With two days left in the Dakar Rally, the ones with nothing to lose are putting on one heck of a show. The overall leaders haven’t been pushing too hard to conserve equipment and reduce the chances of making mistakes. While the runners-up are sticking close and waiting for any chance to snatch victory in Buenos Aires. Petronas Team De Rooy Iveco #504 Hans Stacey won his second Trucks stage in a row. He’s still 02:31:52 behind the class leader #507 Ayrat Mardeev and didn’t move beyond 6th overall, but that didn’t stop him from holding off Eurol/Veka Man Rally Team’s #509 Marcel Van Vliet on Friday. Van Vliet stayed within the top ten in this his ninth Dakar Rally. His teammate #503 Ales Loprais is 4th overall. #501 Gerard De Rooy rounded up the day’s top three and it must be noted that the three fastest trucks all finished within the same minute of each other. As you might imagine, the Argentine fans loved every moment of it! If the pattern holds, we’ll see an all-Kamaz Master Team podium at the finish line on Saturday. #502 Eduard Nikolaev and #500 Andrey Karginov trail behind Mardeev, and of those two, Nikolaev has a slightly better chance of catching the leader.
#260 Christophe Declerck made it two for two, winning his second Quad stage in as many days. Despite this late surge, the Frenchman is hopeless 5th overall almost six hours behind #251 Rafal Sonik. The Polish rider said, “It was not stressful. It just required patience, because we could not overtake. It was so dusty and dangerous that patience pays, should we say…It’s over when it’s over, so it’s not over yet.” Argentine teenager #261 Jeremias González Ferioli is 2nd overall and Bolivia’s #283 Walter Nosiglia hangs in at 3rd. #256 Nelson Augusto Sanabria Galeano of Paraguay was the second-fastest rider again, defending his 4th spot on the leader board.
The Honda/KTM Bikes war continued as KTM Rally Factory Team’s Australian rookie rider #26 Toby Price took his first stage win, putting more space between himself and #31 Pablo Quintanilla. The Chilean was on the 8th bike to arrive at Rosario; and even if he doesn’t pass Price, this year’s results are a career best for him. #2 Joan Barreda Bort was only 00:01:55 behind Price on the stage and is still on a mission to prove that although the championship is beyond his reach, he’s the fastest rider in the field and using that speed to benefit his Portuguese teammate #7 Paulo Goncalves, mainly by putting other riders under pressure. Barreda Bort said, “Today was a very fast stage – the surface was all track, and it was very slippery for practically the whole distance. I open the road throughout the special and it was a bit dangerous because I kept coming across animals that had strayed across the track, and even police coming in the opposite direction. Anyway, I’m pleased because I was able to maintain a rapid pace. There is only one stage still to go, and we are going to do everything in our power to get Paulo to his goal.” Seriously is there anything more intimidating than Joan Barreda Bort coming at you like a red streak in the wilderness? They should just paint a yellow lightning bolt on his chest and be done with it.
What of the soon-to-be-five-time Dakar Rally champion? #1 Marc Coma finished the stage in 6th place. He still leads the race but the gap between him and Goncalves has shrunk a bit to 00:17:49. The Spaniard said, “It was not an easy day with 300km of special stage. There was a lot to lose and it was important to not make any mistakes or crash and just to arrive at the finish. To find the balance like that is not easy, but I’m happy, you know, we are here. Today the tyres were wearing a lot so I took care about that at the beginning of the special. On the last part I felt a little bit fresher and made a good pace to the end.” Team HRC’s #29 Laia Sanz is still 8th overall while Yamaha Factory Racing Rally Team Yamalub’s #3 Oliver Pain is 10th. Naturally Saiz is trying to improve her position and/or defend it. She said, “The big setback has been that Jake has made up a bit of time on me and could overtake me in the overall standings. I’ll try and keep him in check until the end.” Slovakian rider #21 Ivan Jakes was 4th on the stage and about 2 min behind Sanz on the overall sheet.
Action was hot and heavy in the Car class with the top ten cars crossing the finish line within 00:06:15. Stage winners #305 Orlando Terranova and Bernardo Graue were only 30 sec ahead of #310 Vladimir Vasilyev and Konstantin Zhiltsov. The Renault Duster Team’s #316 Emiliano Spataro and Benjamin Lozada were 3rd and solidly 21st overall. The men they’re all chasing were fourth: #301 Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel have dominated the Dakar Rally this year. They have five stage wins (a record for Al-Attiyah) and have been first overall since stage 2. However the Qatari driver is taking the pressure in stride, “It seemed like a long stage to us, so the priority was only to get through it without any risks. It went well and nobody caught us: we kept the speed in order not to lose the concentration. I’m not stressed about tomorrow, not at all. Tomorrow is another day, and as always I will try to do my best.”
Their closest rivals have been #303 Giniel De Villiers and Dirk Von Zitzewitz who will ruin the chance for another all-Mini podium with their Toyota Hilux. However the 00:35:39 deficit has resigned them to the fact that they won’t be winning but finishing well. “We just decided to drive through the stage,” said De Villiers. “There’s no point taking any risks. Like I’ve said before, we cannot catch Nasser, so we just drove slowly through the stage avoiding any risks… Today we tried to take the stress out of it by reducing the speed quite a lot because if you can have some problems if you’re trying to go a little bit faster on a stage like this. You can really easily have a problem and take a wheel off on a rock. So we just tried to take the stress out of it and get to the finish.” Monster Energy Rally Raid Team’s #307 Krzysztof Holowczyc and Xavier Panseri easily defended their 3rd overall place, as another Mini #314 Erik van Loon and Wouter Rosegaar is a distant fourth.
A top ten finish seems unattainable for #302 Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret of Team Peugeot Total. They were 7th on Friday but seem firmly rooted in 11th overall.” Peterhansel said, “We’ve seen the areas in which we have to improve, and once again we have completed a long day with very good reliability. This is really encouraging, even though the final result is a long way from what we would have hoped.” The other 2008 DKR was 20th, moving #322 Cyril Despres and Gilles Picard up a spot to 34th overall. #308 Robby Gordon and Johnny Campbell may pull off a top twenty finish after their rollercoaster ride of troubles. A 9th place stage finish helped them to keep their 19th overall spot secure. #323 Guerlain Chicherit and Alexandre Winocq posted another 11th finish and gained an overall spot to sit at 45th; while #354 Tom Coronel is way down at 67th overall with a 54th place stage finish. Down but not out, right Tom?
Look out for our exclusive finale recap and do tune in to NBC Sports Network’s “The Dakar Rally” with Leigh Diffey. The Dakar Rally’s online resources are a great way to keep up with the riders in real time:
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