Dakar is at its halfway mark with crews taking a well deserved break in Bolivia’s capital La Paz Sunday following a perhaps controversial first wheek after which Sebastien Loeb leads the cars and Sam Sunderland is ahead on two wheels, with navigation on everyone’s lips as most all crews have been lost at least once somewhere along the line.
It’s been a tough racing week too, with the demise of former winners Nasser Al Attiyah and Carols Sainz among the car retirements and Toby Price on two wheels, all of whom crashed out while pressing on hard.
Al Attiyah stormed to victory as he opened the bidding in the Prologue in a triumphant day for South African motorsport, as the Red Bull Gazoo Toyota driver beat another SA-built car, Spaniard Xavi Pons’ Ford to second, with another Spaniard, Nani Roma third in another made-in-South Africa Toyota. Sainz was best of the Peugeots in fourth from SA hero Giniel de Villiers fifth for Toyota
The motorcycles produced a surprise as little fancied French Yamaha rider, Viscount Xavier de Soultrait beat Sherco TVS-mounted Juan Pedrero Garcia, but the Viscount was penalised a minute for speeding to hand Garcia the lead. Brazilian Marcello Medieras led a Yamaha quad 1-2-3 as Czech Vincent Kolomy opened the truck bidding for Tatra.
Tuesday – Loeb lays down the law
Sebastien Loeb laid down the gauntlet in a spellbinding second stage victory for Peugeot to move into the overall lead in spite of its complaints about Toyota’s power advantage. He beat Al Attiyah and Sainz, who held de Villiers’ second Toyota off by a second, with Roma was fifth from Saudi Yazeed al Rajhi in the best of the Minis, while Zimbabwe/SA duo, Dakar rookie Conrad Rautenbach and Rob Howie ended 14th.
On two wheels, 2016 winner, Aussie Toby Price stamped his authority on the second day controlling the pace to win from Austrian KTM teammate Matthias Walkner and Portuguese Honda rider Paulo Goncalves. Price moved into the overall lead after the Hondas of Joan Barreda Bort and Ricky Brabec both lost 3 minutes trying to find their way.
Of the Southern African riders, David Thomas finished an impressive 43rd, Botswana’s Vince Crosbie 66th; Walter Terblanche 98th and recovered paraplegic Joey Evans 107th. Argentine Jacopo Copetti took the quad stage and Dutch driver Martin van den Brink took truck honours for Renault, with SA mechanic Sean Berriman riding with Behringer in a MAN truck ending 27th.
Wednesday – nasty for Nasser
Wednesday’s third stage up into the Andes turned both the car and bike classes on their heads. Al Attiyah crashed out late in the stage to hand Peterhansel the win from the hard-charging Sainz, who was lost earlier in the stage. Loeb was also delayed while he lost, but he fought back to snatch third from Mini’s Mikko Hirvonen and Cyril Despres in another Peugeot.
The stage was a disaster for Toyota when de Villiers lost 30 minutes to a fuel problem, Roma was delayed by an electric glitch and Rautenbach lost an hour as he knuckled in to help Al Attiyah, who later retired. Sainz slashed Loeb’s overall lead to 42 seconds, while Peterhansel jumped up to third from seventh from Hirvonen, with Roma is the best of the Toyotas in fifth from Al Rajhi.
The bikes also delivered drama as overnight leader Price was among several riders to take a wrong turn. He fought back from 46th to ninth, leaving Barreda to a commanding win over KTM-mounted Brit Sam Sunderland and the Husqvarnas of Frenchman Pierre Renet and Chilean Pablo Quintanilla. David Thomas took advantage of so many bikers getting lost to finish 26th, Crosbie 55th with Evans and Terblanche just outside the top 100. Argentinian Gaston Gonzalez (Yamaha) took the quad stage and Russan Edoard Nikolaaiev (Kamaz) won the trucks with the Berriman crew 26th.
Thursday – navigation bites
Thursday brought more navigational dramas – Carlos Sainz lost ten minutes, Peterhansel 15 minutes and Loeb lost for 25 minutes to turn the race on its head, while Cyril Despres survived to take his maiden car stage win, 11 minutes clear of Hirvonen who jumped Roma in the final sector, but Sainz had a huge crash to allow Peterhansel and Loeb to take fourth and fifth from de Villiers, who was lost twice on the day. Despres bounced up from fifth to lead the overall from Peterhansel, Hirvonen Loeb and Roma.
