The Nissan Pickups still at the front. After a crossing lasting two nights and one day, the Dakar caravan arrived in Tunisia on Sunday morning. The traditional on-board briefings allowed everyone, competitors and assistance personnel alike, to...
The Nissan Pickups still at the front.
After a crossing lasting two nights and one day, the Dakar caravan arrived in Tunisia on Sunday morning. The traditional on-board briefings allowed everyone, competitors and assistance personnel alike, to immerse themselves in the particular Dakar ambiance, and to take measure of the differences that awaited them. The accent was firmly on safety, and the draconian measures taken by the organisation to check up on a number of basic regulations. Any penalties awarded to assistance vehicles for infractions of the rules will count against the race cars entered by their team. During the Nissan team briefing, Alec Poole was very insistent on these new measures, which could have heavy consequences.
Soon after landing on the African soil, with the sun shining brightly, the shortest special stage of the rally took place around 89 kilometres from Tunis. Only 25 km long, the stage placed the emphasis firmly on driving skills. An excellent debut stage, before facing the rigours of the desert; it consisted of winding, undulating tracks, between hills and pine forests. Some extremely irregular corners were followed by a less sinuous track, wider and dusty, through a series of valleys. Over this terrain, ideal country for rally drivers, Ari Vatenen set the third-fastest time, behind Peterhansel and de Mevius (another asphalt rally specialist). Giniel de Villiers set the fifth time, despite a small navigation error from Pascal Maimon, and Thierry de Lavergne, having recovered from his health problems, was ninth. Kenjiro Shinozuka, also penalised by navigation worries, was only 15th, ahead of Khalifa Al Mutavei.
At the service area, a few kilometres from the end point, Ari Vatenen was all smiles : " This is the first time in my life that I have worn glasses during a special stage. Apparently, it's not too bad ... I set the third-best time. The road was magnificent, and reminded me of stages in Argentina or Greece, winding with a few tricky points, a real WRC stage... The Pickup is not really designed for that sort of event, and sometimes felt rather " bulky " but I have a really good feeling with the car. Tomorrow, things will get serious, with the descent of El Borma. "
Giniel de Villiers, despite claiming second place in the overall classification, had some regrets : " We had problems with the accelerator pedal, which was a bit temperamental this morning. But I have a few regrets as far as the results are concerned. We went wrong twice, and I think we lost about 25 seconds in total. The stage was great, winding and quite dusty. But the first true special stage will be tomorrow. "
As for Kenjiro Shinozuka, he seemed a bit disappointed : " We made two mistakes which lost us quite a lot of time today. But the rally is only just getting underway, and for me, the real start is tomorrow."
In the overall classification, Giniel de Villiers took second place back from Masuoka, while Ari Vatanen claimed fourth place. Thierry de Lavergne also climbed up one place (9th) with Kenjiro Shinozuka in eleventh. Khalifa Al Mutawei made the biggest improvement, gaining ten positions to be placed 20th. As far as the production cars are concerned, Yves Loubet is still leading the class, in 25th place, with Paul Belmondo 35th.
Tomorrow, the competitors will head for the sand, with a 278-km stage including 228 km of special stage, including the first tracks and the first crossings.