Robb Pritchard, CCR correspondent
STAGE 7: Thursday, January 5, 2012
Akjoujt - Akjoujt (Mauritania)
SS: 412.34 km
The fallout of yesterday's monster stage only became truly apparent this morning. Last night, looking at the living timing screen in the organiser's truck, some car tracking spots were packed together in what we guessed were makeshift camps while others were humorously far off the course trying to head where they thought some tarmac was. But for the start of today's 412.34 km loop only 15 cars and trucks lined up.
I am very happy today!
Because the stage started and finished in the same place we decided to drive to a series of dunes some 40km in from the finish. Reading the roadbook backwards, in the desert, to a hungover Russian was a bit of a challenge but we found a beautiful spot, parked up and waited... and waited... and waited some more. The hours passed and idle chit chat turned into silence and introspective calculations of the inclement speed of the moving dunes. We came to realise that something was wrong somewhere and we all expressed our hope that no one was hurt... But no one came through the last part of the stage and we drove back to camp in the darkness wondering what had happened.
The explanation was rather simple though. There was a slight mistake in the roadbook that sent the crews off in the wrong direction. Some worked out what was wrong quicker than others though and set off the right way... which is why at the top of today's timesheet is the radiant Elisabete Jacinto in her MAN truck. “For 17 km we had our moment of glory,” she beamed. “We passed a lot of stuck or broken cars and were then following the tracks of just the TATRA, another car and a few bikes. Then Jean-Louis Schlesser came back and his co-driver asked what we thought of the book and we agreed that something was not right. So I had a look at the book and decided to find the way... and we did, and that is why we were first at CP2. But after that it was soft sand and we had trouble there and got stuck... But while we were digging Rene Metge came in the helicopter and explained that the stage had been stopped after CP2, so I am very happy today!”
Not so impressed was Jean-Louis Schlesser whose name languishes in an unfamiliar 6th position after spending a lot of time looking for the right way. “It was a little crazy today... spending 10 hours in the car... We went the wrong way like everyone but after CP2 caught everyone up again and were leading, but then we had to stop and take the time from CP2. But you know, this is life. Sometimes comme ci, sometimes comme ca.”
Jacques Loomans was a little less philosophical though as his run of bad luck continued today. “The clutch broke,” he shrugged. “And the aggressive engine is not so good for the dunes where you have to be really smooth, so we had a few problems.” He asked to look at the timesheets and saw that he was now in 3rd, behind Tomas Tomecek in the TATRA. “We can't take an hour back in just 2 stages,” he sighed.
Out of the race after having a whole list of problems in yesterdays monster stage is Regis Delahaye in his MD Rallye Buggy, the only one who looked like pressuring Schlesser. “We had lots of problems in the dunes, first with traction from a combination of the tyres and suspension and then the engine overheated... Then we broke the steering, so we tried to go little by little in the darkness, but at 11pm we stopped, waited for light and climbed a dune to see where we could go... We got the car back here at 7am, but it's not ready to race after an hour...”
And if competitors think that after two stages that have completely shaken up the leaderboard things are going to get a little easier... at 445km tomorrow is the longest stage of the rally!
STAGE 7 RESULTS
1.Elisabete Jacinto (P) / Jose Marques (P) / Marco Cochinho (P) MAN 4.53.00
2.Michel Turon-Barrere (F) / Didier Haquette Crd Buggy +04.00
3.Tomas Tomecek (CZ) / Vojtech Moravek (CZ) TATRA +14.30
1. Jean-Louis Schlesser (F) / Cyril Esquirol (F) 17.04.27
2.Tomas Tomecek (CZ) / Vojtech Moravek (CZ) TATRA +2.58.42
3. Jacques Loomans (B) / Frits Driesmans (B) VW Amarok +4.10.59