San Salvador du Jujuy, Argentina – Calama, Chile
After a marathon stage yesterday – which claimed more than its fair share of racers – stage four was only a short blast – and the first when all four classes ran on the same route. The stage – run close to Calama, the day’s destination – perhaps paled in comparison to the 554km road connection before the timed portion. The road, peaking at 5,800m above sea level saw the competitos cross the Andes and enter Chile, and spelt the end of at least one 2011 Dakar.
Bikes: Coma, By Seconds
Spaniard Marc Coma took his second consecutive stage win, and though he finished the stage just 16 seconds ahead of rival Cyril Despres it was enough to see one KTM rider replace the other at the top of the overall standings, Coma’s lead just two seconds.
“It was a very important day for me, even if it was only a 207-km stage,” said Coma. “It was difficult to open the way. I’m happy and I felt great. I hope it stays like that right until the end. The general standings don’t matter for the moment. The most important thing will be the last day. It’s essential to have a good pace and avoid making mistakes. Now we’ll have to deal with two very difficult stages”.
Ruben Faria, in the early stages, held his familiar place behind the leading duo, before falling back for the second half of the stage, ultimately losing 17 minutes to the leaders and with it his place in the top five overall, as he dropped to seventh, 27 minutes behind new pace setter Coma.
His place (third) was taken by Francisco Lopez Contardo, who took third on both the stage and overall, though at 20 minutes behind the leading pair the class already seems to be a private battle between Coma and Despres.
“Cyril and Marc are riding at a crazy pace,” remarked ‘Chaleco’. “I can’t keep up with them for the moment. I prefer the stages with more off-track riding. Today was a positive day. I’m going to dry and claw time back on Coma and Despres but it’s not easy. They have machines that are performing excellently and they’re great riders as well.”
Despite having a poor day himself, Paulo Goncalves held onto to fourth overall, his fellow Portuguese Helder Rodrigues moving into fifth overall.
Quads: Chile, But Still All Argentina
There was news for the Argentinian quad cohort of both the positive and negative variety.
Firstly, the negative.
After struggling on the first three stages defending champion Marcos Partonelli crashed on the stage, injuring his knee, prompting his withdrawal from the rally. He was – as is standard practice for any injured driver – flown to the overnight campsite. However, he plans to continue the rally as part of the support team, following the progress of his brother Alejandro – and therein lies the positive.
He, had much the better day of the brothers (though that’s not particularly tricky) as part of a trifecta of Argentine riders once more at the top of the stage times.
Leading them, again, was Tomas Maffei – adding another stage win to his success yesterday. Starting the day 1m12 off the overall lead in third place his winning margin of nearly three minutes was enough to put him in a lead very few would have expected at the end of the day. Patronelli finished the day second with erstwhile leader Sebastian Halpern in third.
The fading Czech challenge again claimed fourth and fifth on the stage, stage one winner Josef Machacek ahead of Martin Plechaty. The latter – conversely the best of the pair overall – is now 27 minutes behind Maffei in the overall standings.
Cars: Sainz Success, Hummer Heartbreak
The dizzying pace among the race leading diesels aside the big news of day four of the Dakar took place before the stage had even technically started.
After 514km of the road link Robby Gordon was forced to stop. Outside of the stage – where official attention is understandably concentrated it was initially uncertain why. A blown engine was the initial report, as well as suspension problems, but both turned out to be incorrect. In the end it was a broken wheel bearing and despite the efforts by Gordon and co-driver Kellon Walch a quick fix proved impossible.
By the time the American’s support team were able to reach him the start of the day’s timed stage had already closed, so a frustrating Dakar for Gordon comes to a unsatisfactory – and early – end.
At the front it was Carlos Sainz who expended his overall lead after coming out on top of the now familiar VW versus BMW battle. Though after a delay strewn stage two admitting to driving a support role it was Mark Miller who led at the first of the day’s waypoints – Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz reaching the 28km with exactly the same time – two seconds behind Miller.
Peterhansel was the next to lead – the short stage meaning times were close as he, Sainz, Miller, Nasser Al-Attiyah, Giniel de Villiers and Guerlain Chicherit all reached the second waypoint within 34 seconds of each other.
