Having led from the second day of the event, Qatar Rally Team driver Nasser Al-Attiyah holds an overall lead of more than eight minutes at the halfway point of the ‘marathon stage’, in which crews are not allowed the benefit of assistance vehicles in the overnight bivouac.
By virtue of winning yet another Dakar stage yesterday, Nasser and co-driver Matthieu Baumel opened the road today, through tough and variable conditions that ranged from rough gravel to torrential rain and even hail stones, right at the end of the first leg of this marathon stage. The high altitudes took its physical toll on all the drivers, as Nasser graphically explained:
“The stage wasn’t difficult; it was the altitude,” he said. “I had to stop three times to vomit and I had a terrible headache every time we went over a bump. I’ve lost some time, but it’s no big deal. We don’t need to push our limits. The car is in good condition, so we’re only going to change the tyres, check a few things and then get a rest. First I’ll go see the medical service for a check-up.”
The drivers will overnight in Bolivia – the first time the cars have ever been to the country as part of the Dakar – at a bivouac in Uyuni that most personnel are banned from, in order to ensure that the crews rely on their own ingenuity and resources.
Nasser finished with the day’s seventh fastest time, with Giniel de Villiers – who still holds a strong second overall – finishing sixth to take three minutes out of the Qatari.
Once more, Nasser concentrated on striking exactly the right balance between speed and consistency. He has gone fastest on four of the seven stages held so far, underlining his considered approach to the event, setting a stage-winning time, alternated with another stage that is slower. This is a well-known tactic when it comes to winning the Dakar.
“You have to use your head and push when you can but slow down when this is not possible,” said Nasser. “It’s very difficult when you are first on the road, especially from the point of view of navigation. So in these circumstances it is better to take your time, rather than risk getting it wrong and losing plenty of time.”
After what will be an unusually quiet night for Nasser – with none of the usual mechanics and media milling around the Uyuni bivouac – he has the second half of the stage to tackle tomorrow, which will take the crews back to the coastal city of Iquique and a well-earned rest day. The end of the stage tomorrow will finish with some sand dunes: always an Al-Attiyah speciality.
Results of SS7:
1. Orlando Terranova (ARG)/Bernando Graue(ARG) Mini 3h 31m 18s
2. Yazeed Al-Rahji (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota +00:02:20
3. Bernhard Ten Brinke (NLD)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) Toyota +00:02:28
7. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Qatar Rally Team +00:09:48
Overall ranking after SS7:
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA) Qatar Rally Team 23h 11m 50s
2. Giniel de Villiers (RSA)/Dirk von Zitzewitz (DEU) Toyota All Speed +00:08:14
3. Yazeed Al-Rahji (SAU)/Timo Gottschalk (DEU) Toyota +00:21:16
4. Krzysztof Holowczyc (POL)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) Mini +00:54:02
5. Bernhard Ten Brinke (NLD)/Tom Colsoul (BEL) Toyota +00:57:03
6. Erik van Loon (NLD)/Wouter Roesegar (NLD) Mini +01:15:11
7. Christian Lavieille (FRA)/Pascal Maimon (FRA) Toyota +01:37:50
8. Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA)/J-P Cottret (FRA) Team Peugeot-Total +01:50:36
9. Carlos Sousa (PRT)/Paulo Fiuza (PRT) Mitsubishi +01:58:32
10. Ronan Chabot (FRA)/Gilles Pillot (FRA) SMG +02:10:45