Dakar: Repsol stage seven report

VICTORIES FOR REPSOL RIDER CARLO DE GAVARDO AND REPSOL DRIVER STEPHANE PETERHANSEL AT THE 7TH STAGE OF THE LISBON DAKAR RALLY De Gavardo and Peterhansel remain among the favourites to clinch the final victory. Marc Coma keeps the lead in the ...

VICTORIES FOR REPSOL RIDER CARLO DE GAVARDO AND REPSOL DRIVER STEPHANE PETERHANSEL AT THE 7TH STAGE OF THE LISBON DAKAR RALLY

De Gavardo and Peterhansel remain among the favourites to clinch the final victory. Marc Coma keeps the lead in the motorbike class while Alphand is the new leader in the car class of the 2006 Dakar Rally

The 2006 Dakar is getting deeper and deeper into the inhospitable Mauritanian desert. Today, in the seventh stage of this 28th edition, the Repsol riders and drivers played the leading role in Africa, with Carlo de Gavardo taking the victory in the motorbike class - for the second time in a row - and Stephane Peterhansel in the car class. The stage, starting in Zouerat and arriving in Atar, took participants through a terrain where sand, dunes an navigation where the dominating feature along the 521 kms. The road sections were short, 10 kms before the start and 12 after the finish, but although the special was not longer than 500 kms, the 499 kms make it the third longest stage of the rally.

Carlo de Gavardo, who started today as the last of all riders following the regulations - in this stage participants started in reverse order of yesterday's classification -, spent large part of the special overtaking riders and riding alongside his team mate Giovanni Sala. The good pace set by the Chilean Repsol rider, despite suffering a heavy crash in the dune area, allowed him to take the second stage victory in a row in this Dakar Rally. With this result, De Gavardo has moved up to second in the overall standings, 4 minutes and 30 seconds behind team mate Marc Coma, who finished second today again, but keeps the overall lead despite having problems with his rear tyre and having to cover the last 50 kilometres with a broken tyre. With two Repsol riders leading the overall standings, the third classified, Isidro Esteve, is 7'27 s behind, thus being the three of them, after the arrival in Atar, the riders with the best chances to fight for the victory in the second half of the 2006 Dakar Rally.

Today's stage took participants through the Mauritanian desert, where almost everything is sand and dunes and navigation becomes a decisive factor. In addition to the off-road racing, participants had to face several difficulties today such as finding hidden passages.

It was a positive day for the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team today, leaping into contention to retain their Dakar Rally title for the sixth successive time. Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel and co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret set the fastest time on the grueling special stage between Zouerat and Atar in Mauritania, ahead of team mates Luc Alphand and Gilles Picard. With today's result, Alphand moved into the overall lead, with an advantage of 3 minutes and 12 seconds over Peterhansel, who leaped from ninth to second overall. Peterhansel and Cottret, the defending champions, were fastest through the opening passage control and maintained their momentum through the grueling latter part of the first all-desert stage of this year's Dakar. It was on the stage between Zouerat and Tichit, 12 months ago to the very day, that Peterhansel had stamped his authority on proceedings in Mauritania and moved into the outright lead. The French pairing of Alphand and Gilles Picard began the day in fifth place and pushed home the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart team's supremacy in the desert by moving into the overall lead, 5m 58s ahead of their nearest non-Mitsubishi rival Jutta Kleinschmidt, who held third overall. Team mates Joan 'Nani' Roma and Henri Magne were classified 10th through the first passage control and eventually reached the finish of the stage in sixth place to climb to sixth in the unofficial overall standings.

The statements

Carlo De Gavardo: "Today has been one of the most difficult and dangerous stages raced so far. The start in reverse order was very dangerous and I had to ride really concentrated, avoiding to follow wheel tracks and relying totally on my own navigation. I can say that I really experienced the roughness of the rally, because we also had to cross several kilometres of dunes and rocks. The most complicated of all was navigation, that required hundred percent concentration. A few kilometres from the start the engine of the road book device broke down and I was forced to operate it manually. That caused some instability, but I continued in order to catch up with Marc. Several kilometres later, when I had Marc already in sight, wanting to reach him, I crashed on a dune. The motorbike went over my back, but fortunately it was nothing serious. Finally I continued giving my best and managed to be really focussed, allowing to clinch my second victory in this Dakar. I'm very happy because it means a lot to me; this work is not my own work, it's the work of all of us. I want to thank Roberto, my mechanic and my team manager Jordi Arcarons, who have supported me so much to keep on moving with the necessary confidence to face the stages day after day."

