Mikko Jalonen, DAKAR correspondent
Another stage win for the X-raid MINI team and Holowczyc
Cyril Despres takes the stage win in bikes and increases the gap to his closest rival and title holder, Marc Coma while Krzysztof Holowczyc takes his second stage win of the 2012 Dakar Rally on the demanding 5th stage.
Today’s special stage in Argentina saw another demanding stage in their sight, this time between Chilecito and Fiambola. Since 2009 when the Dakar event moved to South America, the stage has already became one of the classics of the rally-raid and has collected some top names as it is a nerve breaker but also the cars, bikes, quad and trucks can break car due to its very demanding nature. This stage has it all from dunes to river crossings and for mountain sections, and for a good reason in the early predictions; it was named among the teams and fans as one of key stages. Today the stage through was shortened by the first 24km for the cars and trucks and for the bikes and quads it was changed from 265km to 186km due to heavy rainfalls.
... we just rode flat out all the way to the end.
In bikes the battle between two giants of the category, Cyril Despres and Marc Coma continued even today with Despres taking a stage win and therefore increasing his overall lead. KTM ace Despres, just like his closest rival and the defending title holder Coma, missed the first checkpoint but was still able to put the fastest time on the board. After that Despres didn´t made any major mistakes and with the time of 2 hours and 28 minutes and 33 seconds was able to increase his lead to Coma in the overall standings by 1 minute and 41 seconds.
Despres summed up his day as pretty successful by saying, “There was a good chance that I would catch Marc in the dunes, as the first bike leaves a track that is easy to follow. Given that, I thought he might not ride too fast and maybe try some tactical riding, like slowing the pace down. But when I finally caught up with him, and we started to ride together, there wasn’t much in the way of tactics, we just rode flat out all the way to the end!”
Marc Coma was second today after his heavy mistake on the third checkpoint where he gave the lead at the plate to Despres, after running the cars special for 4 kilometres before turning back to the correct track. After that error, he was trying everything he could to catch Despres. As the first man on the stage, Coma through had a disadvantage compared to his rival. Tomorrow through when the Dakar Rally moves from Argentina to Chile, we will probably see another attack from the Spaniard. Despite Depress having a good stage today and even through in the end, Coma came on strong, knows that his job will not easy in order to catch Despres.
Third today in bikes was the Portuguese Husqvarna 450RR Rally rider, Joan Barreda Bort. He was among the leaders after the second stage but in the following two stages, he lost a lot of time and dropped as far as 45th overall, but today clocked the third fastest time today and can be happy. With the time of 2 hours 41 minutes and 15 seconds, Barreda Bort lost 12 minutes and 42 seconds for the stage winner, Despres.
For notable troubled bikers today we can mention Frans Verhoeven and David Casteu. Verhoeven has been doing a couple of good runs with his Sherco over the past couple of days, but today he had gremlins hit twice. In the first 20 kilometres and he had to return to the start of the stage to meet with his assistance group and he ended up finishing the stage later but was dropped to 31st overall. Casteu also didn´t had a good day and a various number of navigational errors, dropped the experienced Yamaha rider from 5th to 7th overall.
In the overall race, Despres leads KTM rider Coma by 9 minutes and 51 seconds. Yamaha rider Helder Rodrigues, who was having some slow first stages, has now got up to speed and is gaining positions day by day. Rodrigues is now third but already 47 minutes and 56 seconds behind Despres.
For the cars, the stage saw a lot of action but in the end it was the All4Racing Mini of Krzystof Holowczyc which clocked the fastest time of 2 hours and 10 minutes and 51 seconds. Holowczyc which has already won one special stage in this year’s Dakar also lead the rally after Stage 3, but he didn´t had such a good stage yesterday. Today through the Polish driver was able to set a very good rhythm through the stage and took the stage win after being faster than one of the Hummer H3s between the fourth and fifth checkpoint and taking a benefit from the trouble of the another Hummer H3 belonging to the defending title holder, Nasser Al-Attiyah. The Qatari’s long halt after several hundred metres of scoring the fastest checkpoint time was due to a cooling problem. The spare wheel of the Hummer was loose and it hit the engine water pipe. The broken water pipe caused the engine to overheat and he had to stop to make the repairs to stay in the race. In the process, Al-Attiyah lost 20 minutes and probably all hope to regain the title but will continue the race now in 8th position, 50 minutes behind the leader. Unlike Al Attiyah, the Polish driver was more than happy today as he is now back in the fight for the overall win and the goal he set before the rally.
“Dreams do come true ... After yesterday´s trouble, I was going through the things in my mind the entire night. In the morning I knew today would be better as I really liked this stage. I asked to adjust the car according to my ideas and from the first kilometers of the stage, I was delighted to be among the leaders. Today I was pushing as much as possible. At the beginning we were a bit behind but after that had a good pace. Tomorrow is waiting for us but today's result will go down to history! “
Second in the stage despite the trouble of his teammate was the Team SPEED Hummer H3 of Robby Gordon. The American started today’s stage as fifth overall due to trouble he had at yesterday. At the finish line despite leading the checkpoints 3 and 4, Gordon had to settle for second with the time of 2 hours 11 minutes and 52 seconds, 1 minute and 1 second slower than Holowczyk. The result boosted Gordon to fourth overall in the overall standings past the troubled Toyota Hilux of Giniel de Villiers which was stuck in the desert for several minutes. Gordon is now 13 minutes and 32 seconds behind the leader and today’s third fastest man, Stephane Peterhansel who is the main favourite of the event to win.