The high drama stretched to he bikes as Dakar claimed another major scalp when Toby Price crashed out of the lead to hand the stage win to KTM teammate Walkner. Barreda consolidated his overall lead in second from Frenchmen Michel Metge (Honda), Soultrait, Slovak Stefan Svitko’s KTM and Quintanilla. Frontrunners Sunderland, Brabec and Goncalves all suffered significant delays while lost, but biggest news was that the Hondas were penalised an hour for refuelling in the wrong place to hand the win to Walkner from de Soultrait and Svitko.
Crosbie finished 37th after Thomas also got lost, but rode home in 45th, while Evans and Terblanche fought on. Bolivian Walter Nosiglia took his turn to win a quad stage for Honda from Russian Sergey Koriakin’s Yamaha, which becomes the fourth quad to lead overall in four days. Dutch driver Gerard de Rooy won the truck race for Iveco and the Berriman MAN came home 28th.
Friday – Loeb vs Roma amid compass commotion
Stage 5 was shortened due to bad weather as Loeb fought off Roma for the car win what was fast becoming more of a navigational nightmare than an all-out race. Most competitors have been lost more than once, with some crews severely compromised as fans and rivals questioned the chaos. Hirvonen lost over 40 minutes Friday, de Villiers haemorrhaged a further 30 minutes and bikers Walkner, Barreda, Renet and Svitko were all lost for over 40 minutes.
Loeb beat Roma by 44 seconds, but he also wrong-slotted, allowing Roma among others who had erred earlier, to close the gap. Peterhansel was third from Despres, Romain Dumas in another Peugeot and Rautenbach to leave Peterhansel leading Loeb and Despres, with Toyota’s Nani Roma fourth, just five minutes off the lead and ahead of Mini trio Hirvonen, Przygonski and Terranova with luckless Giniel de Villiers ninth.
Sunderland benefited many rivals losing their way to beat Goncalves, van Bevern, Caimi, Farres Guell and Quintanilla to the stage win. Overall Sunderland leads Quintanilla, van Beveren, Farres Guell, Walkner and Soultrait. Southern African David Thomas had a bad Friday – the Capetonian crashed his Husqvarna out, while Walter Terblanche retired after suffering ongoing fuel quality issues. Vince Crosbie is however still running strong in 42nd overall and the amazing Evans a solid 102nd.
A chaotic quad stage saw unknown Dutch rider Koolen win aboard a Barren Racer, with another lesser known Frenchman Vitse ahead overall, while de Rooy took a second truck win on the trot to lead overall and Behringer/Berriman were 32nd on the day and 26th overall.
Saturday’s stage was cancelled due to the adverse conditions (and some say, to allow organisers time to solve their navigation nightmare into Week 2) and following Sunday’s rest day, the Dakar turns tail Monday and heads back toward the finish in Buenos Aires Saturday 14 January.
Fans will be hoping that navigational errors play less of a role in the second half to allow an intriguing week with two more stages that favour the turbocharged Peugeots at high altitude, followed by four days that should see the normally aspirated V8 Toyotas gain the advantage to make this a race to the finish and a Dakar to remember.
Keep up with the Dakar action as it happens throughout the coming week on www.motorsportmedia.co.za courtesy of Imperial Toyota.
Dakar 2017 Results – Cars – Overall
1. Stephane Peterhansel(Peugeot) 14:02:58
2. Sebastien Loeb (Peugeot) +1:09
3. Cyril Despres (Peugeot) +4:54
4. Nani Roma (Toyota) +5:35
5. Mikko Hirvonen (Mini)+42:21
6. Jakub Przygonski (Mini) +59:55
7. Orlando Terranova (Mini) +1:04:49
8. Giniel de Villiers (Toyota) +1:08:11
9. Boris Garafulic (Mini) +1:57:40
10.Romain Dumas (Peugeot) +2:27:15
15. Conrad Rautenbach (Toyota) +4:20:19
Bikes – Overall
1. Sam Sunderland (KTM) 15:22:05
2. Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) +12:00
3. Adrien van Beveren (Yamaha) +16:07
42. Vince Crosbie (KTM) +3:41:48
91. Joey Evans (KTM) +10:58:04
Quads: 1. Simon Vitse (Yamaha) 19:32:22
Trucks – Overall
1. Gerard de Rooy (Ivevo) 14:06:07
26. Behringer/Berriman (MAN) +7:11:57