Today's sixth stage brought the Dakar to Arica – the most northerly point on this year's route, just a stone's throw from Chile's border with Peru. But for all the stage explored new territory for the rally, it was an old fashioned Dakar test, the dunes of the Atacama Desert standing between the remaining competitors and a well earned rest day tomorrow.
Bikes: Faria Bags A Keeper, Despres' Squeeky-Bum Time
Ruben Faria so nearly began this year's Dakar in the best possible way, looking like he was won Sunday's first stage until a one minute penalty was applied. However, making the best of starting seventh on the stage, the Portuguese finished the stage 50 seconds ahead of his compatriot Helder Rodrigues.
“It was a very tough stage, very long and bumpy,” assessed Faria. “I started at my own pace, so until the refuelling stop I probably lost some time. After that I accelerated. 200 km from the finish, I overtook Despres, Coma, Rodrigues and Chaleco. I stayed with them, so I think I should have won.”
The stage win saw Faria climb back into the top five at the expense of Paulo Goncalves. The pair of KTMs battling for the lead finished the day third and fourth, Cyril Despres clawing back 90 seconds of his deficit to Marc Coma after a difficult stage of both.
“After the refuelling point, the bike started to vibrate and I didn’t know whether to stop or not, in case the engine was going to blow,” said Despres. “I slowed down a bit and in the end I finished at the same time as the others. Honestly, it’s a miracle that I finished. The only positive thing is that I’m here, but it was squeaky-bum time for 200 km and that’s not reassuring”.
“It was a very hard stage, at the start with the dunes, then with all the navigation, because it was very technical until around the 200 km point,” Coma gives his own opinion. “It was a very restrictive stage and was hard to open the way. It was like I was stood still and was still in the same place since there was so much 'fesh-fesh’ [soft sand]. It was a really hard stage”.
“The rest day will do the machine and rider a world of good,” Despres added, speaking, you have to believe for every Dakar competitor who makes it to Arica.
Quads: Patronelli Leads To The Rest Day
Alejandro Patronelli will spend the rest day standing proud at the top of the quad class with a 16 minute lead over Tomas Maffei. Today Patronelli scored his third stage win, besting Maffei by 15 minutes.
“Very tough, imposing,” Patronelli summed up the stage. “All sorts of things happened to me today. I fell, but I didn’t damage the quad. I’m not injured. To tell the truth, I was lucky. Despite all the dust, I was dazzled by a bit of sunlight and I didn’t see a signpost. I’m going to get a penalty for speeding, I’m sure of it, but that’s not important, I’m still here after all. After that, I rode as quick as I could to make up for the penalty. My motivation is to finish and arrive in Buenos Aires to celebrate on the podium with the crowds. On this Dakar we have been really unlucky. I’d never fallen before and now it’s happened twice. The general standings aren’t an important objective, because I could have hurt myself badly today”.
The Argentine pair now hold a gargantuan 1:48 lead over Sebastian Halpern – another Argentine, with another Sebastian – Copetti – rounding out an Argentine 1-2-3-4 at the top of the overall standings. The domination comes after Czech rider Martin Plechaty, fell out of fourth place. At the time writing he is still on stage according to the tracker on the Dakar website.
Josef Machacek took third on the stage – a distant 48 minutes behind Patronelli, Jorge Santamaria and Christophe Declerck ended the stage fourth and fifth best.
Cars: Four For Sainz, Four For Peterhansel
Carlos Sainz, to date, has dominated the 2011 Dakar Rally, and will spend the rest day in Arica at top the class standings after scoring a fourth stage of the rally on just the sixth stage of the event.
The defending champion ran the special stage just nine seconds faster than Volkswagen teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah. It was a day of domination of the only factory squad, Giniel de Villiers and Mark Miller making sure the Red Bull backed cars took the top four spots on the stage.
Fifth was Stephane Peterhansel. He had led the stage at mid point – leading Al-Attiyah by 35 seconds after 261km. However, a string of four punctures put an end to the BMW driver's challenge for stage victory and saw him drop 12 minutes behind Sainz by the time Peterhansel limped over the line – the last flat tyre a millstone around his neck for the closing kilometres.
“We missed one of the Way Points when we were crossing some dunes,” Peterhansel described. “We had to turn back and lost 4 to 5 minutes there. After that, we had a series of punctures, four times in all. We only had three spare wheels, so we had to stop regularly to inflate that last wheel.”
