Tan Tan (Morocco): Chilean KTM rider Carlo de Gavardo and Japanese Mitsubishi driver Hiroshi Masuoka clinched their second African section victories of this Total Arras-Madrid-Dakar Rally campaign to further their chances of winning the grueling...
Tan Tan (Morocco): Chilean KTM rider Carlo de Gavardo and Japanese Mitsubishi driver Hiroshi Masuoka clinched their second African section victories of this Total Arras-Madrid-Dakar Rally campaign to further their chances of winning the grueling 9,436 kms race for the first time.
De Gavardo closed to within 1m 16s of overnight leader Joan Roma, who was third through the tricky 351 kms special stage to the breezy coastal town of Tan Tan. Masuoka duly extended his lead in the Cars' category to 3m 25s from team mate Kenjiro Shinozuka. Belgian Nissan runner Gregoire de Mevius was second today and remains in third place overall.
However, the section constituted only half of the first of two Marathon stages and overall classifications remain unofficial. Competition resumes this evening with a grueling section south to Zouerat.
De Gavardo finished the penultimate competitive section in Morocco 2m 55s ahead of Spanish team mate Esteve Pujol Isidre, with Roma, Alfie Cox, Richard Sainct and defending champion Fabrizio Meoni completing the top six. Finland's Kari Tiainen lost over an hour with a broken wheel and Frenchman Cyril Despres - running second overall through PC2 - was forced to retire 262 kms into the stage when he crashed and suffered a dislocated hip.
'I started sixth,' said De Gavardo. 'Today was very important for me. There was a lot of dust and I had to concentrate on the route and the road book. There were a few jumps, which were not on the road book and you could not see them. Some of them were very high and I nearly crashed. I had to overtake the riders in front of me, but not Roma, because he was going quite fast. It was a very interesting stage, dangerous and fast.
'Not bad at all,' added Roma. 'I started behind Arcarons. I passed him and Tiainen had a problem. I have ridden more than 200 km alone without taking risks, but at a good speed.' 'I remember most of this stage from last year,' said Cox. 'You are either going to crash, break or set a good time. I did not want to break the bike so I eased off and it worked.'
Late on Thursday evening the organisers decided to reduce the speeding penalties in the Bikes' category by 50%, paving a clear path for Sainct to put a penalty of 14m 30s behind him and concentrate on his goal of taking a third Dakar win. Sainct now lies seventh overall.
In the Cars category, this year's Dakar is developing into a fascinating battle between the Japanese giants, Nissan and Mitsubishi. Nissan has already taken stage wins through De Mevius and with Peterhansel yesterday, but today was Mitsubishi's turn again. Behind the leading trio of Masuoka, Shinozuka and De Mevius, fourth place fell to a resurgent Jose-Marie Servia, the sole-surviving Schlesser-Renault driver in the Kangoo, running with no team orders and the full support of the entire Schlesser operation.
'I am very pleased with everything,' said Masuoka. 'The car is okay and we are going well. Mauritania will be a challenge. I am happy with my pace and I will keep up this speed. Tonight will be tough. I must start again at around two in the morning.'
Shinozuka was still troubled by power steering problems: 'I have the same problem as yesterday. 80 kms from the end of the stage the power steering failed. Last night we changed the pump, but it happened again. It meant I could not push. I don't know if I have a hotel, but I like the Marathon stage idea. Now I will sleep. If I have a tent it is not a problem.'
Jutta Kleinschmidt was fifth, despite stopping to remove a broken driveshaft, and Qatar's Saeed Al-Hajri - taking part in his first Dakar - set the sixth fastest time in an L200 and now holds seventh place. 'We are taking it sensibly for now,' said Al-Hajri. 'My best stages are yet to come. The desert is my home!'
There was ultimate disappointment for Spaniard Miguel Prieto, whose Dakar challenge had started so brightly with second place at La Souterraine in France. A catalogue of mechanical problems dictated that he failed to restart from Ouarzazate this morning.
In the Trucks category, the Russian Kamaz team, spearheaded by Vladimir Tchaguine, Semion Yakoubov and Serguei Savostine, won the section for the second consecutive day to extend their lead.
Tonight the Dakar caravan heads into the second part of the first Marathon stage from Tan Tan to Zouerat in Northern Mauritania. Assistance vehicles follow a parallel route to the bivouac, as competitors tackle the 370 kms special stage.