X-RAID'S DAKAR RALLY LEADER NASSER AL-ATTIYAH EXCLUDED AFTER MISSING SERIES OF WAY-POINTS * Terranova and Kuipers move up to ninth and 10th for X-raid * Chicherit delayed with broken radiator; Novitskiy in deep mud MENDOZA (Argentina):...
X-RAID'S DAKAR RALLY LEADER NASSER AL-ATTIYAH EXCLUDED AFTER MISSING SERIES OF WAY-POINTS
* Terranova and Kuipers move up to ninth and 10th for X-raid
* Chicherit delayed with broken radiator; Novitskiy in deep mud
MENDOZA (Argentina): X-raid's Sails Capital Racing Team's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner set the fastest time on the shortened 178km special stage from San Rafael to Mendoza, but they missed a series of hidden way-points through the sand dunes early in the stage and the unfortunate penalty was exclusion from the rally.
Al-Attiyah had comfortably been the fastest driver on the event this year and had extended his overall rally lead to 7m 32s before the official penalty was awarded. It was a bitterly disappointing end to a superb week in control of the event for the Trebur-based X-raid team.
"The problem started last night when we found a lot of grass in the radiator and the car was getting very hot," reflected a disappointed team director Sven Quandt. "We did as much work on the car as we could last night, but we could not change everything.
"This morning at the start of the sand dunes, the temperature began to climb immediately and Nasser had to decide whether to go in the sand or drive around. He decided to go around and, in so doing, he did not pass all the way-points. That meant that he was automatically vulnerable to a time penalty. But he missed too many way-points and the penalty in the rally regulations is exclusion from the race."
Today's special stage was originally shortened from 394km to 232km and then to 178km because of the risk of standing water caused by recent rainfall. Event officials sent a recce car into the stage on Wednesday to monitor a river crossing which was already 80cm high and the decision was taken to skip the section on safety grounds, hence the stage distance being reduced still further.
X-raid's mechanics had worked into the small hours of the morning to give Al-Attiyah's car a thorough check over after the punishing section through the dunes. The radiator was replaced and all aspects of the cooling system were given a detailed examination before the restart.
Local hero Orlando Terranova and French co-driver Alain Guehennec had damaged their radiator in a hole on the stage into San Rafael, before experiencing cooling problems. The car was repaired overnight, but the Mendoza driver struggled to the 24th fastest time through the dunes to PC1. He eventually reached the finish in 20th and was greeted in his home town of Mendoza by the news that he had climbed back into the top 10.
Dutchman Rene Kuipers and Portuguese co-driver Filipe Palmeiro were 22nd through the first passage control and completed the section in a highly-respectable 21st on the driver's first full Dakar. The result was sufficient to propel Kuipers into 11th overall and he moved up to 10th when Al-Attiyah was excluded.
Frenchman Guerlain Chicherit and co-driver Matthieu Baumel began the stage in 14th position on the road, but struck a tree in the special and damaged the car's radiator. They were forced to wait for X-raid rapid T4 assistance truck before they could continue and eventually dropped three hours to the leaders and finished the stage in 49thposition.
X-raid Russia's Leonid Novitskiy and Oleg Tyupenkin restarted on Thursday morning from 20th in the overall classification after getting stuck for a time on the run into San Rafael. They became bogged down in a deep mud hole 11km into the special this morning at the same point as Luc Alphand was stuck and were badly delayed.
Tomorrow (Friday) marks the crossing into Chile and the most varied of the days in this year's Dakar Rally timetable. Teams leave Mendoza and head into an 80km liaison section, before embarking upon a punishing 419km special stage over twisty mountain tracks in the Andes.
The stage starts near Nueva Californi and winds its way in a north-westerly direction towards the first and second passage controls, before heading south to PC3 and on to a finish at the tourist town of Uspallata in the Andes foothills.
Service vehicles, rally cars and support trucks will cross the border on a sealed surface road at a height of 3,275 metres above sea level between Punta de Vacas and Puenta del Inca, before making the steep descent on to the coastal plain into Chile. The towering peak of Aconcagua, rising to 6959 metres, will be a spectacular sight to the right and is the highest peak in the western hemisphere.