Today’s action saw competitors going through the Atacama desert, with all four categories experiencing the 291km connecting stage and 438km special that made up today’s total of 729km of gruelling action. However, uniquely, the stopwatch was ticking on two distinct portions separated by a neutralised zone. But on the events first full day in Chile, it seemed to be quite a good stage for the local riders in the bikes and quad bike categories.
Bikes: Lopez claims his second stage win.
Francisco Lopez today claimed the second stage win of this year’s Dakar Rally with a strong performance. He appeared to be in a class of his own, with the winning margin over Ruben Faria being two minutes and thirty four seconds.
However, initially it was Paulo Goncalves setting the pace, after 131 kilometres, with Ruben Faria a minute and fifteen seconds behind. Lopez at that stage claimed the fourth fastest time before finding more pace, however things were not as plain sailing for the French contingent. Overall leader Olivier Pain and yesterday’s stage winner David Casteu lost seven minutes and 58 second and ten minutes and 50 seconds to Goncalves respectively, with Depres only marginally better, five minutes and 43 seconds off the leader’s pace.
Another French rider, Alain Duclos, was also experiencing major problems, and lost a lot of time just 45km into proceedings.
Goncalves was soon too delayed, as 333km into proceedings; he lost five minutes to Lopez with what was suspected to be a puncture. This cost him any possibility of ending the day fastest.
Lopez therefore capitalised on the Portugese rider’s misfortunes, and was never really challenged for the rest of the stage, and posted the fastest time of four hours and 56 seconds. Despres eventually made up a bit of time to claim third behind Faria, three minutes and 48 seconds off the pace. Crucially however, he gains four minutes on Pain and seven minutes on Casteu.
Today’s winner wasn’t entirely happy with how things went however:
“The first part of the special went very well, but on the second section, the engine lost a fair bit of power and I started wondering whether it was a fuel problem or due to the altitude. I don’t know, but I should find out when I get to the bivouac,” Lopez said.
Today’s result means that Pain still leads the overall standings, with him enjoying a slender two minutes and 22 second margin over Despres, who moves up to second. Casteu drops to third and is now four minutes and 48 seconds off the pace.
Quads: Casale halts Patronelli’s dominance.
Marcos Patronelli has been the man in charge of the quad bike category since the Dakar Rally began, but today his dominance was ended with a stage win by local rider Ignacio Casale.
Casale posted the fastest time 131km into proceedings, with Patronelli being little less than a minute behind him. Third place Sarel Van Biljon was some way off the early pace of Casale however, being eight minutes behind.
However, the order would not remain this way for wrong, with Sebastian Husseini who suffered long delays yesterday, posted the second fastest time by the next checkpoint to move to within four minutes of Casale.
The order would change little over the next few kilometres, with Casale never looking like he was likely to be challenged from Patronelli or Husseini. He therefore posted the fastest stage time of four hours and fifteen minutes, with Patronelli eventually posting the second fastest time, six minutes and 36 seconds off the pace of a dominant Casale.
“Today I managed to win the stage. It’s like a dream finishing in front of all these riders who are so, so good like Marcos (Patronelli) or Husseini. It also proves that I’m capable of a good pace and that I can ride very well. It gives me confidence to continue attacking and attacking. I haven’t got the words to tell you how happy I am. It’s just total delight. Now, I’m going to get some rest, because the stage was very long,” Casale said.
South Africa’s Sarel Van Biljon would eventually prevail over Husseini in the battle for third as the latter faded in the closing kilometres of today’s stage.
Despite Patronelli suffering a rare defeat, today’s result does little to change things in the overall classification, with the Argentine rider now having an hour and eleven minutes over nearest rival Casale.
Rafal Sonik enjoyed another strong run today to post the seventh fastest time, and his consistency means that he maintains third in the overall standings but is an hour and 48 minutes behind Patronelli.
Cars: Al-Attiyah bounces back.
After suffering, by his own admissions, “a difficult day” yesterday, Red Bull driver Nasser Al-Attiyah bounced back today to claim his third stage win in four days.
Today’s action proves more that consistency will be crucial to winning in this category, with yesterday’s stage winner, Nani Roma, suffering major delays that saw an hour off the winning pace by the end of the day. The Mini driver became stuck in sand just 75km into proceedings. Giniel de Villiers was also losing time in this area, but was able to get going before Roma. He would however, become stuck not long after, delaying him several minutes.
Al-Attiyah’s team mate, Carlos Sainz, was another one to endure difficulties today, as the Spaniard became stationary after 181km of the special stage. He would soon signal to the team that the problems were engine related, which neither he nor navigator Timo Göttschalk were able to repair.
After the first timed section, Al-Attiyah was listed with the fastest time, ahead of overall leader Stéphane Peterhansel by six minutes and 24 seconds. Rooby Gordon, recovering from a roll yesterday, was having a stronger performance and posted the third fastest time at this point.
The American’s time was soon bettered by Guerlain Chicherit however. The French driver had lost time yesterday after apparent steering issues; he posted the third fastest time and was only six seconds behind Peterhansel, but would lose pace in the latter kilometres to drop back.
Al-Attiyah therefore clung on to win another stage, his winning time eventually being three hours and 32 minutes behind good enough to beat Peterhansel’s by eight minutes and 36 seconds, with Gordon claiming a strong third for his Hummer team, thirteen minutes off the pace of Al-Attiyah.
Things therefore close up once more in the overall standings, with Peterhansel’s margin being trimmed to a mere one minute and eighteen seconds over the Qatari. The pair is well clear of the next man however, with de Villiers now being 42 minutes off the pace after his delays today.
“We did a good job and I’m quite happy to be here, without any mistakes, the car working very well, the tyres were really good, and I’m quite happy with everything. We just try to keep going like this and we try to keep close to Peter because maybe tomorrow the stage might not be for us, but okay, if we lose, we lose just a few minutes. We can feel the altitude, but we have a good ratio and we fixed it yesterday for altitude to keep the rpm always very high. Yeah, I’m quite happy,” Al-Attiyah said after today.
Trucks: de Rooy back on top in close encounter.
After several days off the top of the time sheets, Gerard de Rooy returned there today in an incredibly close truck fight between himself, Andrey Karginov and Peter Versluis. The trio were separated by 35 seconds after today’s stage, with Karginov being only a single second faster than Versluis at the end.
However, things were not so good for de Rooy’s team mate. Hans Stacey came back down to earth with a bump after the highs of yesterday. The Dutchman reportedly rolled his Iveco 79km into proceedings, with the vehicle apparently being too badly damaged to continue. Thankfully, neither Stacey nor any of his crew was injured in the crash.
Russian Eduard Nikolaev initially lead after 131km, with Loprais and Versluis completing the top three. It didn’t appear to be as strong for de Rooy, who occupied fifth place at this stage.
However, things would soon take a turn for the worse ford Nikolaev, who ground to a half after 384km and was stationary for five minutes, suffering from mechanical problems. Loprais took the advantage, but de Rooy rallied over the final few kilometres to triumph in a close battle.
His winning time of four hours and 19 minutes was just enough to edge out Karginov and Verluis. However, he has a more comfortable margin now in the overall standings, with the Iveco driver having an eighteen minute margin over Nikolaev, with Mardeev now just over half an hour behind, occupying third.