Dakar: Repsol stage four report

MARC COMA, SECOND TODAY, KEEPS THE OVERALL LEADERSHIP AFTER THE PENULTIMATE STAGE IN MOROCCO De Gavardo finishes third and is fourth overall, while Caldecott, sixth after today's stage, drops down to sixth overall. Average day in the car class.

MARC COMA, SECOND TODAY, KEEPS THE OVERALL LEADERSHIP AFTER THE PENULTIMATE STAGE IN MOROCCO

De Gavardo finishes third and is fourth overall, while Caldecott, sixth after today's stage, drops down to sixth overall. Average day in the car class. Nani drops down to ninth and Masuoka retires

The Dakar continues quickly entering African grounds. The last stage on the rocky tracks of Morocco will be run tomorrow, and then the caravan will leave this country to enter the most inhospitable desert of Mauritania. The fourth stage of the 2006 Lisbon Dakar Rally was staged today covering a total of 639 kms - 386 kms timed-, starting in Er Rachidia and arriving in Ouarzazate. In this stage, participants have reached the first dunes, before having to face chotts and oueds on their way to Ouarzazate.

In addition to having to deal with the first dunes, riders and drivers had to continue on the stony Moroccan tracks, forcing them to be always on the alert with the several traps of the roads. From Er Rachidia to Ouarzazate, the terrain changes a lot: participants started on fast, stony tracks, then faced the dunes and finally reached the fast tracks in the middle of the desert. The last section was much more winding because it is the entrance to the Atlas mountain area.

Marc Coma, who started sixth this morning, managed to overtake the preceding rider until catching Despres. From that moment on, two of the main title candidates rode together until the end of the special. Thanks to his performance, Coma strengthens his lead in the overall standings with and advantage of 4 minutes and 51 seconds over the second classified rider, Esteve, winner of today's stage. Carlo de Gavardo, who keeps himself in the group of favourites to fight for the victory, finished third today, some five minutes behind Esteve, thus taking fourth overall. Coma, Esteve and Despres, together with De Gavardo, are the only riders within less than ten minutes. Andy Caldecott, who made a navigation error today, finished sixth and dropped to sixth in the overall standings.

Mixed fortunes in the car class for the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team. Team drivers Luc Alphand, Nani Roma, and Stephane Peterhansel the timed section in third, 11th and 14th positions and now hold fourth, ninth, and 11th in the still tight overall classification. The French duo of Alphand and Gilles Picard were fifth through PC1, as they attempted to climb back up the leaderboard after a cautious run on Monday. They finished the stage in third position, behind Spaniard Carlos Sainz and Frenchman Thierry Magnaldi, with Sainz regaining the overall lead. Overnight leaders Roma and Henri Magne started the stage in sixth place on the road and finished the section in 11th position. They slipped to ninth place on the leaderboard 10 minutes behind the leader. Defending champions Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret held seventh place through the first passage control, but had slipped 17 minutes behind the stage winner at the finish after a costly navigational mistake.

The Frenchman finished the stage 17m 44s behind the winner and is now 11th overall. Japan's Masuoka and co-driver Pascal Maimon began this morning's special stage behind yesterday's winner Jean-Louis Schlesser and shadowed the Frenchman to the first passage control. But the twice former champion lost over 27 minutes soon after when he rolled his Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero Evolution. Masuoka and Maimon fortunately were unhurt and eventually completed the stage in 15th place. The Japanese driver slipped to 13th overall, but his car was damaged in the accident. This evening the team will camp at the garrison city of Ouazazate, the 'Gateway to the Desert'. The city overlooks the nearby Valley of the Draa and Valley of the Dades.

The statements

Marc Coma: "For the moment things seem to be working out well. The real race has started. Yesterday we had a rather long special, with 314 kms but today it's been almost 400 km. The selection of participants is underway and you can already see some differences. At the start of today's stage, the sun on the face and the dust bothered me a bit, but then we reached the dunes and it's been real fun. It seemed as if we would have entered a race track, with a lot of people cheering us up. Then we reached an important navigation point which was the key of the stage, because some riders had problems and finally there was a faster track, with some jumps and dangers. I rode as fast as I could, because I knew that Isidre was coming strong from behind and I didn't want to let him recover those minutes. We have to continue being prudent and do things as we've been doing so far, because we have a long race ahead. Now I'm leading the overall standings, although it changes every day. The most important is the place on the last rally day. I'm happy with the leadership, but I don't want to make an issue of this."

Carlo De Gavardo: "I felt much better during today's special. Yesterday I was rather timid and without much confidence. I was also a bit stressed, because there were too many things I had to control. I also had to pay attention to many things today, but I felt much better, more free and easy, and there were less dangerous areas. The bike worked very well, I didn't make any navigation mistake and rode at a constant pace, so I can say that I've made a very good stage."

