T.G.I.F. Dakar-style for the Bike and Quad classes because Saturday is their day off. All of the competitors have been through the ringer so far but none more than these people, who face harsh environments with nothing more to protect them than the clothes on their backs and protective gear. One rider who’ll be smiling a little wider is Team HRC’s #5 Hélder Rodrigues. He won the stage and jumped four places on the general ranking to 6th. Rodrigues is a quintessential Dakar veteran. This is his ninth event with two podium finishes and now six stage wins. Team mate #7 Paulo Goncalves was third on the stage and holds on to his 3rd overall place, reducing the gap to #1 Marc Coma of the Red Bull KTM Factory Team. However both men are chasing #2 Joan Barreda Bort, who finished the day 6th and still retains the lead he’s had since stage 2.
Coma had a less than stellar day but didn’t lose his position, “At the beginning I had a small crash, nothing important. I’m lucky. But it meant that I did not feel comfortable at the beginning of the stage. Then the navigation was also a little bit tricky. I lost some time looking for a way point, but it was nothing dramatic. In the end, I was opening all the day with Joan together, but this is the game. Now we have a rest day in front of us. It will be perfect for the bike and for my body too, to rest a little bit, and then of course to prepare for the marathon stage because we know how tough it will be, with the altitude, with no mechanics and no spare parts, so it’s something that we have to take care about.”
Chile’s own #31 Pablo Quintanilla kept the pace pretty well and listed 4th on both rankings, while Australian rookie #26 Toby Price continues to impress. He was 00:01:10 behind Rodrigues on the stage and currently fifth overall. Price said, “I caught a bit of dust at first but then I made my way around some of the guys and was in the clear. I almost missed a way point at one stage but I turned back and got it. After than I kept motoring along and I didn’t get lost one bit. I was pretty surprised. I think the navigation is slowly coming. I think we’re getting the hang of it now. I take my time with it and at the end of the day its better because I don’t rush things. I’m stoked to be at the half way and to get a good result today.” Special recognition goes to #18 Stefan Svitko, riding a KTM 450 Rally Replica with the Slovnaft Team. He made history in 2010 as the first Slovakian to finish the Dakar Rally. Svitko’s fifth place on the stage helped him gain a spot to 8th overall. However he has to make up over 40 min if there’s any hope of breaking into the top five riders.
The top five cars all finished the stage within 00:05:48 of each other. Monster Energy Rally Raid Team’s #305 Orlando Terranova and Bernardo Graue and #300 Nani Roma and Michel Périn are on a comeback trail of sorts. Suspension damage on stage 4 almost took Terranova and Graue out of the race entirely. They keep improving and have climbed from 37th to 29th overall. It was tough for Terranova to leave Argentina that way but if luck is on their side, he’ll be heading back to finish the race in his homeland next weekend. Roma and Cottret were closer to last overall than first after disastrous mechanical failures in stage 1. The defending champs finished the stage third, and sit 40th overall. That’s too far down to be considered contenders but they were 135th at the end of the first day, so 40th feels like a gift. A Dakar Rally win doesn’t seem likely for these cars but they may be closer to the top order than expected, and clearly haven’t given up trying.
#301 Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel are driving the fastest Mini in the race right now. They picked up their third stage win so far and remain 1st overall. However the 00:11:12 lead is anything but comfortable with #303 Giniel De Villiers and Dirk Von Zitzewitz relentlessly bearing down on them. De Villiers said, “We know Nasser is very, very quick so it’s not easy to catch him, but we try our best and we try every day and there are still a few days to come.” It’s a two-car race at the top of this class as 3rd place #325 Yazeed Al Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk are 00:28:44 behind in their Yazeed Racing Toyota; and #307 Krzysztof Holowczyc and Xavier Panseri of the Monster Energy Rally Raid Team are even further away with a 01:00:53 gap Al-Attiyah. Another all Mini podium looks less and less likely at the end of each stage. #308 Robby Gordon with Johnny Campbell are flying the American flag, 4th on the stage and 25th overall. They put on a show the fans at Iquique by jumping a ramp in the Gordini. It looks like #354 Tom Coronel is out of the race and possibly for good this time. Stage 5 was rough on him physically and emotionally, while the single-seater buggy was suffering mechanically. Romain Dumas is still in there with Francois Borsotto in their #330 MD 04 Optimus buggy, finishing the stage in a respectable 26th and 37th overall.
