Dakar: Petersen/White Lightning Racing stage eight report

Michael Petersen Races to Best Finish of Euromilhões Dakar 2007 in First Marathon Stage Petersen/White Lightning Takes 17th in Stage Eight, Moves Back into Top-24 Overall TICHIT, Africa January 14, 2007 -- Michael Petersen (Las Vegas, ...

Michael Petersen Races to Best Finish of Euromilhões Dakar 2007 in First Marathon Stage

Petersen/White Lightning Takes 17th in Stage Eight, Moves Back into Top-24 Overall

TICHIT, Africa January 14, 2007 -- Michael Petersen (Las Vegas, Nev., USA) charged to his best stage finish, 17th, of the Euromilhões Dakar 2007 in today's Stage Eight from Atar to Tichit, Africa. Petersen and co-driver Matthew Stevenson (Ipswich, England) covered the 589 km/366 mile special, timed stage with the No. 351 MMPIE/PAWS/?.com/BF Goodrich Chevrolet T1.3 class buggy in nine hours, 49 minutes and 38 seconds. Petersen had dropped to 34th out of the 177 cars that entered this year's 29th running of the Dakar rally on Friday's seventh stage after getting stuck in the sand dunes and then having a serpentine belt break. However, today's impressive top-20 time pushed the Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing buggy up ten spots to 24th overall with seven stages remaining. The two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class winning team was as high as 21st following the sixth stage. This is the team's first-ever attempt at the Euromilhões Dakar 2007.

Today's 626 k/389 mile total course was the first "marathon" stage of the event. The "marathon" stage, as declared by the Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.) sanctioning body for Dakar, mandates that no one other than the driver and co-driver is allowed to perform repairs or maintenance on the car for two consecutive stages. Therefore, only Petersen and Stevenson are allowed to work on the No. 351 Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing buggy until the end of the ninth stage tomorrow night in Néma. Once in the nightly bivouac at Néma, technicians Nico Castellaccio (Tracy, Calif.) and Dennis Chizma (Las Vegas) will again be permitted to make repairs.

Bringing the magnitude of today's achievement into perspective is that the stage saw another eight cars fall from the category. That brings the total count to 54 entries withdrawn since the first stage. 177 cars started in Lisbon, Portugal on January 6. The marathon status of today and tomorrow's stages, coupled with the overwhelming terrain, promise to push even more competitors from the running before reaching Néma on Monday evening.

Despite the repair restrictions, the A.S.O. did not make today's stage a simple one. The initial liaison of 35 km/21.75 miles on pavement gave way to the 589 km/366 mile timed stage. The clock was on Petersen as he negotiated through rocks, gravel, sand, dunes and camel grass on his way to the 2 km/1.24 mile sprint to the bivouac.

As of today, Petersen and Stevenson have spent a total of 37 hours, 41 minutes and 46 seconds in the timed, special stages. That places them 10 hours, 5 minutes and 53 seconds behind the overall rally leader in the car class, the No. 301. It is an impressive debut at Dakar for the American team who dominated off-road competition in the United States in the 1990s prior to a full switch to professional sports car racing later in the decade. Petersen and Entrant/Program Manager Dale White (Bozeman, MT., USA) are using the Euromilhões Dakar 2007 as a test run to learn the event to return with a full Petersen/White Lightning effort in 2008. To reach the top-25 overall at the rally's midpoint was not planned and will have little impact on the team's strategy. Petersen will continue to focus on reaching Dakar, Senegal on January 21st rather than attempt to break into the top-20 or higher. If opportunities present themselves, the team will pursue them but is currently not planning to press the Team SMG built buggy any harder than is necessary. The goal for the remaining stages continues to be the collection of as much information as possible on the world's most challenging racing event for the '08 assault.

The ninth day of competition takes Petersen and Stevenson from Tichit to Néma and is possibly the most daunting of all the stages thus far. It is a true desert race for the teams that are still running. Stevenson has already shown his skill in navigation- as well as repair and guidance- but at no time will those skills be more needed than here in Stage Nine. Almost no landmarks guide the way across the sand and gravel that leads to the nightly bivouac for the racers- the support crews will have made their way to Néma earlier in the day. It is also the first time the first connection stage will be eliminated taking the racers directly into the timed special of 494 km/306.96 miles. The only liaison/connection on the journey east is a short 3 km/1.86 mile run on gravel into the nightly bivouac. In total, they will cover 497 km/308.82 miles in the ninth stage. Petersen will endeavor to make it the nearly 500 km before night sets in, a task made harder by the relatively late 8:47 AM (GMT) starting time for the cars. Every second will count not only in helping negotiate the desert- difficult in daylight, nearly impossible at night- but also in allowing more time for repairs to be made and rest to be had before Stage Ten.

Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing has won nearly all the world's major motorsports endurance classics including the 24 Hours of Le Mans ('03 & '04), the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 overall ('95- '97), the 24 Hours At Daytona ('01), the 12 Hours of Sebring ('05) and the Petit Le Mans ('05 & '06). They have won over 50 off-road events and the American Le Mans Series GT2 Class Driver and IMSA Cup Championships ('05 and '06) and Team Championship ('05). 2007 marks the first of a three year Dakar program to complement their ongoing American Le Mans Series effort which will compete with drivers Tim Bergmeister (Langenfeld, Germany) and Tomas Enge (Monaco) in a Ferrari F430 GT in 2007.

-credit: pm-wlr

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Series Dakar
Drivers Tomas Enge , Matthew Stevenson , Michael Petersen , Tim Bergmeister