Dakar: Gauloises Racing stage nine report

On the day's 361 km special between Tidjikja and Atar, it was full speed ahead for the main favourites in the bike special. Isidre Esteve clinched his first win on this edition of the Telefonica Dakar 2005. Meanwhile and like Esteve, Fabrizio...

On the day's 361 km special between Tidjikja and Atar, it was full speed ahead for the main favourites in the bike special. Isidre Esteve clinched his first win on this edition of the Telefonica Dakar 2005. Meanwhile and like Esteve, Fabrizio Meoni took advantage of his late starting position to capture the overall leadership. The car race saw Mitsubishi increase their domination on the rally with Luc Alphand earning his first stage of this edition ahead of overall leader Stephane Peterhansel.

After an extremely demanding stage 7 and the liaison to Tidjikja yesterday (after stage 8 was cancelled), the road to Atar promised to be extremely fast. No camel grass, just a little navigation: in other words an excellent day for the KTM 660cc bikes and especially for the late starters among the favourites. And indeed, Fabrizio Meoni who took off in 8th spot this morning clinched the best time at the first CP (km 101) but saw KTM Repsol leader Isidre Esteve show up to grab the virtual lead at the following CPs.

As expected, leaving early wasn't a good option on this day. Esteve eventually clinched the win in a final time of 5h14' with a 1'29 lead on Meoni, 4'09 on Ullevalseter, 8'10 on Caldecott and 9'45 on Cox... Meanwhile, David Frétigné who took off first, Marc Coma second and Cyril Despres third, paid the bill! Indeed the Yamaha biker had a 14'22 deficit on the day's winner on the line while Despres finished at 11'40 and Coma at 13'52.

These big gaps at the end of the special meant changes for the overall standings. Indeed, Fabrizio Meoni conquered the lead with a 2'55 advantage on Despres and 4'49 on Caldecott. Former rally leader Marc Coma moved down to fourth, 4'51 adrift. On the eve of rest day the top six bikers are all within 10', and that certainly promises a fascinating 'finale' to the event.

On four wheels it was a whole different story. A story written in red. The colours of the Mitsubishi armada. But this time Stephane Peterhansel wasn't the king of the day. The title holder failed to clinch a special hat trick for 1'31". A decent gap for 'Peter' who seemed to control the stage from start to finish, leaving team mate and compatriot Luc Alphand fly to his first special of the rally (the fourth in three years). Meanwhile, Robby Gordon who considered that the stage was "even tougher" than the one going to Tichit, finished third some 17'29" adrift while the other Race Touareg driver, Jutta Kleinschmidt had to settle with fourth spot over 19' behind.

In fifth place, Hiroshi Masuoka insisted that he was now driving the first of the Mitsubishi 'spare parts' vehicle working for Peter and Alphand. After a fantastic start to the rally with a fourth spot overall before the start of the day, Nasser Al Attiyah saw his hopes of glory fade away after crashing his BMW before CP1. Race over for the promising Qatari! Almost at the same place but just a few minutes later, his team mate José-Luis Monterde suffered the same accident but was eventually able to carry on.

Meanwhile, Bruno Saby, a member of the other German brand on the rally (Volkswagen) remained stranded in the desert for almost 2h15 with a damaged front left wheel. The Frenchman was finally back on the special thanks to the helping hand (and wheel) of team mate Juha Kankkunen. In the new overall, Stephane Peterhansel, despite engine worries after the finish, keeps his leadership with a 20'01" advantage on Luc Alphand. Both Mitsubishis have increased their lead on Jutta Kleinschmidt, third, now over 40' behind.

In the trucks Tchagin won the special in front of Stacey and Loprais while overall Kabirov lead Bekx (at 1.41'22) and Sugawara (at 3.47'29). Jan De Rooy finished in 9th place and is 9th overall (at 6.44'41) while Gerard De Rooy was 13th and tonight 15th overall (at 10.10).


Fabrizio Meoni (Gauloises KTM) 2nd (at 1'29) 1st overall

Even though I am in the lead overall I'm not too happy. They said that we would have lots of navigation and while we have less GPS points the new XTE system and the 3.3 km corridor cancels that all out. It means it is difficult to make the break.

Cyril Despres (Gauloises KTM) 7th (at 11'40) 2nd overall (at 2'55)

The wind was blowing really strongly this morning -- more than on the stage to Tichit. At about km 30 I caught Coma and Fretigne and we ended up riding in a group of 6. I was out in front and at about 140 km made a little mistake going into some dunes. Twice we went in and had to come back out again because the sand was too soft to get through. While that was going on David Fretigne slipped away on the right track and arrived at refuelling with a 6 minute lead -- only to lose it again a few kilometres later on. Tomorrow we have the rest day and the front runners are still all close together. We'll have to hope that the two specials on Monday and Tuesday, that are announced as difficult, will allow the group to disperse a little.

Alfie Cox (Gauloises KTM) 5th (at 9'45) 5th overall (at 6'23)

The navigation has been pretty tricky so far this year and today was no exception. We got stuck in the soft sand twice on this special trying to get through dunes and both times had to turn back.

David Fretigne (Gauloises Yamaha) 15th (at 16'22) 8th overall (at 15'30)

I'm a bit disappointed as I was on route to win the special. At 140 km everybody hesitated and I managed to find the right piste and break away. At the refuelling CP I had pulled out a 6 minute lead and when I left I was really concentrated and going well. Then coming into a bend in the track I just touched the rear brake and there was nothing there. I went straight on into the rocks fell off and broke all my navigation equipment. It is a pity because without that I could have finished 2nd or 3rd overall.

Eric Verhoef (Gauloises KTM) 35th (at 1.10.26) 29th overall (at 5.45'06)

I found it really difficult yesterday to digest the fact that I had lost so much time after running out of fuel coming into Tichit. But today I felt better and managed to get back into the groove and rode well. I had a little fall at 50 km but apart from that everything went well and now I'm ready to attack the rest of the race.


Stephane Henrard (Gauloises VW Buggy) 11th (at 1.09'41) 7th overall (at 3.56'01)

It wasn't a great special -- a real car breaker and not much fun to drive. After 100 kms we developed a slow puncture and so had to take it very gently to the end. Then going through the Erg of Chinguetti we dropped 4 metres off a dune and damaged the front end bodywork. That's no problem -- we have a spare. More of a worry is that our T4 has gone out and we need the spare gearbox it is carrying - we had planned to change ours tomorrow on the rest day.


Gerard De Rooy (Gauloises De Rooy)

Once again we were unluck. My Dad broke a leaf spring while I broke the top of the suspension mount. It is frustrating because the trucks are performing well -- we just don't have any luck. Now our goal is to get the three trucks to the end and if we can put in some good special results.


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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Juha Kankkunen , Luc Alphand , Stéphane Henrard , Jutta Kleinschmidt , Hiroshi Masuoka , Stéphane Peterhansel , Fabrizio Meoni , Cyril Despres , Alfie Cox , Eric Verhoef , Bruno Saby , Marc Coma , David Fretigne