The struggle is real for Team Peugeot Total. Their strongest car #304 Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz is out of the race which of course adds responsibility to the other two. #322 Cyril Despres is on a learning curve since this is his first Dakar Rally in a car and has the experienced Gilles Picard as co-driver. They’re now 48th overall and 32nd on the stage. Despres said, “Racing the car is less physically tough than doing the Dakar on a bike, but it is more demanding mentally. It’s such a fantastic feeling to arrive in the bivouac each night and I’ll look forward to seeing how the other drivers and co-drivers cope with tomorrow’s marathon stage after experiencing this many times as a biker.” #302 Stéphane Peterhansel with Jean-Paul Cottret lost over twenty minutes on the stage due to a problem with the car’s steering arm. Luckily they had a replacement part on board but the delay cost them an overall spot. They were 20th on the stage and now 10th overall. According to Peterhansel, “We lost a lot of time but were able to carry on and reach the finish so that’s the main thing for us.” The team’s main goal is finish the race and gather data to prepare for next year.
Like Cars the Quad class is a two-man battle for the top. Overall leader #251 Rafal Sonik from Poland was 2nd on the stage as defending champion #250 Ignacio Casale took the stage, reducing the gap between them. However the Chilean has more work to do with 00:16:08 to make up before even trying to pass Sonik. Uruguay’s #252 Sergio Lafuente was 3rd on the stage. He’s comfortably third overall as his closest rival #261 Jeremias González Ferioli is over an hour away. A lot would have to go wrong over the next week for Kamaz Master to lose their Truck class podium sweep. Stage 6 results were a mirror of the overall standings with #502 Eduard Nikolaev in 1st, followed by #507 Airat Mardeev and #500 Andrey Karginov in 3rd. The 2014 winner, Karginov, was getting a hard time from #503 Ales Loprais was in the Instaforex Loprais Eurol Veka Man, but Loprais took a tumble and ended up 01:05:44 behind the stage winner. He’s now 6th overall and needs to put his foot down over the next stages.
#501 Gerard De Rooy was a pleasant surprise finishing the stage in 4th place. The Petronas Team De Rooy Iveco leader has been battling against statistical gravity after a bad fourth stage. He’s now 24th overall and 01:33:12 behind Nikolaev. You’d be surprised how easily he could make that up, especially if those ahead of him encounter problems in the next few stages. While Bikes and Quads take a break, Cars and Trucks begin the first half of their marathon stage. Their stage 7 destination is Uyuni, Bolivia where they will stay overnight and must make vehicle repairs on their own. Trucks have an advantage because they race with a mechanic aboard, which is probably why the organisers have them in a private bivouac. Then they’re heading back to Iquique, Chile before journeying back to Argentina. If you thought the first half of the Dakar Rally was exciting, then hold on tight because the second half will knock your socks off!
Keep your eyes peeled for our stage 7 recap and check your listings for NBC Sports Network’s “The Dakar Rally” with Leigh Diffey. As always the Dakar Rally’s official online resources will keep you up to date on the latest developments:
Smartphone apps: http://www.dakar.com/dakar/2015/fr/application-mobile.html
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/dakar
Editor’s Note dated January 11, 2015:
Jean-Paul Cottret was incorrectly named as Nani Roma’s co-driver instead of Michel Périn which has now been changed. Also #354 Tom Coronel’s name was removed from the Withdrawals List after this update was published. We apologise for the errors.