A leap forward for Street, Sainz starts to close in
The grouped start for the bikers changed the traditional Dakar stage start scenario. Jonah Street grabbed a surprise victory in Copiapo, whilst the duel between Coma and Despres did not witness any real developments. In the car race, Sainz closed in a little on Al Attiyah without forcing him into any errors, for the moment. Firdaus Kabirov's truck was the quickest of the day, helping him to regain the lead in the general standings from Vladimir Chagin.
The bikers on the Dakar experienced an unusual day in the region of Copiapo, which began with an atypical grouped start and involved climbing of dunes separated by large valleys. However, even in this type of landscape, the best of riders can still lose their bearings and leave themselves open to setbacks. The first wave of ten riders got the stage going assuredly, but after twenty kilometres, nine of them were over-confident and chose the wrong direction, making a mistake that they were unable to repair. Only Helder Rodrigues, the winner in Arica, managed to correctly interpret the road-book. The Portuguese rider seemed to be heading for a new triumph, but fate decided otherwise. After 225 km, he ran out of petrol, eliminating him from the reckoning for the stage. More importantly, one of the riders from the third wave sprang forward. Throughout the special Jonah Street led a veritable charge to rejoin the elite riders. At the finishing line, he put in the best time of the day, with a lead of 3'36" over Frans Verhoeven, winning his second special stage on the rally after his victory in 2009 at San Rafael.
During this crossing of the desert, the leaders of the general standings remained discrete. Neither Marc Coma nor Cyril Despres found the inspiration which could have paid dividends after 21 km. They then assumed their responsibilities, leading the troop for the most part of the loop around Copiapo. The difficulty of making a break-away from a pack put paid to the attacking plans of Despres, but also Francisco Lopez. As a result, the hierarchy remains unchanged: Coma still leads Despres by 8'14" and is 23'33" ahead of the Chilean rider, who was taking part in the last special of the year in his home country.
The countdown has now started for Nasser Al-Attiyah, sat on the unsteady throne of the race leader, in light of the intensity of his battle with Carlos Sainz. With the quickest and now most reliable car in the field, the two men are on a level playing field. Both have shown their maturity so far in the way they have handled the race and there is very little between the driving skills of the two men. As a result, their aim will be to push the other into a mistake and take advantage of it, by maintaining constant pressure. After having suffered a setback yesterday, Carlos Sainz might now find himself in the best placed position. Always on the attack, the Spaniard caught up with his team-mate and stayed with him right up to the finishing line. This gave him his fifth stage victory on this year's edition and helped him regain 1'56" on Al Attiyah. Tomorrow, the roles will be again reversed.
The woes suffered by Stephane Peterhansel in the 8th stage have led him to lower his ambitions and concentrate on any stage victories that may offer themselves up. His starting position some way back in the field made it difficult for him to catch up with the leaders. At the wheel of his BMW X3, the Frenchman lived up to his role as the strongest rival to the Volkswagens, although he only beat the Race Touareg of Mark Miller. With 4th place on the day, he again lost ground on the men in front of him (and finds himself 1 hr 42 minutes behind Al Attiyah), but fought off the threat of the American, who is carrying the hopes for VW of a 1-2-3-4 in Buenos Aires. Following them, the gaps are starting to resemble chasms, because Krzysztof Holowczyc, 6th in the general standings, lies almost four hours behind.
For Vladimir Chagin, no day is the same as the last. After yesterday's festival in Copiapo, the Kamaz team leader gave up his place on top of the general standings to his team-mate Firdaus Kabirov. However, the two times winner of the event only leads by 4'11". The internal struggle can continue, in greater peace of mind as well, since the threat posed by Ales Loprais has virtually evaporated, as the Czech driver lost several hours today.