146km saw Peterhansel appearing destined for his first stage win of the year, extending his lead to 55 seconds. However, a late surge by both Sainz and Al-Attiyah saw them both quicker than Peterhansel by stage’s end, both extending their advantage over the Frenchman in the overall standings.
“It could’ve been a good day because we were in the lead at the intermediate points. But we got a flat tyre and had to change the wheel, which took two or three minutes,” Peterhansel reveals the travails behind the delay that cost him the stage. “That’s what we needed to win the stage. It means that we’re navigating well and that we aren’t having problems on high altitude tracks either. So, even if it wasn’t our strategy to be third for tomorrow, it hasn’t turned out to bad in the end.”
The remaining Volkswagens of Giniel de Villiers and Mark Miller rounded out the top five, Miller breaking into the top ten for the first time following his stage two crash. Chicherit – another fighting back from an early setback – finished seventh fastest on the day’s stage in the MINI – actually running impressively given its lack of development running.
“It was cool,” said Chicherit. “We drove a great special with no mistakes. We didn’t push that hard and we really enjoyed the driving. During the last three stages we had problems with the brakes and I was hoping they would work today, and fortunately that was the case. Today, we weren’t concerned about the time. We just wanted to drive and get back into the rhythm without worrying about the rest.”
Trucks: Chagin Increases His Lead
The truck stage fitted a familiar pattern.
Kamaz domination, Ales Loprais‘ lone Tatra bearing witness to the formidable pace of the Red Bull sponsored Russian team.
Vladimir Chagin, Firdaus Kabirov and Loprais – in that order – held the top three positions for the duration of the stage with Franz Echter and Eduard Nikolaev – the junior man in the four crew Kamaz outfit – in fourth and fifth.
With all five finishing the day in the order they started the overall standings, needless to say, remained the same the days seeing all the stage winners end the day as overall leaders.
2011 Dakar Rally Stage Four Results
1 Marc Coma (KTM) in 2:04m00
2 Cyril Despres (KTM) +0:00m16
3 Francisco Lopez Contardo (Aprilia) +0:02m05
4 Olivier Pain (Yamaha) +0:06m20
5 Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha) +0:06m55
1 Tomas Maffei (Yamaha) in 2:30m23
2 Alejandro Patronelli (Yamaha) +0:02m54
3 Sebastian Halpern (Yamaha) +0:04m23
4 Josef Machacek (Yamaha) +0:09m28
5 Martin Plechaty (Yamaha) +0:09m47
1 Carlos Sainz (VW) in 1:57m09
2 Nasser Al-Attiyah (VW) +0:00m50
3 Stephane Peterhansel (BMW) +0:01m22
4 Giniel de Villiers (VW) +0:02m17
5 Mark Miller (VW) +0:02m43
1 Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz) in 2:10m18
2 Firdaus Kabirov (Kamaz) +0:02m18
3 Ales Loprais (Tatra) +0:05m59
4 Franz Echter (MAN) +0:11m08
5 Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz) +0:12m48
Overall Standings After Stage Four
1 Marc Coma (KTM) in 11:43m12
2 Cyril Despres (KTM) +0:00m02
3 Francisco Lopez Contardo (Aprilia) +0:20m12
4 Paul Goncalves (BMW) +0:25m40
5 Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha) +0:26m02
1 Tomas Maffei (Yamaha) in 13:33m56
2 Alejandro Patronelli (Yamaha) +0:01m54
3 Sebastian Halpern (Yamaha) +0:03m11
4 Martin Plechaty (Yamaha) +0:27m43
5 Josef Machacek (Yamaha) +0:30m48
1 Carlos Sainz (VW) in 11:09m14
2 Nasser Al-Attiyah (VW) +0:04m24
3 Stephane Peterhansel (BMW) +0:05m41
4 Giniel de Villiers (VW) +0:19m14
5 Krzysztof Holowczyc (BMW) +0:27m45
1 Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz) in 11:49m16
2 Firdaus Kabirov (Kamaz) +0:08m41
3 Ales Loprais (Tatra) +0:12m36
4 Franz Echter (MAN) +0:46m08
5 Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz) +0:51m46