Dakar: Gauloises Racing stage 15 report

93 bikers, 66 car crews and 35 trucks eventually made it to the finish line of the 28th Euromilhoes-Lisboa-Dakar. Luc Alphand in the car race and Marc Coma on two wheels were both crowned for the first time. Vladimir Chagin, behind the steering ...

93 bikers, 66 car crews and 35 trucks eventually made it to the finish line of the 28th Euromilhoes-Lisboa-Dakar. Luc Alphand in the car race and Marc Coma on two wheels were both crowned for the first time. Vladimir Chagin, behind the steering wheel of his Kamaz conquered his fifth title.

In memory of the two children that sadly died during the passage of the Dakar caravan in Guinea and Senegal, the Lac Rose special was not timed. The official times for the final standings of the 28th Euromilhoes-Lisboa-Dakar were therefore those registered after stage 14 between Tambacounda and Dakar.

The traditional final apotheosis this morning was naturally not as cheerful. The competitor's joy that dream of this final lap of the Lac Rose was tarnished by the sadness linked to the losses of biker Andy Caldecott, Boubacar Diallo and Mohamed N'Daw.

The podium ceremony was therefore purely symbolic with the sporting aspect already decided before the last few days in all three categories. On two wheels, Marc Coma's final victory could have been predicted in Lisbon at the start of the event. The Spaniard indeed looked to be the main rival of title holder Cyril Despres. He confirmed after riding a very solid and smart race that the Spanish curse that had hit Jordi Arcarons and Nani Roma in the past no longer existed.

However, the battle between the two big favourites didn't quite happen as planned. Cyril Despres' goal to take it nice and easily at a decent pace before trying to hit hard in the Mauritanian stages, was troubled by a big crash at km 273 of the stage going from Tan Tan to Zouerat. The Frenchman suffered a dislocated shoulder but courageously decided to carry on managing a few fine specials like the one heading to Nouakchott when he took his team mate David Casteu to a first ever success, or the one going to Kiffa when he gained a few precious minutes on Coma. Cyril Despres finished the rally with four special wins under the belt but also some very bad navigation choices like on the penultimate stage (losing over 40').

Isidre Esteve could have been Despres successor and keep the title within the KTM-Gauloises team, but after a fall during the Nouakchott -- Kiffa stage, the Spaniard was forced to quit the race and had to go through surgery for a ruptured spleen. The leading trio now only had one big gun left: Marc Coma. He was to claim his first ever success "for Andy Caldecott" his KTM-Repsol team mate...

While the 2006 Dakar title remained among the favourites, quite a few bikers proved to be the men of the future. Portugal's Faria and Rodrigues, that didn't only show what they could do on home soil, impressed for their first Dakars. David Casteu, that was starting his first Dakar as an official rider, perfectly managed his role as a support rider but also captured a first ever stage success and finished 8th overall. Alain Duclos, winner of the Marathon class thanks to his 7th spot overall, flew to victory in Bamako, his native town. US bikers Chris Blais, 4th this year and Jonah Street, 17th for his first appearance on the Dakar will be riders to watch in the upcoming years.

The specific standing for the privateers with no assistance was won by Frenchman Patrice Carillon (29th overall). The women's race was won by Patricia Watson-Miller, after leader and title holder Ludivine Puy broke her pelvis heading to Tambacounda.

In the car race Luc Alphand's final victory is nothing of a surprise. His second position in 2005 for his first Dakar in a Mitsubishi had already shown that he had a promising future on the rally. In a car that again seemed the most efficient for a Dakar, his victory ambitions were well legitimate. But for that, he first needed to beat team mate Stephane Peterhansel. And keep a close eye on the opposition, Volkswagen, and its Race Touareg II that proved to be impressive.