Marc Coma: "I'm happy because the stage went well. I've been in the lead, opening the track almost throughout the stage, and that's positive because it gives you a lot of confidence. The only "but" was the little problem with the mousse, what we have instead of the air chamber, because it disintegrated. I had to slow down the pace a lot towards the end in order to be able to reach the finish. What counts is that we are in a good position and strong, but we haven't even reached the rest stage yet."

Andy Caldecott: "We knew that the seventh stage would be complicated and it's been really hard. 499 kilometres of almost only sand. I'm not very good in sand and, moreover, I'm not in top shape, so I'm happy with how things worked out. I had a little navigation problem at the beginning but it didn't cost me much time. Then I concentrated, trying not to make any further mistake and reached the finish with the seventh fastest time, so I'm happy."

Giovanni Sala: "I'm satisfied with how things worked out today. We started in reverse order and we had to be very careful with the navigation because following the wheel tracks of the other riders was not enough. It was really important to take your own decisions. I made good navigation from the beginning and followed the road book perfectly well. At the first passage control I managed to overtake several riders who had got lost and made up a lot of time. Then I set a higher pace and made no mistake, so I was able to make up a lot of ground on the leaders. 10 kms before the finish Carlo caught up with me and we reached the finish together. All in all good day."

Jordi Viladoms: "It hasn't been a good day for me, because I had some stomach problems. It must be something I've eaten. i had to stop several times and I got very dehydrated. I was well until the first passage control but then the problems started and I had to take everything with ease. Now I'll go to see the doctor, have something to eat and rest. Tomorrow will be another day."

Stephane Peterhansel: "It was a very difficult stage with many sand dunes and some camel grass. The emphasis was on good navigation and not getting stuck. I had a puncture and we lost some time inflating and deflating the tires. It was necessary. But it was a very positive day for us."

Luc Alphand: "It is nice to be in front at the end of the first real desert stage. But there is a long way to go. I hurt my neck a little and suffered a strain after a heavy landing, but not too serious. I got stuck four times today in total and think we lost around 15 minutes in the camel grass. But I am very happy to have arrived in Atar at this time without serious problems when there are so many teams still in the desert."

Nani Roma: "It's been OK, but today's stage has been very difficult. Navigation was complicated and the sand was very soft, but I'm happy to be here and about how the team is doing. Today was a hard day and therefore the differences have been really big. We take it with ease, we knew what we had to expect and what we had to do. We did a good job in general and we're well positioned, but there's still a long way to go. Tomorrow will be another long and complicated day."

Tomorrow's stage
Stage 8. Atar-Nouakchott. 7 January
Liaison: 34 kms - Special: 508 kms- Liaison: 26 Km

The eight and last stage before the rest day covers a total of 568 Km, starting in Atar and arriving at the bivouac in the Mauritanian capital of Nouackchott. This will be second longest stage of the rally. It is expected to be a hard stage, because it's a classical feature of the stages before the rest day, to be hard and long. From the start in Atar, participants will follow sinuous tracks through sand canyons and waids, where navigation with be a major difficulty when crossing from one valley to the other. Once this rocky and mountainous section has been left behind, the caravan will be back in the middle of the desert with total navigation between dune chains and several kilometres of camel grass; a day that will be physically exhausting. The thick camel grass will start to appear, one of the surfaces most feared by participants, and they do not know yet how many kilometres they will have to cover on that ground. Finally, riders and drivers will follow an extremely fast track that will take them to the bivouac, where the deserve rest will be waiting for them.

-repsol-

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Luc Alphand , Henri Magne , Jutta Kleinschmidt , Stéphane Peterhansel , Jean-Paul Cottret , Gilles Picard , Giovanni Sala , Nani Roma , Marc Coma , Carlo de Gavardo , Jordi Arcarons , Andy Caldecott , Jordi Viladoms