year’s Dakar Rally and at the end of the exhausting 477 kilometres, Nani Roma (ESP) and Michel Périn (FRA) proved to be the quickest, with their yellow Monster Energy MINI ALL4 Racing. Poland’s Krzysztof Holowczyc and his Belgian co-driver Jean-Marc Fortin took their ORLEN MINI ALL4 Racing to third position behind Robby Gordon, with the green Monster Energy MINI ALL4 Racing of French pairing Stéphane Peterhansel / Jean-Paul following in fourth position. Leonid Novitskiy (RUS) / Andi Schulz (GER) in the orange Monster Energy MINI ALL4 Racing came eighth, right ahead of the two Portuguese Portugiesen Ricardo Leal dos Santos and Paulo Fiuza in the red sister car.
The early stages featuring numerous technical sections suited the MINI ALL4 Racing particularly well. Later however, the Hummer with its bigger suspension travel enjoyed an advantage. “In the closing stages, the track resembled a highway,” said Roma. “You went 30 kilometres straight on, then there was corner, followed by another 40 flat-out kilometres straight on and the next turn. There, we had just no chance against the Hummers.” The Hummer has been designed according to the American regulations that allows for these advantages and therefore races in the open-class ranking that offers the American cars the possibility to compete in the Dakar. While the MINI ALL4 Racing was designed according to the FIA T1 regulations and therefore has to comply with other specifications, clearly limiting – for instance – the suspension travel.
At the beginning of the special stage, Roma lurked in second position behind Gordon but around half time, he took the lead and soon opened a solid gap on the US-American. A gap he desperately needed in the closing stages to defend his lead and in the end, he finished just five seconds ahead of the Hummer driver to celebrate his second special-stage win. “I have to admit that I’m delighted with having secured my second special-stage win,” said the Catalan. “From now on, I have to keep my cool and must continue with the style of driving that proved to be successful, so far.”
Holowczyc and Fortin also completed the nearly the entire special stage without encountering any major problems. Then, however, with just 30 kilometres to go, they were passed by Nasser Al Attiyah’s hummer without having been warned by the Sentinel-System. “It was a truly bad place for being passed,” revealed co-driver Fortin. “A lot of dust and gravel were thrown on our windscreen and we had to slow down, thus certainly losing another 40 seconds.”
Peterhansel also had to cope with a dose of bad luck, in the closing stages: with just a few more kilometres to go, he had to change a flat tyre, thus losing some three minutes. “The track was very rocky and I drove extremely carefully,” said the Frenchman, “But in the end we had a puncture, nevertheless.” Despite having lost so much time, Peterhansel defended his overall lead. “Winning the Dakar still represents my No 1 goal,” added the Frenchman, “But defending my small lead will be anything but easy.”
The pairing Novitskiy / Schulz even encountered two punctures and therefore had to stop twice for changing a tyre. “We twice hit a stone difficult to detect,” explained co-driver Schulz. “The second must have been a big one hidden deep in the sand – it even destroyed our wheel.” The two Portuguese Dos Santos and Fiuza also were hampered by punctures. “We had two punctures and it was a kind of weird – both at the left rear wheel,” said Dos Santos. “Afterwards, we opted for continuing at reduced speed.”
Meanwhile, Chilean Boris Garafulic and his French navigator Gilles Picard keep on working their way up in the overall standings, with their Vision Advisors BMW X3 CC. They finished 13th in today’s special stage and now hold the same position in the overall standings. “Throughout the day we have seen just three or for other cars and apart from that, we were all alone,” the Chilean described his special stage. “Fortunately, we had neither punctures nor other problems. I think that we possibly could make it to the top 10 if we succeed in continuing like that. The two Russians Alexander Mironenko and Sergey Lebedev took their BUER BMW X3 CC to 16th position, with the German pairing Stephan Schott / Holm Schmidt having to settle for finishing 35th, with their KS Tools BMW X3 CC 35.
The ninth special stage – or more precisely its finish – represents one of the highlights of this year’s Dakar Rally. It takes the field from Antofagasta to Iquique and there, the drivers will drive down the famous steep dune to the ocean and the finish. The 556-kilometre special stage once again is split in two sections. The first section features Canyons, fast tracks and Fech-Fech sand while navigation skills will be the key factor in the second.