Dakar Heats Up
Stage 9- Belen to Belen
Just as the Dakar Rally has begun to heat up, ASO shut down the Stage 9 loop around Belen. As we saw yesterday when Sebastian Loeb rolled his Peugeot 2008 DKR, the WRC-style rally roads are gone. Instead they have been replaced by sand dunes and open tracks with plenty of opportunities to end your race. Some wondered if Loeb would be back today, but the Peugeot camp worked all night and when Sebastian Loeb showed up at the starting line his car looked brand new. Stage 9 was not as tough on Loeb as the previous stage, but he still dropped another hour back in the overall standings after getting stuck in the sand four times and breaking a rear axle shaft. And that is on a stage that was shortened from 285 kilometers to 178 kilometers due to excessive heat. “We cannot go where the road book tells us to go,” frustrated Loeb commented at the finish line. One must wonder what results the nine time consecutive WRC champion would have with an experienced Dakar navigator with him in the right seat.
After a long night that left little time for his crew to prep two Gordinis, Robby Gordon was not complaining about the shortened stage. “We got stuck and were absolutely cooking out there,” Gordon commented after returning to the bivouac. “Something happened with our jacking system, which made it that much harder when we got stuck in the sand.” The mixed start with cars and trucks chewed up the course for Gordon’s teammate Sheldon Creed, who had a late start after mechanical issues plagued him on Stage 8. “Once those trucks go through the course is so blown out,” Creed explained. “It was nuts out there today, we saw so many stuck cars and rolled trucks.”
Not everyone was excited about the shortened stage though. “I’m a little bit disappointed that they stopped the stage because we were going quite nicely,” Giniel De Villiers commented. “It was a very hard stage, a typical Dakar stage. We went well, so for us it was disappointing that they stopped the stage.” De Villiers came in fourth on Stage 9 and currently sits in fifth place in the overall standings, 53 minutes back from leader Carlos Sainz. The always outspoken Nasser Al-Attiyah expressed similar frustration. “Of course I’m disappointed because the Dakar started from yesterday. Yesterday there was a lot of navigation and sand dunes and rivers. Today it was a really hard day for everybody,” he explained. Considering that even the lead vehicle got stuck multiple times corroborates Al-Attiyah’s statement. “Tomorrow will be a hard day and we’ll try to catch Peugeot to be leading the Dakar because tomorrow will not be easy.”
Lawyers and protests continue to play a large role at this year’s Dakar Rally, with X-Raid filing a protest against their former driver Stephane Peterhansel for fueling from a Peugeot truck during the neutralization section between Stage 8’s Special Stages. ASO conceded that the rule book is vague in this regard, but in the end no time penalty was levied against Peterhansel or the Peugeot camp. “The rule is very clear and easy to decide,” according to X-Raid principal Sven Quandt. “At the meeting it was said that there would be no refuelling. The rule says that. The point is clear 100 percent. The fueling point in the road book was for motorcycles and quads, not cars.” X-Raid intends to protest the ASO’s decision, however we do not expect a verdict until the conclusion of the rally.
Carlos Sainz won Stage 9, putting him in the overall lead ahead of teammate Peterhansel, who finished nine minutes back in seventh place after getting two flat tires. Sainz and his navigator Lucas Cruz now have to open what will likely be the most difficult stage of the rally. “The fact that the motorbikes are not going to open the road for us means that probably we will have absolutely no marks. It’s going to be a difficult day, but somebody has to open the way,” Sainz noted at the end of the stage.