All four classes were back on the road again and more than ready to bid the Atacama Desert farewell. However the towering dunes and fesh-fesh caused problems for some, it was the stony terrain that undid others while many competitors claimed navigational issues (which means they got lost). Tuesday’s race to Calama, Chile was anything but easy. #1 Marc Coma kept his lead for the Red Bull KTM Factory Team with a 3rd place stage finish. The Spaniard would like to take his fifth Dakar Rally victory but #7 Paulo Goncalves isn’t making it easy for him. The Honda rider was second fastest and is only 00:05:28 behind Coma on the leader board. Goncalves is determined to spoil a KTM clean sweep and possibly secure his first Dakar win after eight previous attempts. Even a podium finish would be a career best for the Portugese rider. Either way it would be sublime for him especially after the famous video clip from last year’s stage 5 showing Goncalves weeping as his bike was reduced to ashes.
Another Team HRC man from Portugal had Coma under pressure – #5 Hélder Rodrigues. He’s 12th overall with a massive gap of 03:18:07 but that doesn’t mean he’s given up. Rodrigues won the stage saying, “I’m fine. I’ve worked very hard for this Dakar and to be up front. Yesterday, I lost it all and now I don’t want to take any chances, but I will give everything to win.” He’s been on the podium twice but like everybody else, isn’t it to finish well. He wants to win. #29 Laia Sanz is now 8th overall after a 12th place finish on the stage. She said, “Today was a very hard, physical day, with some difficult navigation, but it went really well for me. I didn’t make any mistakes, and that’s what it’s all about, carrying on like that until the end.” #3 Olivier Pain finally broke into the top ten for Yamaha Factory Racing Rally Team Yamalub. He was 8th on the stage while the #10 Juan Pedrero Garcia, who was the previously highest-ranked Yamaha rider, slipped down to 14th after getting lost trying to find the waypoint which incurred a 20 min penalty and running out of fuel 20km from the end. “A disastrous day for me” he said.
There was a first time stage-winner in the Quad class: Tamarugal XC Rally Team’s #254 Victor Manuel Gallegos Lozic on a Honda TRX 450 ER. This is the Chilean’s second Dakar Rally. He said, Last year I finished the Dakar in 5th place and this year my goal was to be among the leaders. I haven’t enjoyed a particularly favourable first half of the Dakar, but today in any case, I showed the pace that I am capable of. I’m all the happier with the day’s work seeing as I’m on a 450 cc quad whilst my rivals are riding 750 cc machines…” Gallegos Lozic is currently 7th overall with a 05:32:32 gap behind new class leader, #2 Rafal Sonik. That’s right! The Polish rider regained control from #250 Ignacio Casale and is now 4 min ahead. Uruguay’s #252 Sergio Lafuente is secure in the 3rd since his closest rival #261 Jeremias González Ferioli is almost 3hrs away from him. The only close fight in this class is between Sonik and Casale. It will undoubtedly continue all the way back to Buenos Aires, barring any unforeseen circumstances of course.
Defending champions #500 Nani Roma and Michel Périn piloted the first car to Calama. The Spanish driver was grateful for the success saying, “This win is for my guys and the team. They did a great job. Today, we finally experienced a trouble-free day and didn’t encounter the slightest problem. And Michel once again delivered in sensational style.” This puts them 20th overall and pushing to get the highest result possible in the rally’s few remaining days. Another Mini driver #501 Nasser Al-Attiyah was also in a thankful for his 2nd place finish, which not only keeps them first on the overall list but extended that lead to 00:23:58 over the quickest Toyota #303 Giniel De Villiers and Dirk Von Zitzewitz. The Qatari said, “It was a very tough stage with lots of fesh-fesh and difficult navigation. In my opinion this was the hardest stage of the whole rally so far. We needed to stay calm and just take it easy, not pushing. The fesh-fesh was dangerous and also the wind brought down the visibility. My co-driver Matthieu (Baumel) did a great job with the navigation once again.”
