TEAM X-RAID GMBH MAKES SUPERB START TO DAKAR CHALLENGE WITH FASTEST TIME ON OPENING STAGE * Spaniard Roma leads from Sainz and Peterhansel * X-Raid Russia's Novitskiy settles into ninth; Chicherit delayed CORDOBA (Argentina): Team X-raid...
TEAM X-RAID GMBH MAKES SUPERB START TO DAKAR CHALLENGE WITH FASTEST TIME ON OPENING STAGE
* Spaniard Roma leads from Sainz and Peterhansel
* X-Raid Russia's Novitskiy settles into ninth; Chicherit delayed
CORDOBA (Argentina): Team X-raid GmbH held first and third positions after the shortened opening special stage of the 2010 Dakar Rally between Colon and Cordoba in Argentina on Saturday.
Spaniard Joan 'Nani' Roma and French co-driver Michel Perin set the fastest time of the day in their BMW X3 CC to hold a 02min 07sec overnight advantage over Spanish rivals Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz.
BMW X-raid's French pairing of Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret set the third fastest time in their Trebur-built X3 CC and X-raid Russia's Leonid Novitskiy and German co-driver Andreas Schulz were ninth overall.
"Nani and I have carried out a lot of work with the team to prepare for this event," said Peterhansel. "I have won the rally nine times in my career and the number 10 is a very attractive number. It has been evading me for several years, but we really do have a chance of taking that win this time."
Frenchman Guerlain Chicherit and Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner had not been prepared to take any risks on the opening timed section in the fourth BMW X3 CC, but they suffered electrical problems 60km from the finish and were delayed. Before the start, Chicherit had admitted that the plan was to drive slowly through the first stages.
"It was a great start for Nani and Stephane today," admitted X-raid team director Sven Quandt. "The nature of the stage probably suited Carlos (Sainz) and Nasser (Al-Attiyah) better, but we are delighted to get a stage win on the board so early. Guerlain has had an electrical problem and we need to get to the bottom of that, but I am pleased that we have a stage win under our belt."
A total of 362 vehicles, including 134 cars and 52 trucks, set out from the official start ramp in front of the Obelisk on 9th of July Avenue in downtown Buenos Aires on New Year's Day. Massive crowds gathered to witness the start for a second successive year; such is the popularity of the Dakar in South America.
Peterhansel, Roma and Chicherit began Saturday's 251km special stage between Colon and Cordoba in second, fifth and eighth positions on the road, with X-raid Russia's Leonid Novitskiy slotting into 11th position.
The stage offered twisty and fast, flowing sections and started at Rio Cuarto, included a passage control at the 223km point and finished to the east of Rio Tercero, before an 84km liaison guided teams into the bivouac.
But the ASO were forced to shorten the special because localised flooding had made several fords impassable and the first 52km of the timed section were neutralised, reducing the competitive distance to just 199km for the cars and forcing the stage to start 30 minutes later than planned.
Both Roma and Peterhansel made promising starts and were running at the front of the order through the early checkpoints. Roma duly led from Peterhansel and Sainz through PC1 and increased his lead over Sainz to an impressive 1m 47s at the second passage control, 28km from the stage finish. He reached the finish 2m 07s ahead of his Spanish rival.
Tomorrow (Sunday) X-raid crews will tackle a 355km selective section between Cordoba and La Rioja, a town in the Gran Chaco region at the foot of the Velasco mountains that was also used as a bivouac in last year's event.
The stage starts after a 56km liaison section near the famous town of Vila Carlos Paz - the host location for the WRC round in Argentina - and will cross many of the trails used in the FIA's other major off-road motor sport discipline. A further 275km liaison through the towns of Chanar, Punta de los Llanos and Tallamuyuna will steer teams into the overnight halt at La Rioja. The event officially finishes in Buenos Aires on Sunday, January 17th.