On the eve of the final stage of one of the greatest races in the world, the quest for glory has tightened up in both the motorcycle and car categories. While Stéphane Peterhansel has built a comfortable 45 minute lead and looks to sail to a record 11th Dakar win in the cars category, Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez has now moved into 2nd place closed in on leader Cyril Despres. Once in Santiago, drivers will have a course a few kilometres long, where they will be able to delight spectators by performing skids and jumps. Until then, the balance between the thrills of riding must be weighed with their sense of accomplishment in order to make it to the finish line.
With national pride being the motivating force behind Lopez, Chilean native Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez has now taken over the second place in the OA bike standing. He now sits second behind Cyril Despres and seeks to take his 7th Dakar win on his home soil. ”Today was a very good day; tomorrow the next special will be technical in La Serena. But I think I always go to Santiago in a very happy mood. Imagine being capable of winning in my country, that’s motivation for the finish,” said Lopez. Starting 7th off the line, Lopez attacked Stage 13 and cam out smoking to the front of the pack, second to American Kurt Casseli. Casseli a minute and half lead over Lopez heading in to the 11th waypoint until coming to a halt 396km (of 441km) from the finish due to engine problems. The american held the lead through the first portion of the special, with a 19 second lead over Despres and 42 second lead over Lopez.
As the bikes reached the 359km point, Lopoz had taken more than 11 minutes back on Ruben Faria, currently 3rd OA. Faria explains, “I knew I was going to lose time, but I didn’t know he was going to ride as fast as that … I saw that Chaleco was going hell for leather and I thought it best not to risk falling in trying to hang on to second place. I didn’t come to the race for that anyway, I came to help Cyril. I didn’t want to make a mistake.” Lopez took full advantage of Casseli’s failures and picked up his 4th stage win in the 2013 Dakar. Lopez needs 8 minutes and 16 seconds to be adorned Dakar King and it’s not too late for last stage heroics.
A cool headed Cyril Despres states, “I was feeling good on the first section, where there was quite a bit of navigation. Afterwards, I saw that I’d got some time back on Chaleco and that he wasn’t going to disappear into the distance over 140 km. So I thought I had better be careful with the engine. Since I ate quite a bit of dust in the morning .. As for celebrating, we still have 220 kilometres to the bivouac today and with 690 km tomorrow, it’s not going to be a walk in the park.” With Faria losing time in todays stage, the battle to round out the top 3 is up for grabs. 4th OA Ivan Jakes is 10 minutes within striking distance of Ruben Faria, who now stands in 3rd, 14 minutes off the lead.
Coming out of his 2nd place in Stage 12, Robby Gordon claimed that Stage 13 was his. The American followed through and waited for no one. Along for the surge for Stage 13 was Guerlain Chicherit, who finished 22 seconds behind Robby. If Robby Gordon has showed anything this Dakar, it’s been consistency. Take away his horrendous first 4 stages and he’s finished top 3 all stages besides 9 & 10 (4th & 5th). ”I think starting from the back has some advantages, but for us the most important thing is we just want to continue and finish the rally. We have nothing really to gain,” explained Gordon. Robby led after the first section of the special and continued to push the pace the rest of the day. Robby’s Hummer was the first car to cross the finish line but had to put the celebration on hold as he waited for Chicherit to come in. After coming starting in 29th and eating dust all day, Guerlain Chicherit was confirmed 2nd, 22 seconds behind of Gordon.
It’s easy to see Stéphane Peterhansel is protecting a 45 minute lead he’s built up the past week and a half. Not only does Peterhansel have the dominant driving capabilites he’s executed all Dakar but also the knowledge it takes to play things cool when it’s already in the bag. While Peterhansel didn’t play much of a role in todays stage and lost 6 OA minutes, it was his race today and will be tomorrow. To ensure victory tomorrow in Santiago, Peterhansel can hopscotch to the finish line in in final stage from La Serena to Santiago.
A humbled Peterhansel explains his view, “We didn’t take any risks at all and we only lost a few minutes, but we managed to protect our lead this way. There were some impressive dunes, but rather than risking getting stuck on them, we preferred to go either right or left around them and then get back on track afterwards. It will be simpler tomorrow because it is less long than today. I think we still have a lead of around 45 minutes, so we’re going to carry on taking it easy. But there’s no sign of relief yet. We know how it goes: something could still happen right up until you cross the finishing line. Even if it’s a small special, we still have to get it over and done with.”
The real battle now lies in the hands of Giniel de Villiers, Leonid Novitsky, Joan Roma and Orlando Terranova. All competitors lie within striking distance and it takes only one mistake to reserve a new spot in on the podium. Tomorrows final stage of the 2013 Dakar rally promises to be nothing short of spectacular. See you in Santiago.