De Villiers and von Zitzewitz were undone by the tricky navigation along with Roma’s team mates, #307 Krzysztof Holowczyc and Xavier Panseri; and#305 Orlando Terranova and Bernardo Graue. “Today, we had a really good chance of closing in on Yazeed. But the special stage was really tough.” Holowczyc said. They finished 4th, 6th and 7th respectively. Yazeed Racing’s upstart Toyota #325 Yazeed Al Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk are still on the podium’s third step, finishing the stage 5th. The third fastest car on the day was Mini ALL4 Racing’s #310 Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov. According to the Russian co-driver, “Navigating proved to be extremely difficult today as there were several tracks and you couldn’t see anything, in the Fech Fech. You believed to be on the right track but then, there was another, parallel one. The special waypoint was far away and if you missed the compass direction by just one or two degrees you were lost – at once.” This brings the G-Energy Team to 7th overall in their first Dakar Rally.
Team Peugeot Total’s struggle continues as #302 Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret stopped to repair a broken hub carrier which cost them dearly on the leader board. They were 53rd on the day and dropped to 14th overall, over five hours behind Al-Attiyah and Baumel. #322 Cyril Despres and Gilles Picard had a better race finishing 9th but are worse off overall in 39th place. Peugeot Sport Director, Bruno Famin said, “Today was very encouraging for Cyril and Gilles who both did an excellent job, because in terms of navigation it was quite complicated. Cyril is improving day after day, which is very positive. Unfortunately Stéphane and Jean-Paul had a mechanical failure on the front-right hub carrier, which they were able to fix themselves and carry on slowly. It’s a pity as they were very fast at the start of the stage, within 30 seconds of the leader. But that’s racing. Despite this problem, we are very happy to come back to Argentina with two cars in good shape. The target is now to reach Buenos Aires.”
Speed Energy Racing’s #308 Robby Gordon and Johnny Campbell were 8th to finish the stage and brings their general result up to 20th. It’s a marvellous recovery for the American team after a race that would leave others broken and irresolute. #330 Romain Dumas and Francois Borsotto actually gained two spots to sit 48th overall. After a truly awful marathon stage, it’s great to see the MD 04 Optimus buggy is still chugging along. One of the fan favorites, Maxxis Dakar Team Powered by Super B #354 Tom Coronel hasn’t been put through the wringer on this year’s rally. He’s been through the grinder. After stopping to rescue an ill competitor, being told he couldn’t race and then being told that he could, electrical problems after going through high water, spending a couple nights in the desert, getting help from fans and rolling down a couple dunes – he’s still in the race! He’s 68th overall but gosh darn it – he’s there! If you think you want to do this race, his YouTube videos are the ones to watch because Coronel has been through the highs and lows of this event.
Kamaz Master Team has increased control of the Truck class. #507 Airat Mardeev won the stage and how has a 00:14:10 lead over #503 Eduard Nikolaev. Defending champion #500 Andrey Karginov is 3rd and somewhat wary of Instaforex Loprais Eurol Veka Man driver, #503 Ales Loprais, who patiently awaits a mistake by the Russians to slip into the top three. #501 Gerard De Rooy has pushed his way back into the top ten with a 3rd place stage finish. With a ghastly deficit of 07:05:34 behind Mardeev, there’s no conceivable way for the Petronas Team De Rooy Iveco to make it to the podium. His team mate #504, Hans Stacey, has a marginally better chance of taking the fight to the Russians. However as the race draws to a close, ‘a good finish’ might be their only possible achievement. The Dakar Rally next leg returns to Argentina, and begins the second marathon stage for Bikes and Quads.
Look out for our stage 10 recap and watch NBC Sports Network’s “The Dakar Rally” for thrilling videos and Leigh Diffey’s sparkling commentary. You can also keep up with the race in real time with the Dakar Rally’s online resources:
Smartphone apps: http://www.dakar.com/dakar/2015/fr/application-mobile.html
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