The Dakar Rally returned to Argentina but that doesn’t mean it’s winding down. In fact, the race seems to be heating up with a number of notable competitors bowing out. Let’s start at the top with bike class. They will spend the night with quads in Cachi for their marathon stage, while the rest head to the main bivouac in Salta. #1 Marc Coma keeps the Red Bull KTM Factory Team in championship contention with his 2nd place finish today behind Team HRC’s #2 Joan Barreda Bort. Although the Honda rider has gone from leading the race to 04:37:12 behind, he’s not beyond a lionhearted performance. “I think that today went really well,” Barreda Bort said. “I got away to swift start on an easy day that didn’t require much navigation and never left the main path. It’s a real shame about what happened in the salt flats of Uyuni, because that’s where I said goodbye to any possibilities. We were in the lead and with all the difficult work that we had done… But now I can only resign myself to it. We will be here for the last few days, supporting the team so that it gets the best result possible.”
The highest ranked Honda rider #7 Paulo Goncalves was 5th today and still runner-up behind Coma although the gap between the two Europeans has widened to 00:07:35. Goncalves’ teammate #29 Laia Sanz duplicated her results from stage 9 – 12th fastest and 8th overall. A top ten finish for her would be spectacular. Chile’s #31 Pablo Quintanilla still has the podium in sight on his Transportes Artisa KTM, although rookie rider #26 Toby Price is bearing down on him with Aussie fury. Quintanilla said, “I’ll prepare the motorcycle carefully for tomorrow. At any rate, the race isn’t over yet. The race is open until the last special… and the fight for the podium will be fierce. There’s less than a minute between me and Price in the general classification. The end of the Dakar will be fiercely contested. I’ll give it my all to defend my third place.” Price’s Red Bull KTM Factory teammate #27 Matthias Walkner withdrew after altitude sickness from crossing the Andes overwhelmed him. He’d been struggling for a while but hopefully his second stage victory is enough impetus for him to come back next year.
There was a major shake-up in Quads as both second place #250 Ignacio Casale and third place #252 Sergio Lafuente pulled out of the rally! This leaves Poland’s #251 Rafal Sonik with a 02:51:39 lead over new runner-up #261 Jeremias González Ferioli. “Ah, I saw he had some problem with his quad, but I didn’t know Casale had withdrawn!” said Sonik, “I saw his chain was broken and, since it’s a marathon stage, I think that’s why he didn’t try to stay in the race. My problem today was a nasty fall at km 199. I flew into the air! I don’t even want to have a peek at my legs. Fortunately, I can’t complain. It hurts, but my legs are still in one piece and my quad’s fine. Yesterday I had to keep the fuel tank in place because the screws had blown off, I turned the pages in my road book with my left hand, I held the fuse of my alternator in my right hand… And the handlebar in my mouth! Repairing all this cost me 40 minutes… but that was yesterday. Today was okay! It’s quite rare to crash at high speeds and emerge unscathed. It happened today, and that’s great.” Third place is now held by Bolivian rider #283 Walter Nosiglia. Finishing times may be close on the stage but not on the leader board. Barring a monumental muck-up by Sonik or act of God (because hello, Bolivia?) this will be Saturday’s podium. It will be Sonik’s first win and the first podium finish for the other guys who are both competing in their second Dakar Rally ever.
Qatar Rally Team’s #301 Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel picked up a fourth stage win and continue to lead the Car class, as they’ve done for the last nine stages. Toyota Imperial Team South Africa’s #303 Giniel De Villiers and Dirk Von Zitzewitz were fifth fastest on the way to Salta, and are still their closest rivals but the gap between cars has grown to 00:28:22. De Villiers said, “We had a rather calm day. Nasser’s too far ahead, it makes no sense to take risks. We won’t be able to catch him unless he makes mistakes, but it can happen. Yesterday was a disappointment, but we still believe in our chances, you never know. It ain’t over yet. Things are good, on balance, because we know we’re still in the fight for victory.” Unsurprisingly, Al-Attiyah doesn’t consider the next three stages to be a leisurely trip to Argentina’s capital. This is Dakar,” he said. “Sometimes you get hot temperatures, sometimes you get rain and snow. But now we’re here and we need to carry on at this pace. We can only relax once we’re in Buenos Aires!”
