Things took a drastic turn in Stage 3 of the Dakar, proving there’s lots of racing to be done with the rally nearing only a quarter of the way complete. Today’s stage began at the base of the Andes Mountain range, home of Aconcagua, the highest point in the Western and Southern hemispheres. Racers faced a course that would take them on a 3,000m/9,842ft (cars) and 4,300m/14,108ft (bikes) ascent that barely took them halfway up the longest continental mountain range in the world. High elevation = less dense air = less power = less cooling the engines = advantage Robby Gordon (= less air molecules entering your blood = advantage BJ Baldwin). Stage conditions may or may not have played in to the Americans favor, who have dealt with vapor lock issues in the first two stages, but after Robby Gordon’s sixth place finish it looks like America may have a shot at stage wins, as our chances for a Dakar win are over.
Early announcements of a shortened special section due to severe weather were quickly diminished after the start of the cars and trucks, as local ground conditions made it possible to maintain the original route of the special stage. However the bikes and quads, already running a different route than the cars and trucks, were rerouted and started from the 130km/81mi point on the original route.
Stage 2 winner and overall leader Stéphane Peterhansel was first out in his Monster X-Raid Mini. The Mini’s are once again at the forefront in this edition of the Dakar. The Mini’s of Stage 3 winner Nani Roma (ESP), Orlando Terranova (PRT), Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) and 11-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA) now claim four of the top five spots in the overall standings. Peterhansel had at least three flat tires today and lost 00:28:27 on his overall forty-six second lead that he built with yesterday’s stage win.
This year, the Mini’s came with the biggest team ever fielded in the Dakar, with 12 cars and 150 assistance crew members. Everything is perfectly organized with a truck, an engineer and dedicated mechanics for each car. You could say they’ve got their own class within a class. Nani Roma was first to the bivouac today. He beat teammate, Krzysztof Holowczyc (POL), by 00:01:07 and has found himself in the overall lead over Orlando Terranova (00:09:06) and Nasser Al-Attiyah (00:10:00). After three flats yesterday, Al-Attiyah was punished with four today. Al-Attiyah, only carrying three spares, had to stop every so often to air up but still remains in third overall.
After an impressive run at yesterdays stage, Carlos Sainz is battling the Mini’s head on in his SMG buggy. Sainz struggled a bit today and fell behind Roma 00:15:53. The Spaniard made a short stop on the special stage to check his front wheels, before resuming racing. He only lost a handful of seconds as a result. However, due to his nearly seven minute finish ahead of Roma in yesterday’s second place finish, Sainz now sits twelve minutes away from being a leading privateer over manufacture teams.
There have been six official withdrawals listed so far. Today’s news confirmed another withdrawal - Carlos Sousa is officially out of the 2014 Dakar Rally. Sousa took an impressive Stage 1 win on Sunday. Heading in to the rally, Sousa knew they couldn’t match the leaders in terms of raw performance. Sousa’s car hasn’t changed in three years, so it’s quite old compared to the Mini’s and Buggies. Sousa fell victim to turbo problems and arrived at the at the bivouac at 2:30am after resorting to an alternative route to the area of dunes which marked the end of the special. In doing so, Sousa missed too many waypoints, thus resulting in disqualification. “We know that the rally is a tough place to be. Your luck can change at any time,” said Sousa.
Disappointing news continue to strike the Americans, as Peter Hajas and Kevin Selchow of Brenthel Industries have officially been disqualified from the race. As with BJ Baldwin and Robby Gordon, the Brenthel car faced vapor lock issues on day 2. They had to cross the dunes at night after their delay earlier in the special yesterday. Peter and Kevin did not get into the bivouac in time to take the start today, ultimately putting them out of the 2014 Dakar Rally.
Speaking of Robby Gordon, Gordon and navigator, Kellon Walch, bounced back from a disappointing opening two days of the rally. It could have been the cooler temperature in the higher altitudes playing in favor to his vapor lock issues. It could have been the Dakar Gods throwing Team America a bone. It could be that no matter what, Robby Gordon is still Robby Gordon and will always find a way to get out of a rut. Whatever it was, Robby Gordon’s HST Gordini finally performed today and earned him a sixth place finish in todays stage. 03:46:09 is what separates Gordon from current leader Nani Roma. Is Robby Gordon in contention for the win or a top five finish? All signs point to no but one thing is certain – we’ll get to see Robby Gordon drive the way we all love to see him drive.
Although BJ Baldwin finished 00:47:57 behind Nani Roma today, we hope the same things can be said about him. Baldwin finished 82nd yesterday and clawed back to a 42nd place finished today. “I’m racing against the top 10 guys in the world. Do I consider myself one of those? No, but I’m going to do the best I can,” says BJ Baldwin. “If I can finish one place ahead of Robby, that’s always a victory. That’s second on my list – Win the race, and if I can’t do that, beat Robby,” Three stages in, BJ sits 02:21:59 behind Robby Gordon. A new race might have been spawned between these two. “It’s important to dream and I think everyone has to dream. BJ’s a bit of a dreamer,” commented Robby.
Gordon was neck and neck with Toyo teammate Guerlain Chicherit, who finished ten seconds ahead of Gordon. It will be interesting seeing these two start near the front tomorrow. Tomorrow’s stage is the longest stage of 2014 at 657km/408mi. Dakar hasn’t faced a special stage this long since Zouerat to Tichit in 2005. Racers will cross rivers and descend canyons on their way from San Juan to Chilecito. High speeds are expected tomorrow and we’ll see the American’s race the way we like, FAST.
Photos by: Willy Weyens, Mini X-Raid Agency and Maindru Photo.
|Stage 3 Car Ranking|
|1. Roma (ESP||002:58:52|
|2. Holowyczyc (POL)||002:59:59||+00:01:07|
|3. Poulter (ZAF)||003:02:11||+00:03:19|
|4. Terranova (ARG)||003:03:46||+00:04:54|
|5. Chicherit (FRA)||003:05:44||+00:06:52|
|6. Gordon (USA)||003:05:54||+00:07:02|
|40. Mathew (CAN)||003:39:35||+00:40:43|
|42. Baldwin (USA)||003:46:49||+00:47:57|
|OVERALL Car Ranking after Stage 3|
|1. Roma (ESP)||009:20:13|
|2. Terranova (ARG)||009:29:19||+00:09:06|
|3. Al-Attiyah (QAT)||009:30:13||+00:10:00|
|4. Sainz (ESP)||009:32:15||+00:12:02|
|5. Peterhansel (FRA)||009:44:21||+00:24:08|
|31. Chicherit (FRA)||011:40:08||+02:19:55|
|41. Gordon (USA)||013:06:22||+03:46:09|
|53. Mathew (CAN)||014:06:53||+04:46:40|
|68. Baldwin (USA)||015:28:21||+06:08:08|