Copiapo – Copiapo
On a map today's loop to the north of Copiapo is an innocuous stage. However, the short 235km stage took the competitors through (across and over) some of the same sand dunes they took on yesterday. The same sand dunes that took some competitors over six hours to traverse yesterday and Alejandro Patronelli – the quad class winner – nearly eight hours.
Bikes: Streets Ahead
The day for the bikers began with a mass start, probably one of the iconic images of the Dakar, and the unusual beginning, and the dunes ahead formed the perfect recipe for a mixed up look to the stage standings.
Starting in the third wave – with 19 other riders and a lone quad pilot – was Jonah Street, and after two days of troubles in the dune filled stages of the Atacama the American ended today with his first stage victory of 2011 and the second of his career.
“Today we didn’t have any bike problems, everything went really smooth, so I’m happy,” Street said, contrasting with the previous stages. “It’s awesome. You know what? We’ve been capable of it all rally, it just hasn’t fallen into our plate. It’s awesome, totally awesome. It’s what we come here to do, to do the best we can and first is the best you can do, so to win a stage pretty special.”
“I had to start in the third wave, which was good and bad; good that everyone up front new their position and were taking it easy and I got to charge through. The second wave caught everybody in the second to last sand dunes. Then in the last dunes, I think when there were only 3 bikes in front of me I went over the handlebars hard, straight into the sand, totally unannounced, but I was okay.”
The timed waypoints throughout the stage showed Street had been on the pace all day – eventually taking the stage lead after 177km, the final leader on a stage first headed by Frans Verhoeven then Helder Rodrigues.
The pair finished the stage second and 33rd respectively, Rodrigues losing 27 minutes to Street in the final 15km of the stage after getting lost, then running out of fuel. Only help from a passing privateer got Rodrigues moving again.
Another man who had previously suffered in the dunes, David Casteu, finished third – a result he described as “absolutely great” – with Spaniard Gerard Farres Guell fourth on his Aprilia on a day when not a single KTM finished in the top five.
The lead group – containing the big names: Coma, Despres, 'Chaleco' – struck navigation problems, only regaining the route among the second wave of riders, who started four minutes behind them.
In the battle for the overall lead Cyril Despres took back a minute on Marc Coma – ending the stage with eight minutes still to regain on the overall leader. Both the lead par pulled away slightly from Lopez, who appears increasingly safe in third overall.
The surprise of the day, doubtless was Juan Carlos Salvatierra. The Bolivian, another to start in the third wave or riders, was among the leaders’ times early on in the stage. He finished the stage fourteenth fastest, a shadow of what appeared possible.
Quads: Patronelli – Homeward Bound?
The two nights spent in Copiapo mark an important turning point – literally – in the 2011 Dakar Rally. For the remainder of the rally the route brings the competitors back to Argentina, and on today's performance it looks as through Alejandro Patronelli will return to his home country in the lead of the quad class.
The Yamaha rider came out on top of his stage long duel with Josef Machacek today, completing the timed part of the day five minutes faster than his Czech opponent – it was the furtest apart the pair's times had been all stage.
But what really put Patronelli ahead was his advantage over Sebastian Halpern – 17 minutes today to boost his overall lead to over an hour. Machacek lies third overall, benefitting from Tomas Maffei's horror show yesterday which left him 13 hours down at the start of today's stage.
Third today – after another superb day in the desert – was Lukasz Laskawiec, the Pole perhaps the best performer in any of the classes throughout the Chilean stages of the rally.
Cars: Carlos Regains Some Time
After losing the lead yesterday Carlos Sainz returned to winning ways, taking the stage at the head of a now familiar list of VW Touaregs ahead of Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giniel de Villiers.
The result trimmed Al-Attiyah's lead by nearly two minutes, the overall leader suffering a puncture on the stage. Sainz caught the Qatari on the stage, recouping the two minutes that separated them at the start of the stage, before Al-Attiyah repassed the Spaniard in the dunes, minimising the time lost. Al-Attiyah’s puncture meant the lead VWs were once again running close together, the pair bouncing across the desert in a manner you expect more of SCORE truck racing in America.