The race scheme imagined by Peterhansel followed the same canvas than the one wanted by Despres. It looked to be working out perfectly with 'Peter' making the best of his Mitsubishi Pajero Evo IV on Mauritanian soil where the gaps started getting big. Entering Mali, the title holder had added a line in the Dakar history book by clinching a record breaking 51st stage success, enjoying a 40 minute lead over Alphand. It just looked like a triumphant walk in the park all the way to Dakar for 'Peter'. But the rally is not won until the finish line and Peterhansel knows that just too well. On the special heading to the Frenchman committed a fatal mistake, hitting a tree that forced him to stop and repair for hours. A remake of what happened in 2003 when the 6-time Dakar bike winner lost the race on the penultimate stage before he finish in Sharm-el-Sheikh.

Luc Alphand, that constantly remained within shooting distance was offered a present that he certainly wasn't expecting. He then had to control main rival Giniel De Villiers. To do so, the former World class skier captured two stages in a row, in Labe and Tambacounda. His final advantage on the South African: 17'53''. Good enough!

On the first part of the rally, the focus was on the Volkswagens especially after their fine start and newcomer Carlos Sainz's triumphant run. Winner of the two Portuguese stages, the two-time WRC World Champion also conquered his first African special on the way to Ouarzazate in Morocco. He then lost all chances of final victory when making it to the rest day. The Spaniard indeed spent quite a few hours stopped at km 26 of the special going to Nouakchott with mechanical problems. Sainz learnt the Dakar the hard way but still managed to capture four specials, a record on this Dakar.

As witnessed by Sainz, the Race Touareg armada started having more and more problems while the 'Mitsus' were flying to glory. In the same day, Bruno Saby lost 7 hours. Three stages later, Jutta Kleinschmidt was forced to quit after meeting... a tree! Finally, the only not to struggle with incidents and accidents was to be Giniel De Villiers who captured second spot overall.

The Schlesser-Ford team also seemed well positioned as a rival of 'Mitsu' and 'VW'. The three buggies all made it to Dakar and recruiting Thierry Magnaldi was maybe the best idea of the year. A winner in Zouerat and in Nouakchott, the former biker claimed two of the three wins of the team while 'Monsieur' Jean Louis Schlesser clocked the fastest time on his way to Er Rachidia. But their positions in the overall standing certainly weren't as influential as expected (Schlesser 6th, Magnaldi 10th). However this 2006 edition can satisfy the buggy boss. Maybe not as much as expected, the race also featured the BMW -- XRaid team, especially in the last stages. Still learning on his second Dakar, Guerlain Chicherit captured his first ever special success.

Behind the favourites, the best amateurs were to be Dutchmen Bob Ten Harkel and Herman Vaanholt in a Land Rover (19th overall), the best newcomers were Miguel Barbosa and Miguel Ramalho (22nd). In the competition between the Production vehicles, Frenchman, Jean-Jacques Ratet on a Toyota HDJ 100 (18th overall) almost led the race from start to finish. The T2 Diesel crown was for Japan's Yoshio Ikemachi (23rd). Thumbs up to Florence Bourgnon and Corentine Quiniou (50th), only women's crew to make it to the Lac Rose, and Portugal's Ricardo Leal Dos Santos (46th), who started and finished the rally on his own in a Mitsubishi Pajero.

The truck race saw yet another Kamaz triumph as team leader Vladimir Chagin made his best not to suffer the same upsets than in 2005. By building a comfortable three hour margin after claiming 6 consecutive stages, the 'Tsar' was well ahead and not too annoyed by his opponents. A fine inspiration as Chagin was to suffer in the sand on two occasions in Mauritania. Helped out by team mate and title holder Firdaus Kabirov, he perfectly controlled Hans Stacey. The Dutchman enjoyed victory in 5 specials and finished second overall. In Dakar, Chagin conquered his fifth title, the seventh for Kamaz.

Cyril Despres (Gauloises KTM) 2nd overall (at 1.13'29)
"The rallye started well for me, and despite not having ridden for a month before the start, I saw straight away in Portugal that my pace was good. Up until my crash, where I dislocated my collarbone, every thing was going according to plan, but after that my race became much more complicated. The next day I gave away 30 minutes to Marc (Coma) and in compensating for my collarbone I developed a tendonitis in my right wrist. I had to take each day as it came and it was only really after the special following the rest day that I was at all confident I would be able to continue. Now I don't regret that decision. Obviously I didn't train all year to come second, but under the circumstances I am satisfied with the result. Another major source of satisfaction for me was the atmosphere in the team, which was really excellent."