Andy Caldecott: "The truth is that it hasn't been good because I had a small navigation problem today. Everything is quite new to me because I've been a lot of time without racing and testing. When you race with riders like Marc and see how they ride and how good they navigate, you realise the lacks you have. They have been practising all year long and I hadn't practiced nor done anything with navigation for a whole year, so I'm getting again familiar with everything."

Giovanni Sala: "The second stage in Morocco has been better. Today there was maybe some more navigation and I didn't make any mistake, allowing me to recover some positions. I caught-up with the group at the refuelling and then we continued together along a single, dusty road. I decided to stay there because it was dangerous to start any attack due to the dust; it was impossible to se anything. Eighth position is not bad and it seems that the gears are greased. Let's hope to continue like this until the end."

Jordi Viladoms: "I had to ride very carefully at the beginning of the stage because the sun was shining on our faces and there was a lot of dust. When it was my turn to start we were starting in very short turns and it was dangerous. I made a good start and I knew the way a bit, because we had already been here during the tests. I arrived at the first CP quite well, I started 28th and arrived there 15th. Then I found Andy who had run out of fuel and I dismantled one of my tanks to give it to him. From then on things started to become complicated because several grouped and lost riders caught us. It was difficult to overtake them because there was a lot of dust and I had to be careful with the holes on the track. Once I did, I noticed that they were lost and that happened to me twice. Stop, go back, find the way...it's been complicated, but I'm here to learn. To finish off, the fuel pipe got plugged while I was riding on the fast track at the end of the stage. As a consequence, there was a vacuum in the tank and bike stalled. I didn't know why but then the bike would start again. In the end, the cars caught me and I wasn't able to continue due to the dust. I made the last 100 kms as if they were a liaison, taking care with the cars, because it was dangerous."

Luc Alphand: "Today was again a game of avoiding the dust. We had a good run for about 100 kms, but then we caught some drivers, including Stephane, who had taken the wrong track and finished the stage in the dust again. Tomorrow is a tight stage with a fast chott at the finish, but dust will be a factor."

Nani Roma: "Not a good day for me. After the dunes I was running well, but then we made a navigational error and took a track to the right. Then the problems started. I had a puncture after that and the jacking system was not fastened away securely and we had to stop again to secure it. Then we finished the stage in the dust."

Hiroshi Masuoka: "We saw this obstacle in the track far too late and we went over twice. We passed a crossroads with some spectators and then it was too late to slow for this obstacle and we crashed."

Stephane Peterhansel: "This junction was not very clear in the road book and we followed the dust of the motor bikes. We turned right, followed the wrong track for seven kilometres and then decided to go back to this junction. All the following cars saw me and took the correct way. It was very frustrating. I had passed Schlesser and Hiroshi had a puncture, so I was running first on the road."

Dominique Serieys, Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team Director: "We had some minor and typical Dakar Rally problems today. Stephane lost some time with a minor navigational error. This was a case of suffering, like Carlos Sainz yesterday, when running first on the road. He tried to find a good track and everyone else benefited. I am quite happy at the moment though. There are 15 drivers out there driving at the same level, so we will see over the coming days what develops. Hiroshi had an accident and the car sustained some damage which we cannot repair. A technical expert looked at the car and we had no alternative but to withdraw Hiroshi from the race. It is unfortunate, but that is rallying sometimes. Thankfully, neither Hiroshi nor Pascal were injured."

Tomorrow's stage
Stage 5. Ouarzazate-Tan Tan. 4 January
Liaison: 187 kms - Special: 350 kms - Liaison: 282 kms.

Tomorrow, on the third and last stage run this year in Morocco, participants will enter the arid desert. Having already covered 1,250 kms of special stages, they have almost covered three times what they had covered so far in last year's edition. The fifth stage of the rally, 819 km starting in Ouarzazate and arriving in Tan-Tan, will be very demanding for machines, drivers and riders; not for nothing have breakdowns been common to this stage. Therefore not many participants include this stage among their favourites. The 350-kms special, starting 187 kms from Ouarzazate, will be long and quite similar to that of the past edition (identical to the 2004 layout), and the subsequent 282-kms road section will take them to the bivouac located in Tan Tan. We will leave the broken, stony tracks behind to increase the pace, although it will be a hard and difficult terrain, combining rocky tracks with some fast ones and chotts. These are the typical roads of southern Morocco, where there is a lot to loose and little to win. Some riders are fast on this ground, while others have to overcome the rocks one by one. It's a stage to take with high precaution; it was where Jordi Duran got seriously injured last year.

-repsol-

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Luc Alphand , Jean-Louis Schlesser , Henri Magne , Hiroshi Masuoka , Stéphane Peterhansel , Jean-Paul Cottret , Gilles Picard , Pascal Maimon , Giovanni Sala , Nani Roma , Marc Coma , Carlo de Gavardo , Jordi Duran , Andy Caldecott , Jordi Viladoms , Thierry Magnaldi