The undisputed king of punctures this year – Stephane Peterhansel – ended the day blessedly free of flat tyres. However, still in the lead BMW in the overall standings still finished eleven minutes down on the stage leader – further losing touch with the lead battle.
“I’m fairly happy, because we managed to fix the problem we had with the car and which was causing the engine to over-heat yesterday,” said Peterhansel. “The mechanics had to work until 6 o’clock this morning and today it worked just fine. I only lost 11 minutes to Sainz, due to a few small navigation errors. But out in front, there on a different level from us. They’ve got a very quick car and they’re maintaining an impressive pace.”
Stage nine also ended the rally for a pair of the more recognisable names of the class. Eliseo Salazar – Robby Gordon’s teammate in the Speed Energy Hummers – retired with gearbox problems while Tim Coronel – relatively flawless until now in his McRae buggy rolled his may out of the rally, via destroying the TW Steel emblazoned machine.
Trucks: Kabirov Re-takes The Lead, Kamaz Alone To Battle
Two way battles are a theme of the Dakar this year. Coma versus Despres, Sainz versus Al-Attiyah and now Firdaus Kabirov versus Vladimir Chagin.
The latest chapter in the Kamaz battle ended in a stage victory for Kabirov after a day spent chasing his illustrious team leader. The final 60km made the difference, Chagin letting a seven minute lead slip to finish the day seven minutes down.
Chagin and Kabirov are now joined by Eduard Nikolaev in a Kamaz 1-2-3 at the top of the overall standings after a day of engine troubles for Ales Loprais dropped him down to fourth overall.
Loprais – winner of two stages and the only man who has looked capable to matching the Kamaz fleet – lost over an hour stopped at 110km into the stage. The total damage totally 2:48 by the end of the day, dropping the yellow Tatra to fourth overall, any dream of a surprise win gone. Indeed some reports suggest the problems mean the end of Loprais’ Dakar
2011 Dakar Rally Stage Nine Results:
1 Jonah Street (Yamaha) in 3:06m56
2 Frans Verhoeven (BMW) +0:03m38
3 David Casteu (Sherco) +0:03m40
4 Gerard Farres Guell (Aprilia) +0:04m30
5 Jordi Viladoms (Yamaha) +0:05m46
1 Alejandro Patronelli (Yamaha) in 3:43m27
2 Josef Machacek (Yamaha) +0:05m21
3 Lukasz Laskawiec (Yamaha) +0:10m15
4 Sebastian Halpern (Yamaha) +0:17m51
5 Jorge Santamaria (Honda) +0:18m09
1 Carlos Sainz (VW) in 2:14m39
2 Nasser Al-Attiyah (VW) +0:01m56
3 Giniel de Villiers (VW) +0:09m02
4 Stephane Peterhansel (BMW) +0:11m14
5 Mark Miller (VW) +0:14m52
1 Firdaus Kabirov (Kamaz) in 2:45m21
2 Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz) +0:07m38
3 Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz) +0:14m50
4 Pep Vila (Iveco) +0:28m30
5 Franz Echter (MAN) +0:29m15
Overall Standings After Stage Nine
1 Marc Coma (KTM) in 35:32m56
2 Cyril Despres (KTM) +0:08m14
3 Francisco Lopez Contardo (Aprilia) +0:23m33
4 Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha) +1:01m51
5 Ruben Faria (KTM) +1:21m20
1 Alejandro Patronelli (Yamaha) in 43:28m41
2 Sebastian Halpern (Yamaha) +1:16m23
3 Josef Machacek (Yamaha) +2:47m09
4 Sebastian Copetti (Yamaha) +5:42m37
5 Christophe Declerck (Polaris) +5:59m22
1 Nasser Al-Attiyah (VW) in 30:56m25
2 Carlos Sainz (VW) +0:03.18
3 Giniel de Villiers (VW) +0:55m51
4 Stephane Peterhansel (BMW) +1:42m48
5 Mark Miller (VW) +2:45m19
1 Firdaus Kabirov (Kamaz) in 35:30m48
2 Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz) +0:04m11
3 Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz) +2:03m51
4 Ales Loprais (Tatra) +3:14m58
5 Franz Echter (MAN) +3:55m40