Judging by the comments section on Dakar Rally’s official Facebook page, people did not understand the reasoning behind cancelling Stage 09 due to a landslide. Some lamented the Rally losing its defining spirit of grit and tenacity. Others railed against organizers for their inconsiderate attitude towards local fans who drove long distances to see race machines in action and would be denied the chance. Of course, such judgements are easy to make when you lack any information but a one paragraph press release.
Dakar released some footage of the devastating rains that blocked passage through the stage and caused much damage, including loss of life. Rally organizers not only had flooding on the stage, but roads that would be used to move the rally’s bivouac would be full of emergency response, not to mention the sudden need for police, medical, and military aid to local communities… aid that would otherwise be used to support the rally and its many spectators.
The footage was quite dramatic, but the rally was able to use Stage 09’s cancellation to move the event and begin Stage 10 on time. It has solidified into Peugeot’s race for the cars, with Stephane Peterhansel taking the lead from Sebastian Loeb. Peterhansel collided with motorcyclist Simon Maric (#84) about 50 miles into the stage, losing time as he naturally stopped and rendered aid to the stricken Slovenian rider. The time was eventually restored and no penalty was issued, giving a 5m50s overall lead to the 12 time Dakar winner. Some are crying foul over the incident and believe a penalty should be issued, though I have seen no footage of it and would not hazard a guess. Overtaking is an extremely difficult task and, even when we see onboard footage, it can be deceiving due to lens distortion and the extra detail a driver can see out the windshield.
On another note, a Peugeot podium sweep is possible (likely) by way of Cyril Despres. With over 25 minutes separating him from the leader, the five time Dakar winner in the bike category may have to wait another year for a win on four wheels. However, with a 7th place in 2016 being his best finish in the cars category, a podium would still be Despres’ strongest showing. Outside the top three, Nani Roma lost nearly 40 minutes to the leader today and is effectively out of the running. His Toyota Hilux was the biggest threat to Peugeot’s dominance so far. Mikko Hirvonen had a disaster on the stage, stopping to fix a problem with his Mini and losing buckets of time to the lead group. The fix was obviously not enough, as he lost more time on subsequent waypoints and now sits over an hour adrift from the lead, though still in 5th overall. Check out the official Stage 10 recap here.
Suffice to say that when the world collapses around people’s ears, racing needs to take a back seat. That doesn’t detract from the rough-and-tumble spirit of Dakar. More so, continuing to race while your hosts are plucking water-logged people out of their homes detracts from the spirit of humanity that seems to be fading every time we decide to pick up an Xbox controller instead of reaching out to our friends in the real world. People like to quote Steve McQueen as saying “Racing is life… everything before or after is just waiting.” While it is true he said it, McQueen said it in a movie, while playing a character. It’s just a line. And as we saw, Stage 10 carried on just the same, with some amazing racing. Two titans of motorsport, separated by a few minutes after nearly two weeks of flat out, off road racing. What a show.