Stage 11 of The Dakar Rally 2014 was completed on January 16, 2014. The competitors raced from Antofagasta to El Salvador, Chile and with only two stages left, end-game strategies are being put into motion causing changes in the standings. In an interesting twist, some of those plans include making sure the running order stays exactly the same, as is the case with the Monster Energy X-Raid Team. #304 Nani Roma and Michel Perin were in real danger of losing his lead to #300 Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret. However, team orders have the top three cars which includes #301 Nasser Al-Attiyah and Lucas Cruz to stay in a holding pattern through to the race’s end. Some fans are having kittens because they would prefer to see drivers win without management interference, but fasten your seatbelts because I have a theory!
The people in charge of the X-Raid team really, really want a podium clean-sweep by Mini. They almost got it last year except for a performance by hardcore Dakar Rally veteran, Giniel De Villiers, who finished second. It looks like this is a strategic move to keep him out of the top three. The #302 Toyota HiLux has been a thorn in their side all race long and this seems the only logical way to block its path. Feel free to apply this theory to almost every instance of team orders in motorsports. In this case, the X Raid team has an embarrassment of riches because the top five has only one driver who’s never won this race before – #307 Orlando Terranova. He’s in the unenviable position of keeping De Villiers behind him. Since first and second has been “sorted” the battle for third place is on like Donkey Kong.
Speaking of hot battles, it was reported early in the day that #2 Marc Coma won the stage but by nightfall the rankings show #1 Cyril Despres has been awarded the win, while Coma is now tenth due to a fifteen-minute penalty. That’s how close the riders’ times are, but no matter. The Spaniard still has over a 37+ minute lead over former teammate #3 Joan Barreda Bort. In a dramatic turn, both Coma and Barreda Bort fell off their bikes at different times during this stage. They both recovered and managed to maintain their overall positions. There’s another clash for the third podium position in this class too. Despres’ Yamaha teammate #6 Olivier Pain is looking to pass Coma’s right-hand man, #4 Jordi Villadoms. However neither should count out Honda’s #7 Helder Rodrigues. The Portuguese rider is more than ready to take home another Dakar Rally trophy. #50 Laia Sanz had a better stage this time around, finishing 21st and holding fast at 19th overall. Still plugging along is the #92 Mike Johnson who finished the stage very late 64th and is now 75th overall. It’s his highest position so far and now he’s the only American competitor left in the Dakar Rally 2014…maybe?
Despite a Facebook post announcing that they were withdrawing from the rally, it seems that #305 Robby Gordon and Kellon Walch still hope to finish the race. The most recent Facebook update says, “Gordon did not return to the race during Thursday’s stage, and as of late Thursday night the entire team was traveling toward El Salvador where they hope to return to competition Friday. Given their remote location and the late hour, despite its ability to return to the race, it remains to be seen if the sanctioning body A.S.O. will permit the Gordini to complete the final two stages of the Rally.” Whether or not they’ll continue remains to be seen, but we’ll definitely let you know how it all turns out.
Russia’s Kamaz Master Team finally managed to get back on the leaderboard through #506 Andrey Karginov who’s been driving on the ragged edge to pass #501 Gérard De Rooy. #500 Eduard Nikolaev was second on the stage and now holds the third overall spot behind De Rooy. With two days left to go, Karginov will still have to haul tail because the Dutchman is almost eight minutes behind, and in this race that might as well be nothing depending on the terrain. The rest of the field is still in the chase and waiting to pounce if any of the leaders suffer a breakdown along the route. Stage 12 from El Salvador to La Serena is in progress right now. Our recap will be out as soon as concrete information is released from South America. You can also get live updates with The Dakar Rally official mobile apps and official social media channels: