Road penalties hang in the air ; Schlesser's Kangoo on fire Ouarzazate (Morocco): Spaniard's Jordi Acarons and Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel revelled in the conditions on the toughest stage of this year's 24th Total Arras-Madrid-Dakar Rally so...
Road penalties hang in the air ; Schlesser's Kangoo on fire
Ouarzazate (Morocco): Spaniard's Jordi Acarons and Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel revelled in the conditions on the toughest stage of this year's 24th Total Arras-Madrid-Dakar Rally so far, by setting the fastest time on the 338 kms section through the arduous Erg Chebbi, featuring the first dunes of this year's Dakar. Acarons, a regular visitor to the region, carved out a 48s advantage over Joan Roma in the Bikes category, although Roma regained the overall lead.
Peterhansel gave Nissan its first stage win in Africa with the new Pick-Up, but Hiroshi Masuoka maintained an outright lead of 2m 04s over fellow countryman Kenjiro Shinozuka, despite being beaten into third place by his Mitsubishi team mate. Former leader Gregoire de Mevius holds third place in a second Nissan Pick-Up, despite breaking a front driveshaft on today's stage.
'I was going okay, but then we caught Masuoka and broke a front left driveshaft, groaned De Mevius. 'For me the stage was over, I had to slow down and make sure we had no more problems.'
The day's events were dominated by the shock retirement of FIA World Cross-Country champion Jean-Louis Schlesser. Leaking diesel from the Kangoo's fuel injection pipe spilled on to the engine 40 kms into the special stage and the car was destroyed in a sudden fire.
Numerous time penalties incurred late on Tuesday night in Er Rachidia completely changed the face of the leaderboard. They were imposed because competitors were caught speeding through a village on a liaison section and the regulations state that one minute would be imposed per kilometre an hour over the legal limit. Nissan's De Mevius endured a four-minute agony, Jutta Kleinschmidt suffered the ignominy of a three-minute penalty and Peterhansel suffered worse still. Sainct and Sala were docked time in the Bikes' section and Slovenia rider Miran Stanovnik was caught receiving outside assistance in the bivouac and suffered by a massive 45 minutes.
In the Bikes category, overnight leader Kari Tiainen completed the stage in third place, with defending champion Fabrizio Meoni, South African Alfie Cox and yesterday's stage winner Carlo de Gavardo rounding off the top six. KTM's filled the first 14th places, only Sweden's PG Lundmark on the BMW 'twin' managing to edge into the top 15.
'A good stage,' said Acarons. 'I have ridden in this area many times and have organised some tours in the area. A group was ahead, I attacked very hard and Isidre, my team mate, let me passed and I thank him for that. I lost some time in the dunes. Because I took a left and it was not the right one. There was a wadi in Hi-Remelia and then I found the right track. It was not easy, but I regained the time I lost and passed Sainct.'
'I started behind and there was a lot of dust from Tianen, Meoni and the others,' said Roma. 'After the town of Hi-Remelia they got lost and I managed to get passed. It was very fast, but I was behind De Gavardo and started to attack to try and gain some time.' Frenchman Francois Flick suffered electrical problems on the Touratech.
Behind the leading quartet of Masuoka, Shinozuka, De Mevius and Kleinschmidt, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Fontenay and stage winner Stephane Peterhansel round off the top six. Spaniard Jose-Marie Servia is the sole-surviving Schlesser entrant in seventh place with the V6 petrol-engined Kangoo, 24m 23s behind Masuoka. Portugal's Carlos Sousa, former Middle East rally champion Saeed Al-Hajri and Frenchman Luc Alphand complete the top 10.
Masuoka was upbeat: ''It is a good start on the rally for me. We will see what is going to happen. I tried to keep myself not too confident, but after Atar we will attack. Today was a good special stage, sand dunes, everything that you are supposed to find on a Dakar.'
In the Trucks category, the Russian Kamaz operation extended its advantage, but there was misery for Jan De Rooy in the DAF. He lost valuable time in the sand dunes.
Tomorrow (Thursday) the route heads further south and then west towards the coast. A 176 kms liaison section is followed by the first of two gruelling Marathon sections to Tan Tan. There is no respite either; a 266 kms liaison takes crews into an eight hour-break and then a second 370 kms competitive section to Zouerat in the Southern extremities of Morocco.
The next two days could completely change the course of the Dakar...