Arica – Antofagasta
After a well earned day off the remaining drivers and riders – 125 bikes, 17 quads, 92 cars and 46 trucks – of the 2011 Dakar Rally returned to action today, and in a way they were eased back into action. Originally planned as a 631km stage, split by a neutralised section, Dakar organisers the ASO chose to cut the stage in half, ending at the beginning of the origin neutralised run. The motivation behind cutting the stage – which would have been the longest stage of the event – was to allow teams and drivers to be better prepared for the second half of the race. However, for some it was still a stage of troubles, and for one the rest day was not as relaxing as it should be.
Bikes: 'Chaleco' Wins On Home Soil
2011 is not Ruben Faria's year. He lost a stage victory on day one to a one minute penalty, and after clocking the best time on stage six (before the rest day) the Portuguese thought he finally had a stage win. However, this time it was a four minute penalty that dropped him to third on the stage and left the honour of restarting the Dakar to Yamaha rider Helder Rodrigues.
Rodrigues would end the day fourth fastest – one place ahead of Faria in the same order they lay in the overall rankings.
However, the day belonged to the man third in the overall rankings. So much of the rally so far seems to have been spent waiting for Francisco 'Chaleco' Lopez to claim as stage, and today it came in his home nation. He dominated the stage, leading at all but one of the timing waypoints during the day, and though he lost time towards the end of the stage he still beat the time Cyril Despres by over two minutes.
“There was a lot of dust in the beginning,” said 'Chaleco'. “I went a little faster afterwards but I lost my exhaust at mid stage more or less. So after that, I was afraid my engine would break. Fortunately, it was the shortest special stage since the beginning of the raid; if it had not been the engine would have been hit bad.”
Despres once more made up time on overall leader Marc Coma, claiming back another 1m24 today to move to just seven minutes behind – well within the ten minutes he lost after being given a penalty earlier in the rally.
It was, however, a bad day for Jonah Street. After running well during the first week of the rally the American entered the stage seventh overall. However, reported engine problems halted his Yamaha after 149km, ending the stage 90 minutes in arrears to Lopez and dropping to 14th overall.
Quads: Problems For Patronelli Bunch The Field
The front runners in the quad class chose today to hit problems. Alejandro Patronelli – the class of the field to this point – was dogged by mechanical problems throughout the stage. In total he lost more than hour on the stage, and with it the overall lead.
The damage, luckily for Patronelli, was limited, thanks to problems for Tomas Maffei – his nearest challenger. A victim of troubles himself Maffei completed the stage 58 minutes behind stage winner Sebastian Halpern.Orlando Terranova – the front running South American, will not make a racing return to Argentina this year. He rolled his BMW X3 after 200km, and while there appear to have been no serious injuries – Chicherit was similarly largely unscathed – the accident was enough to put him out of the rally. The stage had again proved itself a worth challenge, even in its short form.
“In the last two stages, I did not ride as well as I would have wanted to,” he said. “And I had some bad luck too. But today, I was more careful, I used my head more and I had a bit of luck as wekk. All I do is think about my own race… for the rest, we will see.”
The result brings the overall standings – somewhat divergent before the rest day – back together again. Maffei begins the second week clutching to a slender three minute lead over Patronelli. His stage win – his first of the year – moved Halpern back to within half an hour of the lead.
Problems for some of the regular front runners gave some of the other runners in the class a run into the top five. Lukasz Laskowiec – who started the day tenth overall – led at the first way point of the day before ending the day a creditable second. Santiago Hansen also collected his first top five stage time of the event.
Cars: End Of The MINI Adventure Preludes X-Raid's Bad Day
It was, again, a VW convoy at the head of the cars, Nasser Al-Attiyah taking a second stage win of the year to keep the pressure on de facto team leader Carlos Sainz.
However, it was the German X-Raid team who made the news for all the wrong reasons. Improbably the bad run of luck began on the rest day. After an impressive fightback, and an unexpectedly reliable car, Guerlain Chicherit had overcome an early set back in the Mini Countryman, and while other competitors spent the day, well, resting, Chicherit was doing demonstration runs for the cameras.
