Adiós, Argentina! Hola, Chile! The Dakar Rally continued full steam ahead moving from one country to another as competitors also had to deal with terrain changes from mountainous rocks and mud to towering sand dunes. Team HRC’s #2 Joan Barreda Bort won the stage and stretched his lead to 00:12:49 over defending champ #1 Marc Coma. The Honda versus KTM battle continued, as Barreda Bort’s team mate #7 Paulo Goncalves still holds the third overall spot despite finishing 12th in this stage. The Portuguese rider had better look out because there are five KTM riders on his tail, including the highly capable #11 Ruben Faria, a man recovering from surgery but still performing quite well in this race. Chilean fans got a welcome surprise as their countryman, #31 Pablo Quintanilla, achieved his best result in three Dakar Rallies – a 3rd place stage finish which puts him 6th overall.
Team HRC’s #29 Laia Sanz, finished the stage 8th and is now 12th on the general ranking. In 2014 she finished the race in her highest place achieved 16th. If she can maintain consistency, it’s entirely possible that she can work her way into the top ten at some point in the race. Team HRC didn’t have a completely good day as #6 Sam Sunderland crashed and suffered a broken collarbone. He now bears unfortunate statistics of abandoning three Dakar Rallies in a row and the last two occurred in stage 4 with a stage win. The lone American rider #164 Antonio Narino is on the Withdrawals List. There’s no given reason but we’ll try to ascertain the circumstances for you. Oddly enough, #354 Tom Coronel is no longer on the list and finished stage 3 in 81st place, a whopping 07:19:35 behind the stage leader including a 02:46:30 penalty. The only competitive American vehicle left in the race is #308 Robby Gordon and Johnny Campbell. The Gordini needed repairs that cost time more than anything else, so couldn’t do better than 47th on the stage. The silver lining is that they’re actually closing the gap and gained a spot on the overall list. At this point, finishing will be a triumph in itself but they’ll definitely have one heck of a story to tell.
The stage isn’t over for some as #305 Orlando Terranova and Bernardo Graue “hit a rock with their left rear wheel, thus damaging the wheel suspension” according to a Monster Energy Rally Raid Team update. They’re not listed anywhere on the rankings at this time, but you’ll find out what happened to the Mini when we do. Team Peugeot Total’s #304 driven by Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz isn’t on any of the lists either. It was reported that they stopped because of a turbo failure. #322 Cyril Despres and Gilles Picard had clutch problems but reached the bivouac in 66th place, slipping down to 40th overall. ‘Mr. Dakar’ himself #302 Stéphane Peterhansel with Jean-Paul Cottret saved the day finishing 5th, only 00:05:48 behind the stage leader. It’s good to see Peterhansel finally get into a groove with this new vehicle.
The car to beat so far has definitely been #301 Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel’s Mini. They won the stage and now have over 42 min. on the rest of the field except for #303 Giniel De Villiers and Dirk Von Zitzewitz. The Toyota duo has only 00:08:15 to make up in order to ruin the Qatari driver’s day. Another Toyota is third but a little bit less dangerous. Yazeed Racing’s #325 Yazeed Al Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk finished 4th on the stage behind De Villiers; still an impressive result for this Dakar Rally rookie. #330 Romain Dumas is another newbie who’s not pushing any harder than necessary despite his considerable racing experience. He finished the stage 57th and currently holds 44th overall. Remember that especially with this race finishing is its own reward. Special mention must be made of the second place stage finishers, #300 Nani Roma and Michel Perin. They’re 50th overall with a 09:17:28 deficit but still racing as if the top trophies are in their grasp. You can’t help but admire such determination to do the best regardless of the outcome.
Quads have a new leader in #251 Rafal Sonik. The Polish Yamaha rider took control of the stage and class simultaneously despite hardship. He said, “I rode the last 100 kilometres with no water in my bag! But it’s the first time I’ve finished an Atacama stage without suffering a flat, it’s the first time in my life and a big surprise. I’m a tad superstitious, so I’ll wait and see the detailed results. At any rate, I’m happy to be here. I learn a new lesson every day, I have loads of fun in Chile… I’d come even if there wasn’t the rally.” It’s first time that he’s won a stage in six Dakar Rallies. Defending champ #250 Ignacio Casale is still doing damage control to close what is now a 00:13:32 gap with Sonik. He must also surpass Uruguayan rider #252 Sergio Lafuente who finished the stage 4th and is still closer to catching Sonik than Casale. Qatari #253 Mohamed Abu-Issa was 3rd on the stage and still 4th overall. It’s important to note the big space between the top four riders and the rest. #255 Sebastian Halpern is 5th overall but 00:59:30 behind Sonik. Big. Space. It’s far too early to say that Sonik is running away with the race but he’s in a very good position right now.
The Kamaz Master team flexed their muscles on this stage and now hold the top three spots in the Truck class. #502 Eduard Nikolaev won the stage but only after a one minute penalty was levelled against his team mate and defending champ #500 Andrey Karginov. This puts a mere 48 sec between Nikolaev and Karginov who is third overall. Karginov is the ‘slowest’ of the three with 00:02:45 behind the current leader, #507 Ayrat Mardeev, who finished the stage third. Slim margins once again separate these trucks but as we all know, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. When problems arise along the route, it costs them dearly and shakes up the standings. #503 Ales Loprais is waiting to pounce and break up this Kamaz Master party with his Instaforex Loprais Eurol Veka Man. As well as #504 Hans Stacey of Petronas Team De Rooy Iveco, who seems to be carrying the team’s torch instead of his cousin and boss, #501 Gerard De Rooy. At this time, he doesn’t appear on any of the rankings, making him yet another driver we’re yet to hear about. Do you think with three such fierce competitors that Kamaz Master’s management will decide who hand out team orders instead of risking the podium?
A Final Word
Look out for our stage 5 recap and catch up with “The Dakar Rally” on NBC Sports Network. Also the official Dakar Rally online resources have just about everything you need to follow the race in real time:
Smartphone apps: http://www.dakar.com/dakar/2015/fr/application-mobile.html
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/dakar