Dakar: Team USA stage three report

ROBBY GORDON SCORES 5th OVERALL IN THIRD DAY OF DAKAR RALLY, MOVES INTO TOP TEN After two days of running on very tight, rain soaked roads in Portugal and Spain Robby Gordon and his "Dakar" H3 Hummer crossed over into North Africa and finally...

ROBBY GORDON SCORES 5th OVERALL IN THIRD DAY OF DAKAR RALLY, MOVES INTO TOP TEN

After two days of running on very tight, rain soaked roads in Portugal and Spain Robby Gordon and his "Dakar" H3 Hummer crossed over into North Africa and finally had a chance to show their true capabilities in terrain and weather that was almost perfect for the All-American combination. After completing the second stage in Spain, Gordon and teammate/navigator Darren Skilton spent the night with hundreds of other competitors on a ferry from Malaga, Spain, to Nador, Morocco for the start of this morning's third stage of the 38th running of the famed Dakar Rally.

"This is where the competition really begins', said Gordon at the start, "This North African terrain is some of the roughest in the world, a lot like Baja in some ways--a place where Hummers and American engineering can show their true mettle."

Several grueling hours later Gordon was able to relax and savor the moment he'd been expecting since starting the Hummer program some 90 days earlier. Gordon had finished a stunning fifth overall, moving him into the Top 10, passing some of the top desert racing specialists in the world. "We were really looking forward to this stage, as we knew this would be our first chance to let our Hummer stretch its legs in the desert terrain for which it was designed," said Gordon, looking relaxed and fresh at the end of the 314 kilometer leg of the race, which ended in the small city of Er Rachidia in Morocco. Today's Nador-Er Rachidia stage was again divided into three smaller stages to provide a real world combination of road travel and flat out racing. The beginning and ending Liaison Stages, which move the competitors into and out of the more populous areas of the country, still allow the hundreds of thousands of fans who line the roads to see and cheer their favorites as they pass on the roads. The middle "Special Stage," however, is the important timed run that counts for the overall score, and most importantly, the next morning's starting slot, which is based upon the combination of times from the previous day's runs. So today's fantastic 5th overall finish for Gordon (with a time of 2 hours 52 minutes and 28 seconds) will definitely boost Gordon's chances of winning his first stage of the Dakar tomorrow. Gordon, now officially eighth overall now has a real chance to duel with the race leaders. "This is exactly where I expected to be after three days and I'm really pleased with the Hummer's performance."

Gordon started 14th in Nador, a difficult and frustrating position he'd held due to the almost impossible passing conditions on the narrow and slippery European roads of the first two stages. In spite of the miserable circumstances on these first two days Gordon still had the tenacity and skill to improve his initial 35th starting position in Lisbon to 14th on the first day and then hold that spot through the second day's competition which favored the multi-car, factory-backed, VW, Nissan and Mitsubishi racing specials, which have been developed over several seasons of competition specifically to win this all-important race.

By contrast, Gordon's very polished but single-car effort for Hummer still looks quite small by comparison. Even more surprising is the minimal time Gordon had to design the car so he and his team could fabricate it; just 90 days. GM's Hummer division, Jim Beam and Toyo Tires offered a combination of support that has certainly been squeezed for time but efficiently executed, making Gordon's Hummer team a fan favorite who cheer for Gordon's underdog position against the might of the giant European and Japanese factory efforts.

Gordon wryly admitted, after arriving in Er Rachidia, that he'd made an error at the start, which probably cost them the overall win for the stage. "We made a great run off the line, passing both Jean Louis Schlesser (the eventual winner) and Stephane Peterhansel's Mitsubishi, but then I looked off to the left and saw one of the BMW X3s fast disappearing in the dust. Knowing how well this team had been doing I instinctively elected to follow and soon realized he was lost. Darren (Skilton), my navigator, had been tracking our line in the heavy dust and soon pointed out that we were seriously off-course; we had to double back and I suspect we lost at least two minutes." Gordon eventually re-passed both Schlesser and Peterhansel, but his elapsed time for the stage still put the Hummer team in fifth overall 1 minute and 30 seconds behind the leaders. "This is an incredibly large and confusing area of the earth; it's very easy to trust your racing instinct instead of the route book and your navigator--I won't make that mistake again," said Gordon. "The positive point of the lesson was that we were able to catch and repass both Schlesser and Peterhansel; that proved the Hummer's capabilities for us and gives us tremendous confidence for tomorrow's start."

The previous two day's top finishers, Spanish WRC Champion, Carlos Sainz (VW Toureg) and Portuguese rally champion, Carlos Souza (Nissan Navarra) dropped back on today's more difficult terrain. Sainz finished 12th with a time of 2 Hours 57 minutes, while Souza ended up 14th with 3 Hours and 31 seconds.

Gordon's 2 Hours 52 Minutes places him 8th on the starting line for tomorrow's fourth stage.

-teamdakarusa.com

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Carlos Sainz , Stéphane Peterhansel , Carlos Sousa , Darren Skilton , Jim Beam