It was then it all went a bit wrong. Chicherit rolled the MINI, comprehensively destroying it, the Frenchman out of the rally in unusual circumstances.
Of the fleet of X-Raids that began the stage it was left to Stephane Peterhansel to lead the way. He was again, struck by punctures – another one to add to the four he endured on stage six – as he lost seven minutes – Sainz and Al-Attiyah beginning to turn the homeward leg to Buenos Aires into an internecine battle among the VWs.
“I don’t have the right speed to drive through this kind of rocky fesh fesh,” bemoaned Peterhansel. “Minutes add up and it’s getting pretty bad. It is my fault. I drive too fast on this terrain. I don’t have the right pace. Anyway, on the podium, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th or 8th, it’s all the same. The only thing we wanted at the start was final victory and that seems to be getting out of reach.”
Krzysztof Holowczyc finished the day fifth in his BMW – launching a challenge to Peterhansel's puncture crown with two of his own today, the Pole wondering aloud at the end of the day if the BMW was simply too heavy for the tyres on the terrain. However,
Trucks: Allez Loprais!
After waiting four years to add another stage victory to his Dakar CV Ales Loprais only had to wait two days to claim a third.
The win put the Czech Tatra driver – and his co-driver Josef Kalina – second overall, overtaking Vladimir Chagin. The reigning champion again seemed to struggle to maintain the pace of the stage winner, dropping another 14 minutes to Loprais and nine minutes to Kamaz teammate and rival Firdaus Kabirov, who still holds a comfortable lead at the top of the overall standings.
Chagin in now 28 minutes adrift in the overall standings, a margin that likely needs problems for Loprais and/or Kabirov for him to successfully defend his class title.
Franz Echter and Eduard Nikolaev rounded out the top five, consolidating their overall positions.
2011 Dakar Rally Stage Seven Results
1 Francisco Lopez Contardo (Aprilia) in 3:29m45
2 Cyril Despres (KTM) +0:02m21
3 Marc Coma (KTM) +0:03m45
4 Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha) +0:09m14
5 Ruben Faria (KTM) +0:10m44
1 Sebastian Halpern (Yamaha) in 4:01m26
2 Lukasz Laskawiec (Yamaha) +0:02m10
3 Jorge Santamaria (Honda) +0:06m16
4 Josef Machacek (Yamaha) +0:08m42
5 Santiago Hansen (Polaris) +0:30m50
1 Nasser Al-Attiyah (VW) in 2:40m57
2 Carlos Sainz (VW) +0:01m20
3 Giniel de Villiers (VW) +0:02m56
4 Stephane Peterhansel (BMW) +0:07m40
5 Krzysztof Holowczyc (BMW) +0:17m00
1 Ales Loprais (Tatra) in 2:23m43
2 Firdaus Kabirov (Kamaz) +0:05m03
3 Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz) +0:14m05
4 Franz Echter (MAN) +0:19m53
5 Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz) +0:22m40
Overall Standings After Stage Seven:
1 Marc Coma (KTM) in 26:13m50
2 Cyril Despres (KTM) +0:07m24
3 Francisco Lopez Contardo (Aprilia) +0:18m27
4 Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha) +0:33m04
5 Ruben Faria (KTM) +0:40m53
1 Tomas Maffei (Yamaha) in 31:44m45
2 Alejandro Patronelli (Yamaha) +0:03m03
3 Sebastian Halpern (Yamaha) +0:26m45
4 Josef Machacek (Yamaha) +2:36m49
5 Sebastian Copetti (Yamaha) +3:23m54
1 Carlos Sainz (VW) in 23:21m58
2 Nasser Al-Attiyah (VW) +0:01m22
3 Stephane Peterhansel (BMW) +0:21m11
4 Giniel de Villiers (VW) +0:32m45
5 Krzysztof Holowczyc (BMW) +1:28m59
1 Firdaus Kabirov (Kamaz) in 26:12m26
2 Ales Loprais (Tatra) +0:16m22
3 Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz) +0:28m22
4 Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz) +1:43m55
5 Franz Echter (MAN) +2:25m47