Arras-Madrid-Dakar: Stage 11 report

TIDJIKJA (Mauritania): Chilean Carlo de Gavardo leapt into contention for victory in the 24th Total Arras-Madrid-Dakar Rally, by setting the fastest time in the bikes' category over the 467-kms section from Atar to Tidjikja in Mauritania. Third ...

TIDJIKJA (Mauritania): Chilean Carlo de Gavardo leapt into contention for victory in the 24th Total Arras-Madrid-Dakar Rally, by setting the fastest time in the bikes' category over the 467-kms section from Atar to Tidjikja in Mauritania. Third overall, he now trails outright leader Fabrizio Meoni by 1m 42s in the overall standings. Meoni was third today and heads second-placed Roma by 1m 26s.

Runaway leader Hiroshi Masuoka extended his advantage in the Cars' category, with a convincing stage win in the Pajero, the Japanese driver benefitting from time-consuming flat tyres for team mates Jutta Kleinschmidt and Kenjiro Shinozuka. Masuoka now has an outright advantage of 17m 49s from 'Shino' with Kleinschmidt, Jean-Pierre Fontenay and Portugal's Carlos Sousa completing a clean sweep of the first five places for the Japanese marque.

Today's early bikes' pacesetter had been Finland's Kari Tiainen, over 10 minutes ahead of the entire bike field at the second passage control. But 'bib-mousse' and engine oil problems hampered progress 330 kms into the stage and the Finn lost over 35 minutes, slipping to 11th through the section. There was disappointment too for Francois Flick on the leading BMW-engined Touratech; the Frenchman was sidelined with engine problems. Behind Meoni, Roma and De Gavardo, Alfie Cox, Jordi Arcarons and Richard Sainct complete the all-KTM top six. The leading 10 riders had benefitted today from two-minute start intervals.

'I was a little disappointed with my performance yesterday,' insisted De Gavardo. 'I paid more attention today. Fabrizio's pace was important. You need to concentrate 150% and be in good physical condition. Otherwide you risk falling. I injured my shoulder yesterday, but it is okay.' Meoni was upbeat: 'The riders with the small engines are very tired. The terrain did not favour my bike today. I believe to be competitive, you need to find a rhythm. My objective is not to win, but to finish.'

Roma is handily-placed for his attack: 'It was a hard day. I rode in front with Meoni, both together. In a village we found a good track, but we were a little deceived. De Gavardo was able to catch us. But I am happy. It is the first time that I have arrived in Tidjikja. For me, it is difficult to ride on the sandy stages, because I am not an expert. I am satisifed to be among the leaders. With Fabrizio and Carlo, I think we will fight for the victory.'

Mitsubishi continued to dominate proceedings on four wheels, with all five official Pajeros ahead of Gregoire de Mevius in the leading Nissan; the Belgian was 45m behind the leaders through the first passage control. Nissan's cause was not helped by further mechanical problems for Stephane Peterhansel in the second Pick-Up.

Defending champion Jutta Kleinschmidt was passed by overall leader Masuoka and Shinozuka after collecting a puncture, while Shinozuka collided with a small tree, damaged the front of the car and collected a flat tyre. This played into the hands of a delighted Masuoka: 'A good day for me. The stage was not the most difficult, but it was long and there were so many jumps. We were flying. Maybe now I take a licence to fly an aeroplane. The camel grass was quite tough and Jutta and 'Shino' had problems.'

Despite Masuoka's massive overall advantage over team mates Shinozuka, Kleinschmidt, Fontenay and Sousa, Mitsubishi team manager Dominique Serieys has ruled out any team orders: 'The race is open. There are absolutely no team orders, nothing at all.'

Vladimir Tchaguine's Russian Kamaz operation continues to lead the Trucks' category, although yesterday's stage was won by the Brazilian Andre De Azevedo in a Tatra and he was again fastest through the second passage control today.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) the route heads west towards the remote village of Tichit, its empty sand flats surrounded by stunning rolling dunes. The 482 kms competitive section comprises tricky navigation, stony and sandy terrain and camel grass. There are still 2500 kms to go in the official route to Dakar....

-aso-

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Jutta Kleinschmidt , Hiroshi Masuoka , Jean-Pierre Fontenay , Carlos Sousa , Kenjiro Shinozuka , Alfie Cox , Richard Sainct , Gregoire de Mevius , Carlo de Gavardo