Dakar: X-Raid BMW stage six report

FRENCHMAN CHICHERIT HOLDS 11TH PLACE IN OVERALL DAKAR STANDINGS Qatar's Al-Attiyah fights back from four-hour delay into Tan Tan; Cox maintains 12th ZOUERAT (Mauritania): Promising French youngster Guerlain Chicherit and co-driver Matthieu ...


Qatar's Al-Attiyah fights back from four-hour delay into Tan Tan; Cox maintains 12th

ZOUERAT (Mauritania): Promising French youngster Guerlain Chicherit and co-driver Matthieu Baumel began the day in 11th place and were classified 10th through the first passage control on the 444 kms special stage from the Mauritanian border with Morocco to the mining town of Zouerat. The pair eventually finished the stage with the ninth fastest time and maintain 11th place in the overall classification, 40 minutes behind the overall leader.

The Spanish overnight leader Carlos Sainz completed the stage in seventh position and now holds second overall, a mere 22 seconds behind team mate Giniel de Villiers. The stage between Tan Tan and Zouérat was won by the Buggy of Frenchman Thierry Magnaldi, with team mate Jean-Louis Schlesser in second.

Current South African Off-Road champion Alfie Cox and co-driver Ralph Pitchford started the day in 12th place and were 12th through PC1. They eventually finished the stage in 16th position and maintained 12th in the overall standings.

"Even now I know that I can go faster," said Cox. "I keep backing off when I should be pushing harder. The guys at the front are really going hard and I will need to find some more pace to improve my position. It has been rare over the last four days to find a clear track, but I am sure that this will change in the dunes."

Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and French co-driver Alain Guehennec eventually completed the stage between Ouarzazate and Tan Tan in 7h 45m and lost 4h 10m to the leading runners. The engine had ingested dust and sand after the turbo air intake failure and the X-Raid mechanics raced against the clock to work on the unit, once Al-Attiyah arrived in the bivouac early on Wednesday evening. They finished the job with a mere three minutes to spare before his allotted start time.

It was, perhaps, the worst of all the days when the Qatari could have had problems. The first bike restarted at 01.40 hrs this morning for the crossing into Mauritania and cars followed in the dead of night. The mechanics would have to cope with fatigue on the long liaison section across 'the wall' into Mauritania and onwards into Zouérat.

Al-Attiyah eventually took the start of the stage in 138th place on the road, behind virtually the entire field and would have to pass numerous back markers on today's stage. He was classified 43rd overall at the start of the day, such had been his pace at the start of the race and held 18th overall at the first passage control into Zouerat as he began a brave fight back through the field. Al-Attiyah eventually finished the stage a remarkable 14th overall and climbed back to 30th place in the overall standings.

Spaniard José-Luis Monterde and former WRC-winning co-driver Tiziano Siviero were looking forward to the entrance into Mauritania and began today's run across the border in 57th place. They were classified 29th overall at CP1 and finished the special in 28th position to climb up to 45th overall.

"We have not been able to benefit from a clear run for three days in Morocco," said Monterde. "There has been so much traffic on the piste, slower bikes, cars in groups of two or three and dust everywhere. Now I feel that the rally will settle into more of an orderly pattern across the desert."

"It was a very close run thing to get Nasser going again," said Team Director Sven Quandt. "The mechanics did a fantastic job to make the repairs to the engine and Nasser is back in the hunt and going again. Now he can concentrate on setting some fast times over the next few days."

Major support for the X-Raid team comes from Corona Extra and Magna Steyr.

Today's stage finished a mere 12 kms from the steel town of Zouérat. The settlement emerged from the desert in 1962 and became an industrial hub for the nearby iron ore mines at Tazadit. The town marks the start of a vast railroad transporting steel to Nouadhibou and is the centre of the Tiris Zemmoud area. The train is arguably the longest and heaviest in the world and can pull 250 wagons and spans a length of 2.5 kms.

On Friday morning the bulk of the day's action will take place on the special stages, with a short 10 kms liaison from Zouérat guiding teams to the start of the arduous 499 kms special stage into Atar, the rest day location for the Dakar Rally for the last two years. This potentiallly menacing stage features camel grass, tricky navigation, stony plateaux and many kilometers of testing dunes and latent sand traps.

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Series Dakar
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Jean-Louis Schlesser , Giniel de Villiers , Alfie Cox , Jose Luis Monterde , Alain Guehennec , Guerlain Chicherit , Matthieu Baumel , Thierry Magnaldi