David Casteu (Gauloises KTM) 8th overall (at 6.16'21)

My instructions as Isidre's water carrier were very clear from the start -- to stay as close to him as possible, without taking unnecessary risk, so as to be alongside him as quickly as possible should he need me. Unfortunately that was the case on the Nouakchott -- Kiffa stage and I am extremely relieved that he is now back in Spain and making a good recovery. To be honest that whole episode shuck me up quite a bit - and we were still a long way from Dakar. But apart from the disappointment of not having 'my' rider with me at the end I am satisfied. I said to my family before I left that if my role as water carrier allowed I would like to finish in the top ten and win a special. So from that point of view it is mission accomplished."

Michel Gau (Gauloises KTM) 11th overall (at 7.54'05)
"I must admit I started this rallye with a little apprehension. There was a lot to take in -- the road book, the navigation... and I possibly hadn't ridden enough beforehand. Fortunately however it didn't take me too long to get on the pace. The middle part of the rallye was very fast and to ride that quickly and assure your role as water carrier at the same time isn't easy. Fortunately in the end Cyril didn't need me for any mechanical problems, but I think the knowledge that I was behind him and there if he needed me was helpful on a psychological level -- especially after his accident."

Jean Louis Schlesser (Gauloises Schlesser Ford) 6th (at 4.09'23)
"Globally I am satisfied with our performance. With a tenth of the factory teams' budget Thierry and myself won three specials between us and we are the only team to have all our cars at the finish. Obviously however we would have liked to have finished further up the overall final rankings. Over the first part of the rallye we were right up there with the front runners, but in Mauritania we lost precious time in the camel grass, and after that it became very difficult to pull back to the front. Unfortunately for us when we got out of Mauritania all we had were tight technical tracks through the bush, with kilometres and kilometres of trials type terrain where it was difficult for our cars to shine. If the rallye route had featured some more fast, open pistes we would have been able to do quite a bit better."

Thierry Magnaldi (Gauloises Schlesser Ford) 10th overall (at 8.25'57)
"We made a good start to the rallye. We had a few punctures, but that is inevitable when you attack as hard as we were attacking. Then we lost time on the others in the dunes and it was after that, when we were trying to get back in touch, that we damaged our rear suspension. We were hoping that the Black African stages would be over fast piste suited to our car, but instead they were bumpy and technical and we had to be extremely careful so as not to damage our car. Still, on the positive side, I discovered a car that gave me a great deal of confidence and was a pleasure to drive. Now what we need to do is continue to develop the car so as to pass as much power as possible to the ground."

Jose Maria Servia (Gauloises Schlesser Ford) 14th (at 16.16'00)
"Unlike the other two I enjoyed the Mauritanian part of the rallye the most and for me the Zouerat -- Kiffa stage was the best. There we were in the open desert and you could pick your our line and give the car its head. It was perhaps the most difficult stage on the rallye, but also the most fun to drive. Once we got into Guinea we had to drive between the trees and over the rocks and it was difficult to get the best out of our car in those conditions. Our role was to support Jean-Louis and Thierry and I think we did that job OK, for example helping the 'boss' fix his car when he had an electrical problem and 'lend' him our battery to start his car."


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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Luc Alphand , Jean-Louis Schlesser , Jutta Kleinschmidt , José Maria Servia , Cyril Despres , Nani Roma , Marc Coma , Ikemachi Yoshio , Jordi Arcarons , Guerlain Chicherit , Chris Blais , Herman Vaanholt , Vladimir Chagin , Firdaus Kabirov , Andy Caldecott , Alain Duclos , David Casteu , Michel Gau , Miguel Ramalho , Miguel Barbosa , Thierry Magnaldi , Bob Ten Harkel , Hans Stacey , Patricia Watson-Miller , Ricardo Leal dos Santos , Corentine Quiniou