Krzysztof Holowczyc finished the stage sixth fastest, enough to keep his fifth place overall ahead of Mark Miller, the American having clawed back the time he lost on stage two after an accident.
“It was a very good stage for us today,” said the stage winner. “We caught up with Peter[hansel] and Nasser, who were driving together, then I saw Peterhansel stop. I was in Nasser’s dust, very close by. I also got a puncture and lost several minutes… I don’t like this kind of stage. They are difficult and dangerous. It’s very close in the standings. At the rest day, the gaps are very small: 2’30”; that’s nothing”.
Trucks: One For Loprais!
After spending the opening week of the rally battling to keep pace with one Kamaz rig or another this stage finally saw Czech Tatra driver Ales Loprais put his name on a stage win.
It was Loprais' second career Dakar stage win – the other coming back in Africa in 2007 – and proved the Kamaz's were not unstoppable. Indeed, given that the Russians Firdaus Kabirov and Vladimir Chagin, it is a credit to Loprais that his stage win puts him two minutes out of second place held by Chagin.
“The Kamaz drivers are so strong, with excellent technique and they are excellent drivers as well,” said Loprais. “But we will push. We are just one Tatra here against an army of trucks from Russia, but we will keep on pushing, that’s our goal and we would like to target the podium at least.”
“For sure it’s fantastic to win a special and it’s a great satisfaction for us. It was a really difficult stage. Even the first section in the dunes there was a lot of possibilities of getting a puncture. We were really organised to not get a flat tyre because in the last stage it happened and that cost us 20 minutes.”
'The Tsar' – the record holder for stage wins – could only muster third best today though he led the stage at several points, losing further time to Firdaus Kabirov who has a 19 minute lead over his teammate.
Eduard Nikolaev and Ilgizar Mardeev finished the stage fourth and fifth to put all four Kamaz units in the top five – a quick reminder to Ales Loprais about what he's up against.
2011 Dakar Rally Stage Six Results:
1 Ruben Faria (KTM) in 5:35m27
2 Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha) +0:00m50
3 Cyril Despres (KTM) +0:03m54
4 Marc Coma (KTM) +0:05m20
5 Stefan Svitko (KTM) +0:08m07
1 Alejandro Patronelli (Yamaha) in 6:41m33
2 Tomas Maffei (Yamaha) +0:15m04
3 Tomas Machacek (Yamaha) +0:48m01
4 Jorge Santamaria (Honda) +0:57m17
5 Christophe Declerck (Polaris) +1:00m12
1 Carlos Sainz (VW) in 4:43m53
2 Nasser Al-Attiyah (VW) +0:00m09
3 Giniel de Villiers (VW) +0:09m49
4 Mark Miller (VW) +0:09m50
5 Stephane Peterhansel (BMW) +0:12m25
1 Ales Loprais (Tatra) in 6:00m37
2 Firdaus Kabirov (Kamaz) +0:03m55
3 Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz) +0:09m39
4 Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz) +0:27m03
5 Ilgizar Mardeev (Kamaz) +0:54m49
Overall Standings After Stage Six
1 Marc Coma (KTM) in 22:40m20
2 Cyril Despres (KTM) +0:08m48
3 Francisco Lopez Contardo (Aprilia) +0:22m12
4 Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha) +0:27m35
5 Ruben Faria (KTM) +0:29m54
1 Alejandro Patronelli (Yamaha) in 26:21m57
2 Tomas Maffei (Yamaha) +0:16m31
3 Sebastian Halpern (Yamaha) +1:48m17
4 Sebastian Copetti (Yamaha) +4:05m12
5 Christophe Declerck (Polaris) +4:51m14
1 Carlos Sainz (VW) in 20:39m41
2 Nasser Al-Attiyah (VW) +0:02m42
3 Stephane Peterhansel (BMW) +0:14m51
4 Giniel de Villiers (VW) +0:31m09
5 Krzysztof Holowczyc (BMW) +1:13m19
1 Firdaus Kabirov (Kamaz) in 23:43m40
2 Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz) +0:19m20
3 Ales Loprais (Tatra) +0:21m25
4 Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz) +1:26m18
5 Franz Echter (MAN) +2:10m57