Carlos Sainz is not the type of man to miss an opportunity a second time. Deprived of victory yesterday by 12 seconds, today he won a stage shortened due to the extreme heat by a similar margin of 10 seconds. The Spaniard triumphed on top of a new-look stage podium, as Erik Van Loon (Mini) finished on his coat-tails and Mikko Hirvonen (Mini) completed the day in third, only 17 seconds behind. Sainz especially took advantage of Stéphane Peterhansel’s arrival down the stage order at the advanced finishing line in order to regain the commands of the general standings. The Spaniard now boasts a lead of 7’03” over his French team-mate. Toby Price (KTM) again won in the bike category, but due to the premature finish to the race, he did not fully benefit from his show of force today. Having started the day in second place in the overall rankings, Paulo Gonçalves came very close to plummeting down the race hierarchy, but was given a life-line by the possible application of a grouped time that could keep him in the club of pretenders to the title.
The Peugeots are now most certainly under pressure on this second week of the Dakar. Today’s stage again demonstrated this fact, even if it was a Peugeot that was victorious on this shortened stage! At the first Way Point (after 56 km), Cyril Despres, in fifth, found himself behind 4 Minis and one Toyota. Let’s just say that at this point the heat was on for the DKR 2008 drivers. At CP1 (after 82 km) the situation worsened with Despres 1 minute behind as well as Loeb and Peterhansel further back. Nasser Al Attiyah surely could not have dreamt of a better outcome. Unfortunately, the second section of dunes did not smile upon him. The Qatari did not quite get it right and Sainz was unlikely to pass up such an invitation. Unrelenting, he took advantage to grab the lead at CP2 (after 178 km). At the same time, his team-mates were adopting a more cautious pace, perhaps in light of the over-heating problems experienced by Peterhansel yesterday… The fact remains that this comeback allowed the Spaniard to kill two birds with one stone thanks to the early finish to the stage. His 29th stage victory comes alongside the command of the general standings, with a lead of more than 7 minutes over Peterhansel, whilst Al Attiyah remains third, not quite quarter of an hour behind. As for Sébastien Loeb, after yesterday’s crash, the leader in the first week again experienced a difficult day. Stuck in the sand on several occasions, he reached the finishing line more than one hour after Sainz.
Tomorrow, the start of the stage will be given with the 10 leading cars and the 10 fastest bikes of the day. As part of this new configuration, the direct confrontation between the competitors could throw up plenty of surprises…
In the bike category, the day was also marked by the interruption of the race at CP2 initially, and then at CP1. This early finish was legitimate in light of the number of competitors exhausted by the heat, but it deprived Toby Price of the opportunity to open an even bigger gap in the general standings. The Australian, riding at pace from the very start, confirmed that opening the way is visibly not a problem for him. Logically credited with the lead at CP1, he boasted an advantage of more than 3 minutes over Gonçalves (Honda). The Portuguese rider then experienced a mechanical mishap: after a branch put a hole in his radiator, the Honda rider slowed down his pace before stopping at CP2 to attempt to carry out stop-gap repairs. With his main rival out of the picture, Price saw his lead soar to more than 7 minutes over Kevin Benavides (Honda) and 10’33” over Stefan Svitko (KTM).
Heading towards the finishing line of the special with eleven other competitors, the race leader continued with even greater intensity. His effort could be rewarded if the times recorded at the original finishing line are retained for this small group. Price would find himself with a further advantage of 14’40” over Svitko and 16’27” over Quintanilla (Husqvarna), whilst Benavides would lose more than 30 minutes.
However, the halt at CP2 has proved to be providential for Gonçalves, who should be credited with a grouped time like all the riders stopped at this stage of the race. The Portuguese rider has therefore received a life-line and is not totally excluded from the battle for overall victory… as long as he can find a way, with his remaining team-mates, to make sure that his Honda is operational again.
In the quad category, the Patronelli brothers were beaten to victory by their countryman Pablo Copetti. In full control on this first part of the marathon stage, Marcos leads Alejandro in the general standings by 1’13”. In third place, Alexis Hernandez trails by more than 40 minutes.
Lastly, in the truck race, it was again another trouble-free day for Gérard De Rooy at the wheel of his Iveco. The Dutchman beat his countryman Ton Van Genugten and Russian Andrey Karginov. In the general standings, De Rooy now boasts a lead of 27 minutes over Eduard Nikolaev, 5th on today’s stage, and more than 41 minutes over Federico Villagra.