X-RAID LOOKS AHEAD TO SECOND WEEK OF DAKAR RALLY WITH RENEWED OPTIMISM * X-raid's Terranova and Kuipers in eighth and 10th places * Frenchman Chicherit sets the fifth fastest time into the Andes VALPARAISO (Chile): X-raid's Sails Capital...
X-RAID LOOKS AHEAD TO SECOND WEEK OF DAKAR RALLY WITH RENEWED OPTIMISM
* X-raid's Terranova and Kuipers in eighth and 10th places
* Frenchman Chicherit sets the fifth fastest time into the Andes
VALPARAISO (Chile): X-raid's Sails Capital Racing Team's team director Sven Quandt is obviously disappointed that Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Tina Thorner were forced to withdraw from the 2009 Dakar Rally, whilst holding a useful overall lead.
But Quandt has taken many positive factors from the opening week of competition across some of the harshest terrain that Argentina was able to throw at his original six-car BMW X3 CC line-up. He is still confident that the Trebur-based X-raid team could have two cars well inside the top 10 and two more inside the top 15 when the event ends in Buenos Aires next Saturday (January 17th).
"We had a wonderful first week on the Dakar, with the exception of the sixth leg when Nasser and Tina were withdrawn," said Quandt. "I think we showed everybody that the car is not only competitive, but actually better than the competition. Nasser showed his potential but it was just a sequence of bad luck, which culminated in his retirement.
"We still think that we can win the Dakar in the very near future on our own. We now have two cars in the top 10. They are not in reach of the podium, but they are still in a good position. We also hope to have another two cars in the top 15 at the end of the rally."
The four surviving BMW X3 CCs, driven by Argentina's Orlando Terranova, Dutchman Rene Kuipers, Frenchman Guerlain Chicherit and X-raid Russia's Leonid Novitskiy hold eighth, 10th, 19th and 22nd in the overall rankings, but both Chicherit and Novitskiy now have excellent opportunities to make a move up the leader board as the event heads north through Chile in the coming days and into the Atacama desert.
"To get four cars to the finish would be very good, when you compare us to some of the other top teams," added Quandt. "The goal was obviously to have six cars at the end. I think Guerlain could well push next week and 12th, 13th or 14th place is quite possible for him."
Chicherit and co-driver Matthieu Baumel blotted their copybook on the opening special stage last Saturday and have struggled back up the rankings ever since. But the French duo will leave Valparaiso on Sunday morning just over a minute behind Australian driver Bruce Garland and also within easy striking distance of Russian Ilya Kuznetsov.
A couple of useful stage results would also push them into contention to overtake two or three other drivers in the middle reaches of the top 20, so there is everything to play for now for Chicherit and Baumel.
While Quandt hopes that Terranova and Dakar rookie Kuipers can maintain their positions inside the top 10, he is also confident that Novitskiy can pass Matthias Kalle, Nicolas Gibon and Garland and make his own serious move up the overall rankings.
All four cars underwent a thorough check at the rest day and crucial components were replaced by X-raid mechanics, as hundreds of Chilean spectators enjoyed the Dakar atmosphere for the first time.
Thousands of people have lined the roads, highways and town centres over the past week to greet the rally, with an estimated 500,000 people seeing the cars off from Buenos Aires on January 2nd and large crowds gathering in remote towns such as Puerto Madryn and Ingeniero Jacobacci.
Valparaiso was no exception and the Chilean people have welcomed the Dakar with the same warm hospitality as the Argentineans.
Valparaiso translates as Paradise Valley in Spanish and is fondly referred to as Valpo in local dialect. It is an important seaport for Chile and a vital cultural centre, housing the National Congress and also benefiting from being named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is prone to earthquakes and was named 'Little San Francisco' or the 'Jewel of the Pacific' by ancient sailors.
Tomorrow (Sunday) marks the first of the four special stages in Chile, as the route of the 2009 Dakar Rally heads north along the Pacific Coast to an overnight halt at La Serena. The day commences with a 245km liaison through La Calera and El Melon to the start of the 294km special stage and culminates with a 113km road section to the bivouac.
La Serena is a commune in the Elqui Province and capital of the Coquimbo region.