Atar (Mauritania): Finland's Kari Tiainen took his first stage win in this year's Total Arras-Madrid-Dakar Rally between Zouerat and Atar to go some way towards making up for the disappointment of dropping so much time with a broken wheel in ...
Atar (Mauritania): Finland's Kari Tiainen took his first stage win in this year's Total Arras-Madrid-Dakar Rally between Zouerat and Atar to go some way towards making up for the disappointment of dropping so much time with a broken wheel in Morocco. Italian Fabrizio Meoni finished the stage in eighth place, but retained a 1m 53s advantage over Chile's Carlo de Gavardo in the overall standings. Spaniard Joan Roma is third, a further nine seconds behind.
In the Cars' category, Mitsubishi tightened its grip on proceedings with a quartet of Evolution Pajeros crossing the line before Stephane Peterhansel in the first of the Nissans.The stage win fell to Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka, who extended his overnight advantage to a massive 12m 46s over team mate Kenjiro Shinozuka; former winner 'Shino' was docked one minute in time penalties late on Friday evening for speeding into a passage control. Both Shinozuka and Fontenay collected flat tyres, Kenjiro's problems being exacerbated when he discovered a damaged jacking point on the Pajero.
Behind Meoni, De Gavardo and Roma, Jordi Arcarons holds fourth place on a KTM and Alfie Cox - celebrating his 39th birthday tomorrow - clung on to fifth place, despite surviving a spectacular accident mid-way through the stage. The gritty South African managed to continue in the leading pack and finished the stage in ninth place with a damaged bike. Team mate Jean Brucy suffered concussion after an accident and received medical attention. KTMs fill the top 10 places, with Sweden's PG Lundmark threatening to spoil the Austrian party in 11th overall on his BMW 'twin'.
'The classification signifies nothing,' said Meoni. 'All the riders are competitive. The race is open. It is a great spectacle. We are all KTM and against each other. We are all friends. For sure, I want to win, but if it was Nani or Richard I would be happy.' Roma was cautious today: 'There was a lot of dust. I passed the first dunes, difficult, with care, and then I got stuck in the last one, two kilometres from the refuelling. The dunes were very soft and I think that a lot of competitors will be stuck there this evening. I am happy to be here in Atar on the bike. Last year I came here via helicopter....'
Mitsubishi's relentless push towards a Dakar 1-2-3 wasn't without its problems. Behind the flying Masuoka, Shinozuka lost time with a flat tyre: 'I had a puncture about 70 kms into the stage and we lost some time because the jacking point on the car is damaged. But I'm happy with second place. We will look at the car now over the next couple of days and maybe change the suspension and the differential.'
Masuoka was upbeat: 'I spoke to my mechanics and they said push today, so I pushed and we had a good stage. The sand was not too difficult, but the dunes were quite high and we damaged the bumper.' 'We ran a good stage, but I take my hat off to Hiroshi, he was flying today,' admitted Kleinschmidt.
Belgian Gregoire de Mevius was troubled with engine maladies on the run into Zouerat and he was again in the wars before the start of the stage today when the car got bogged down in the sand with electrical problems. The dejected Belgian was eventually pulled out by a passing truck, but returned to the start in Zouerat. The Nissan mechanics had been unable to prevent the V6 running on five cylinders. Team mate Peterhansel, already badly delayed in Morocco with two flat tyres and a battery problem, finished the stage in fifth place and now lies a daunting 1h 25m behind Masuoka, a puncture today not helping his cause.
Tomorrow (Sunday) is the traditional rest day on the Dakar, an opportunity for mechanics, riders, drivers and officials to take some much earned rest before the battle resumes in earnest on Monday with a loop stage in and out of Atar.