Nancy Knapp Schilke, DAKAR correspondent
Coma snatches his 18th Dakar stage win while Peterhansel now how his 58th one
On Argentina’s penultimate special stage before the competitors arrive in Chile tomorrow, the Dakar challengers left San Juan and headed to Chilecito with a trek that would be 424km before they rested for the night, the stage itself was 326km. Navigation was a key toward the end of the special and as usual in the Dakar event, there are always surprises to overcome. On the way to the special, they had time to view the canyons of the Province of Rioja but they always had to remain focus. Experience would pay off today and it showed in the results.
Marc Coma nailed down his 18th Dakar career stage but he still has to make up ground to Cyril Despres. The two KTM riders are used to going head-to-head and at times at the same pace but today the Spaniard took the needed win over the Frenchman. Coma is now 8:10 out of taking the overall lead in the Bike category but Despres will not be tossing in the towel.
"It was a very tough special, in particular at the beginning with the fast start. Then, we had to focus on the navigation and tackle water, a lot of it, in the ríos. I tried to drive at a very high pace from the beginning, but it was difficult. I was able to overtake a few pilots and gain some time on Cyril. Fiambala and many other stages still lie ahead. That is the way things are right now. And I keep on fighting every day," said Coma.
At the beginning I saw Marc surge ahead...
At one point, it appeared Coma might take over the number spot in the Bike standings but Despres kept closing the gap and ensured his staying in the lead. Both riders are past Dakar champions and they know there is still a long way to go before they see the finish as they still have five stages in Chile before the final specials in Peru for the first time in the Dakar rally.
Despres commented, “It was difficult because the rainfall in the region these last few days furrowed the tracks and exposed big rocks. Moreover, with this the heat it is physically demanding to maintain a high pace in these conditions... So I am quite happy with my performance today. At the beginning I saw Marc surge ahead and I knew he would claw some time back, but I focused on the navigation to avoid making any mistakes, slowing down a bit before every note. Since we had almost 400 notes today, I will be quite happy if I only lose two minutes.”
Dutch racer Frans Verhoeven placed his Sherco third followed Helder Rodrigues, who placed third overall in the 2011 Dakar. The Portuguese rider was name sportsman of the year in his homeland and is one of the favorites on a Yamaha this year. The overall shows Despres followed closely by Coma. Rodrigues lays third but is now nearly 27 minutes off the pace of the KTMs. He has that position on the leaderboard with thanks to the navigational errors made at the hands of his rivals. Stage 1 winner Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez and David Casteu were just two of the many riders who made a wrong turn.
Stephane Peterhansel always focuses on his own race in Dakar. The talented rally-raid racer has 10 Dakar victories. His first six were on a Bike before he switch taking on the challenge on 4 wheels instead of two. This year he aims for his fourth legend status in the Car class. It appears that no matter what he type of racing machine, he is one of the best racers in the world. Today, the Frenchman again proved his talent as drove his X-Raid MINI to take his 58th Dakar stage win.
“We just stayed out of trouble to avoid getting lost or having flat tyres and with a very consistent pace from the beginning to the end. This strategy paid dividends! But I would have preferred not to lead the field tomorrow, since there will be no motorcycle tracks. This is not what I would have liked from a tactical point of view, but I think the others made a lot of mistakes, so we will race at the front,” Peterhansel said.
Peterhansel’s closest rival is Giniel de Villiers who this year is in a Toyota pick-up Hiluxx, finished third on the stage today. The gap between the two Dakar champions is 5:41 minutes. Second in the fourth special was Argentinean Orlando Terranova, also in a Toyota.
“Today's special was a really tricky one, with all those rocks,” stated de Villiers. “We saw Nasser have problems less than 20 km from here, but we had no issues and set a high pace without taking too many risks. Tomorrow we are doing the Fiambala special, probably the toughest of the first week of racing, but I am not losing any sleep over it, since we know it well after doing this special for three years. So we will see how it goes! We will try to do our best and hope to achieve a good placing again.”
The MINIs are strong with (Joan) Nani Roma sitting third overall followed by yesterday’s stage winner Krzysztof Holowczyc. Behind them is the top of Hummer H3 with Robby Gordon but he lost time today due to flat tyres which cost him and the American is now over 16 minutes behind Peterhansel. In the other Hummer from Gordon’s team, Nasser Al-Attiyah was actually looking to notch the stage win when he got stuck in a muddy area near the 288km mark. It took the defending Dakar Car champion 13 minutes to get out of the situation he was stuck in which cost him dearly as he is now 30+ minutes behind and sits seventh in the Car standings.
“Towards the end of the special, we got stuck in the mud and it took us a long time to get out of it... But the race is not over yet and we will try to do our best over the next ten days. I am starting to get the feel of my car. This morning we were moving at a great pace, setting the best times without pushing too hard. We actually overtook two of the Minis... So we will see what we can do,”said Al-Attiyah.
In the Quad class, the Argentinean riders are showing their strength in their home country. Today the four of the top five best times belonged to them. Tomas Maffei was over five minutes faster on his Yamaha in the stage than the Patronelli brothers who both are Dakar champions since the move to South America. Maffei was over five minutes ahead of Alejandro and Marcos Patronelli in the stage which now puts him nearly three minutes in the Quad overall standings to Alejandro. Four minutes separates the two brothers.
The defending Quad champion, Alejandro Patronelli praised the organizers for today’s stage: "Earth, mud, water. There was everything. The course was jaw-dropping. It was a perfect day with a quad which ran very smoothly. We covered 326 incredible kilometres. Kudos to the organisers, it was a magnificent stage."
The rest of the contenders are at least one hour behind the top three Yamaha riders but today Chilean Ignacio Casale mounted a charge to place fourth in the special, also on a Yamaha. Honda rider Lucas Bonetto who is also from Argentina and he sits fourth ahead of Casale.
Three for three! The de Rooy team has their stage win in a row! Today, it was Gerard de Rooy who took the Truck class stage win in his Iveco, handing the Dutchman a 2:42 minute lead to his own teammate in the overall. The de Rooy team swept the podium today with Miki Biasion second and Hans Stacey third.
In fact, after the fourth stage the Iveco team holds all three overall podiums at this time. The de Rooy team has been strong since the start of this year’s Dakar rally-raid. Stacey sits second in the Truck standings with a slight edge of 40+ seconds to Biasion. Of course this is early in the game and it did aid the Iveco trucks when Ales Loprais had a broken windscreen and lost time which places him fourth in the overall and close to 13 minutes behind the leader. Kamaz has young drivers after their two champions retired. Artur Ardavichus is now in fifth position, just seconds away from taking fourth away from Loprais’ Tatra.