X-RAID'S FLYING DUTCHMAN KUIPERS LOSES POTENTIAL SEVENTH OVERALL IN ARGENTINEAN SAND DUNES * X-raid's Russia's Novitskiy survives stage fright to take fifth * Frenchman Chicherit delayed into La Rioja but 10th quickest * Stage stopped after...
X-RAID'S FLYING DUTCHMAN KUIPERS LOSES POTENTIAL SEVENTH OVERALL IN ARGENTINEAN SAND DUNES
* X-raid's Russia's Novitskiy survives stage fright to take fifth
* Frenchman Chicherit delayed into La Rioja but 10th quickest
* Stage stopped after 175km because cars stuck in dunes
RIOJA (Argentina): Two of the X-raid Sails Capital Racing Team's three BMW X3 CCs safely survived the perilous 12th special stage of the 2009 Dakar Rally between Fiambala and La Rioja in north-western Argentina on Thursday.
Leonid Novitskiy and Guerlain Chicherit set the fifth and 10th fastest times and confirmed unofficial eighth and ninth places in the overall standings. But flying Dutch team mate Rene Kuipers lost a potential seventh position overall when he became stuck in some difficult sand dunes 171km into a 220km stage which also claimed overall leader Carlos Sainz after an accident and Spaniard Joan Roma. The ASO took a decision to stop the stage late on Thursday afternoon and Kuipers was en route to La Rioja and waiting to see what time penalties, if any, he would incur.
"I think this was the hardest day of the entire race," said team director Sven Quandt. "Leonid did a great job, but he was also very lucky. He had no major problems and he helped to put the Volkswagen (Carlos Sainz) back on its wheels, which makes his result even more impressive.
"Guerlain lost a lot of time over the last part, but I am astonished that the race was stopped this afternoon. Maybe there are a lot of cars still in the dunes and it is getting late, but this is the fourth time that this has happened now. I think the organisers underestimated the track and this should not happen with an organisation like the ASO and a race like the Dakar."
X-raid Russia's Leonid Novitskiy and Oleg Tyupenkin began the stage from seventh position on the road and set a superb fifth fastest time in their BMW X3 CC to move ever closer to the top 10, with Chicherit losing time in the dunes and recording the 10th quickest time.
A total of 132 bikes and quads, 89 cars and 56 trucks were permitted to start the 12th stage into La Rioja, where a fierce thunderstorm and heavy early morning rain had relieved some of the oppressive heat of the previous afternoon. The stage was reduced by around 33km at the overnight briefing at a dust-strewn bivouac in Fiambala, when event officials discovered that the original route was scheduled to cross an archaeological site.
Overall leader Carlos Sainz dramatically rolled out of the rally before the first passage control, where Mark Miller was the fastest driver and Chicherit and Novitskiy were running in third and sixth positions, despite the Russian surviving a huge scare at the deceptive corner where Sainz crashed and spending several minutes helping to put Sainz's car back on its wheels.
Kuipers was a safe 12th and looked set to climb to seventh in the overall rankings following Sainz's retirement but, both he and Chicherit were delayed late on, as Giniel de Villiers set the fastest time and moved into an overall lead. Kuipers eventually got going again but the stage was stopped by race officials.
Brazilian privateer Ricardo Leal Dos Santos was also running well inside the top 10 in his BMW X5 and held a virtual seventh position at the second passage control on the day's stage, before losing time in the treacherous sand dunes.
Tomorrow (Friday) is the penultimate day of competitive action in this year's Dakar Rally and features a 545km special stage in a total route of 753km between La Rioja and Cordoba, Argentina's second city.
Event officials have likened sections of this stage to the type of terrain more at home on the FIA World Rally Championship and it is sure to favour the faster, technical drivers. It begins south of Patquia and heads east towards El Chaco, before pressing south to a fourth PC at Salsacate.
The stage then heads north through classic WRC Rally of Argentina territory to Villa de Seco and finishes just short of Villa Carlos Paz, the base for the WRC event, to the west of Cordoba. The city is situated in the foothills of the Sierra Chicas, 390 metres above sea level, on the Suquia River and is one of the oldest former Spanish colonial capitals.