Dakar organisers promised that today’s long opening ‘trial’ section would challenge crews. It did far more than that as a chaotic special stage saw the leaderboard frantically changing as leading competitors lost their way and lesser known riders and drivers popped up on top of the time sheets.
But at the end of the day, despite a puncture that cost him two minutes as he charged home on three wheels, SA’s Giniel de Villiers moved up to fifth overall in his Proudly South African Toyota Hilux bakkie, while the Peugeots cleaned up to hold a commanding, if still undefined 1-2-3 overall and KTM took charge in the bikes to set up a dream 20 Dakar wins in a row.
Peugeot drivers Despres led Loeb early on, but the car leaderboard seemed on fire as a swathe of unknown competitors appeared in the top ten, as the likes of Fuchs, Gutierrez Flieg and Dumas made best of the difficult navigation up to waypoint 2 to relegate the likes of de Villiers and Terranova down the order.
Toyota hope Nani Roma lost 18 minutes, Mini number one Mikko Hirvonen 51 minutes to allow de Villiers up to fifth overall before the Mini stopped with a broken radiator following a collision with a truck. Then Peterhansel hit biker Simon Marcic and stopped to provide assistance before resuming, which means he will likely see his time lost attending to the stricken rider adjusted later..
By waypoint 3 Despres led the Peruvian Fuchs, who had started the 12th in his HRX with Chile’s Boris Garfuliec up to third from an 18th position start. Al Rajhi was fourth from Loeb, but by the mid-stage break, the Peugeots were in charge again. Then Loeb delivered a crushing performance after lunch to reel Despres in and win the stage by 2:22 from his teammate. Or did he win – how much time could Peterhansel get back in lieu of time spent looking after Marcic?
Peterhansel was 6:45 behind Loeb and 8:23 off the overall pace, so depending how much he gets back, that time could have an effect on both the day’s win and the overall lead.
Al Rajhi ended fourth from Mini teammate Terranova and three-wheeling de Villiers, with his Toyota teammates Zim driver Conrad Rautenbach and SA notes man Rob Howie a brilliant 8th as they continued their intense overall battle with Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Al Qassimi, with the two fighting over best rookie honours and separated by just a minute overall.
Bikes – pandemonium in the dunes
If the cars had a torrid time, the bike action was frantic as chaos erupted in the dues to completely change the face of the two-wheeler race.
The bikes that started 25th, 17th, 19th and 22nd – Metge, Klymciw, Smith and Cervantes were the top four through waypoint 3, while first away this morning, Barreda sat 12th; second starter Walkner 15th and race leader Sunderland languished down in 16th. Former frontrunners the likes of Quintanilla, de Soultrait and others also lost up to an hour in that section.
Through all of that, Ricky Brabec quite literally flew under the radar to beat Czech surprise Klymciw to the break – the Californian’s transponder was not registering a time at the waypoints ,so he literally appeared out the blue; but his Honda would let him down later in the day.
Then Quintanilla retired sick, before Svitko was airlifted to hospital suffering exhaustion at the finish and the day’s winner, Marc Metge was slapped with a further hour’s penalty to allow Barreda to take another day’s win for Honda from the sick Svitko, Argentine local hero Caimi on a Honda; Helder Rodrigues’ Yamaha and KTM rider Cervantes.
In spite of a shocking day, Sunderland somehow emerged with an even bigger half-hour lead over KTM teammates Walkner and Farres Guell; Yamaha rider Adrein van Beveren, Barreda up to fifth after his hour penalty and Renet’s Husqvarna. That was a complete shake-up of the positions at the start of the day, when Sunderland led Quintanilla and van Beveren. An interesting aside is that Barreda would be leading by 7 minutes overall, had he not picked up his earlier 1-hour penalty!
Botswana’s Vince Crosbie was provisionally 36th, while Para to Dakar hero Joey Evans was running in 100th position; quad rider Kariyakin was first home on the stage to consolidate his lead and the trucks were still deep in the stage as we wrote.
Some may say that today’s Dakar stage was a joker, but many others are starting wonder whether the great race is reducing itself to a joke, as navigational issues have seen most all of the field losing varying amounts of time over the 8 days racing so far.
Either way, dominant Peugeot and KTM appear to have come out on top and with just a few hundred kilometres of racing left, both teams once again seem set to come away smiling, come the finish on Saturday.