Third place on both rankings are held by Toyota #325 Yazeed Al Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk in their Yazeed Racing Toyota Hilux. It’s quite impressive that the Saudi Arabian driver could be hoisting the 3rd place trophy above his head this weekend. “I’m very happy with a top 5 place. Finishing my first Dakar on the podium was beyond my wildest dreams” he said at the day’s finish line. Team Peugeot Total’s #302 Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret had a better day finishing 9th and staying 14th overall. It’s possible for them to gain a few spots on the leader board but it would take a miracle for them to get into the top ten. According to Peterhansel, “My biggest problem today was our road position: I had to work really hard to make progress from where I started, while not taking unnecessary risks. The good news is that we’re in the top 10 so we should have better conditions tomorrow: or at least less worse!”
Their teammates #322 Cyril Despres and Gilles Picard opted to drive safely instead of quickly and were 22nd across the line. Interestingly enough they moved up three places to 36th overall. Despres and Picard were only three seconds behind the Speed Energy Racing Gordini of #308 Robby Gordon and Johnny Campbell. The Americans are 20th overall, about 13mins shy of Monster Energy Rally Raid Team’s #305 Orlando Terranova and Bernardo Graue. Their Mini was the second-fastest car to Salta but navigation was a real issue for them. Terranova said, “For us it was a really nice route and we tried to win the first stage in Argentina (Terranova’s homeland). But today’s road book was a true disaster and we had to look for a waypoint for many kilometres. Nonetheless, having finished second also isn’t too bad.”
Of course finishing is always preferable to, well, not finishing as #500 Nani Roma and Michel Périn can attest. They crashed into a deep hole and were thankfully unharmed but the damage was too great, so they’ve officially withdrawn from the rally. It must be mentioned that the hole wasn’t documented in the road book, so Roma stood guard to warn other drivers about the hole. I salute those gentlemen for such consideration of their fellow drivers. Driving solo #354 Tom Coronel is bringing up the rear in his Maxxis Dakar Team Powered by Super B 4×2 Wheel Gokobra buggy. He was 50th on the stage and fully intent on finishing the race. Just a few more days, Tom! I’m sorry to say that #330 Romain Dumas and Francois Borsotto are out of the race with a broken gearbox. The duo has had a tough going in recent days, and the early end will actually give Dumas extra time to recover for his next event. He’ll be racing his Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0l developed by RD Limited in the Rallye Monte Carlo next weekend with co-driver Denis Giraudet. Dumas is a very talented driver and I hope the Dakar Rally chapter of his career is yet to be written.
The top five trucks on the stage finished within about five minutes of each other. (Jinkies!) #502 Eduard Nikolaev is driving like the devil is chasing him. Oddly enough he’s chasing his own Kamaz Master Team mate #507 Airat Mardeev who was 49sec slower to Salta. You see, Mardeev has led this race for six out of ten stages and Nikolaev really wants to follow up his 2013 Dakar Rally win. Defending champ #500 Andrey Karginov is hanging back in 3rd but don’t think for a second that he wouldn’t blow past either of these guys if it meant extending his reign for another year. #503 Ales Loprais is still on their tails and would love to get a podium finish with his Instaforex Loprais Eurol Veka Man. Rolling with a 01:22:10 deficit, he’s waiting to pounce on a mistake from the Russians too. #510 Siarhei Viazovich was doing quite well until hitting a major snag at stage 8 like so many other competitors. He’s 34th overall and has no chance of putting a dent in his 31:01:02 gap but still cranked out a 3rd place stage finish. Petronas Team De Rooy Iveco leader #501 Gerard De Rooy stays among the top ten drivers and produced a 5th place finish on the stage. His team’s best result will come from #504 Hans Stacey in 6th overall, once he stays in the race of course. It’s not over until it’s over in the Dakar Rally and absolutely anything can happen.
Stage 11 ends at Termas de Río Honda but via different routes for the Bikes/Quads and Cars/Trucks. Bikes and Quads will finally have the benefit of their proper support teams there before all competitors embark on the second to last stage. The home stretch is coming, everybody! Look out for our recap tomorrow and watch NBC Sports Network’s “The Dakar Rally” with commentary by Leigh Diffey. Don’t forget to check out the Dakar Rally’s online resources including their free smartphone apps:
Smartphone apps: http://www.dakar.com/dakar/2015/fr/application-mobile.html
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