Peterhansel is another of the All4Racing Mini and by taking third today, and due to de Villiers problems, the Frenchman is now 21 minutes ahead of the South African. Peterhansel had the hardest job to do by being the first one the road. He did very good job and with the time of 2 hours 14 minutes and 43 seconds, lost only 3 and a half minute to his teammate, Holowczyk today. In the overall standings, the MINI team has the top 3 with Peterhansel leading the rally by 4 minutes and 18 seconds in front of Holowczyk. In third place is Spanish, (Joan) Nani Roma who is 10 minutes and 39 seconds behind Peterhansel.
The car class saw one driver pull out this morning. Argentinean Orlando Terranvoa first claimed to the Argentina press that his navigator, Andy Grider, had to return to America due to a family problem. Yesterday the two combined their talents to place second on the fourth stage. Apparently from Motorsport.com’s sources in Argentina, “Orly” Terranvoa is known for his temper and per Dakar.com, his performance behind the scenes was much less glorious. It turns out that there was an argument last night between him and Grider. While the American, who at one time was one of Robby Gordon’s navigator, was attempting to reconcile, “Orly” proved to be inflexible.
“Andy Grider wasn't treated with any respect at all and he left. I've never seen anything like it; it's just crazy,” explained Jean-Marc Fortin, the Team Overdrive boss. As a result, Toyota Hilux No. 308 did not take starter's orders this morning.
For the quads, the Patronelli brothers were in control with Marcos Patronelli winning the stage with a time of 2 hours 58 minutes and 37 seconds; 1 minute and 51 seconds ahead of the defending title holder, Alejandro Patronelli. The brothers have been controlling the Dakar rally for the past two years and now appear to be doing the same in 2012. However this year they have been finding a lot of competition through and for the surprise of many, they are just 2nd and 3rd overall.
Today’s winner and third overall, Marcos Patronelli is sure that the race for the quad victory will probably be just settled in the last few stages in Peru but for now, the Argentinean knows that the stages also at Chile will be tough. "For the moment, we aren't thinking about victory. We know that Chile will be very difficult. So, all that we are doing is taking it day by day, and once the stage is finished, looking ahead to the next day. It's like that every day,” he said.
Overall leader and third today, Tomas Maffei lost 4 minutes and 8 seconds today but holds the quads lead by the slight margin of 35 seconds in front of Alejandro and 2 minutes and 2 seconds in front of Marcos.
The trucks fastest crew of the special stage today again belonged to the de Rooy team. For the team leader Gerard De Rooy, after winning the special stage yesterday, he and his Iveco crew now have two stage wins in a row by winning today’s special stage with the time of 2 hours 34 minutes and 30 seconds just 14 seconds ahead of Tatra crew, driven by the Czech Ales Loprais.
De Rooy was obviously very delighted about today’s success but was also celebrating the team’s good overall performance. “It was a good day for us again, because our 3 trucks finished in the leading positions. We'll have to wait to see exactly which positions, but it's a good result anyway. The first dunes were very soft, but with the torque of our trucks, that's not a problem. Mind you, we are taking it day by day and following a team strategy for the general standings to prevent Loprais or the Kamaz drivers from putting in a big performance. Normally, the Kamaz team should be more threatening than that, but for the moment, the race is going in our favour,” said the Dutchman.
Loprais had to be satisfied with second today, just 14 seconds behind the stage winner with a time of 2 hours 34 minutes and 44 seconds. Loprais may have started the rally a bit slowly but the 2011 Silk Way Rally winner has been slowly getting up to speed and has started to pick up position one-by-one and is already up to fourth at the general standings about 9 minutes from a podium spot and 13 minutes and 11 seconds from the lead.
Loprais commented, “Yesterday's special stage was a lot more difficult for us, because we had to drive the last 120 kilometres without a windscreen, which wasn't easy with all the streams we had to cross! Today, it's been better and we just raced against the clock trying to be as quick as possible on a special stage rally typical of the Dakar. That said, I think the outcome of the rally will be decided during the second week, so for the moment, we are aiming to survive until the rest day and then we'll see what strategy to adopt.“
Third position today with the time of 2 hours 35 minutes and 49 seconds; 1 minute and 19 seconds behind the stage winner and de Rooy team owner went to another member of the Iveco driven by the WRC legend, Miki Biasion. He took the 3rd stage win and seems to be enjoying the time behind the wheel and like at the previous days, he was once more among the top runners.
De Rooy´s crew holds the first three places in the overall standings with de Rooy on top. His lead is now a slight margin of 4 minutes and 21 seconds to his closest threat in the overall standings. The 2007 Dakar winner Hans Stacey holds second and in third spot after five stages is in the hands of Biasion, who is just 4 minutes and 25 seconds behind De Rooy.
The top Kamaz truck is fifth and belongs to Eduard Nikolaev and his crew who are 22 minutes and 26 seconds behind the current leader. Nikolaev through admits that the challenge to catch De Rooy will be a tough one and wasn´t quite happy with his stage today: “It was only 170 km long, but in spite of that, it wasn't an easy day. We can't lose any more time, but we have to be careful not to make mistakes either. As a result, we drove at a steady pace, over quite a hilly special where there was a fair amount of dunes too. The most important thing at the moment is avoiding stopping.“
For tomorrow, stage 6 will start from Fiambala in Argentina before going across to Chile to the bivouac in Copiapo. The route will have 641km including a 247km special stage.