Taking vastly different paths on the day, the bikes and quads would cover some 462km during their special stage over virtually flat ground, crossing the largest salt flat in the world while the cars and trucks ran a shorter special of “only” 302km but which contained numerous elevation changes. By this eighth stage of the 2014 Dakar, the field has settled into those contesting for the win and those just hoping to make it to the end of the race.
In the bikes, Stage 8 began as a two man race for the overall with three time Dakar winner and his KTM leading the event by 38 minutes over Honda rider Juan Barreda Bort. The rest of the field stood at 1:16 or more back with defending champion Cyril Depres sitting in 10th overall and two and a half hours adrift.
Over in the cars it remained Mini’s race to lose as the team holds four of the top six positions in the event, led by Nani Roma, who is looking for his first overall Dakar victory, and Stephane Peterhansel (+32 minutes) who is seeking an astounding 12th. Lurking in third and ready to pounce should the lead Minis suffer any hiccups was the ever steady Giniel de Villiers (+48 minutes) who wants to stamp out the “lucky” designation he has been tagged with after his 2009 win when Carlos Sainz crashed out of the event in the 12th stage of the race while holding a commanding lead. Sainz himself has sits in sixth overall about an hour and fifty back and always a threat for stage wins in his buggie and while only a catastrophic series of events would allow him to make up for earlier navigation and mechanical issues, a podium slot is not out of the question.
At the end of Stage 8 no major positional changes were evident with Roma, Peterhansel and de Villiers still filling out the overall podium. While de Villiers finished the day with nearly an identical stage time to Roma (the South African remaining about 48 minutes back), it was Peterhansel closing the gap with the leader, shaving a full eight minutes off the gap reducing it to only 23 minutes.
“…it’s not such a bad result at all, because Nani Roma had two punctures so we’ve gained some time back on him and have put some pressure on him.”
Mr. Dakar appears to have room for at least one more Dakar trophy on his shelf and if Nani Roma has a few more flats (a problem that has persisted for the Minis throughout this year’s event and of which Roma had two on today’s stage) we may get a Dakar that comes down to the wire.
De Villiers could have made up a good deal of time himself if it weren’t for an issue that has come to ahead amongst some of the American competitors—drivers who are caught, but won’t pull over. Speaking of a fellow driver, “He doesn’t know the rules of the game. We caught him after 170 km. In the off-road I was right behind him, like 20 or 30 meters behind him and we were on the sentinel for I don’t know how long. He refused to move and then obviously we went on a fast track again and he pulled away because I could not see in the dust. Then I caught him again in the off-road and put the sentinel on again.”
Stage 8 itself seemed to be custom made for those drivers who like to put the hammer down with no thought for caution. Virtually defining the driver who throws caution to the wind, Nasser Al-Attiyah took the stage win as the fast, gravel roads crossing crossing over the Andes from Bolivia to Chile suited the Qatari perfectly. Starting in the second position behind Carlos Sainz on the day, Al-Attiyah quickly closed to within a minute or so of the physical lead and then just played a game of shadows the remainder of the day finishing only about thirty seconds physically behind the 2010 Dakar winner. “I’m still a bit disappointed about the penalty (referring to a missed waypoint several stages ago) “But now we will try to push and make a really better time every day.” Sainz himself finished third on the day with Peterhansel coming in second.
For the remaining Americans the 2014 Dakar has become a test of perseverance and nerve. After having a literal run-in with a handful of slower competitors who refused to acknowledge the sentinel warning device in their vehicle that they had been caught and should accede the right of way, BJ Baldwin may have put the field on notice. Certainly he seemed to encounter fewer rolling roadblocks during Stage 8 and had his best finish of the event, completing the stage in his EVR Chevrolet buggie in a time of 2:51 and good enough for 14th place on the day after starting well back in the 29th position. At the moment this has moved Baldwin to 34th overall. With Stage 9 consisting of lots of sand and the famous dunes coming into the town of Iquique, the competition had best move to the side as #merica is coming through.
Over in the Speed Energy camp of Robby Gordon it appeared to be a lost opportunity for a solid finish. An unknown but suspected mechanical issue delayed the HST from reportedly starting on time and by the first waypoint was already 1:02 adrift of the leader. That said, Gordon finished the day only 1:15 back of Al-Attiyah, showing again that if the HST is running right, it can post some very respectable times—problem being, it hasn’t often been running right in its first serious outing. Gordon now almost nine hours behind the leader Roma—though in the race within the race, he still holds about a 3:20 lead on his fellow American and Toyo teammate Baldwin.
Also besting Gordon on the day was the Jimco buggie of El Martillo racing. After moving from the 80th starting position to a 31st finishing spot the day before (inclusive of a 5 minute stop to assist Robby Gordon with some spare parts), the CAN/MEX/USA team had another solid finish coming in 34th on Stage 8 and keeping them in the race despite numerous late nights, early mornings, repeated mechanical repairs and little rest. Their adventure is the stuff the true “spirit of Dakar” is made of.
Back on the bikes the day was flat, flat, flat, skirting the edges of the world’s largest salt flat. Located in Bolivia and where the cars did not get to race, if you’ve wanted to know where all the lithium for your wife’s Prius and iPhone batteries comes from—this is it! This year’s fastest sections may very well have been seen today as the tabletop landscape beneath the watch of several imposing volcanoes made for some blistering speeds. Cyril Depres, though unaccustomed to being as far back in the field as he finds himself was back on the top step of the podium, for a day at least, taking the stage win. Depres could not make up much ground however with the overall first and second place riders, Marc Coma and Juan Barreda Bort right behind him in third and second place on the day (respectively) allowing the five time winner to inch about two minutes toward the leaders. Coma and his KTM hold a 38 minute gap over the Honda of Bort.
Mike Johnson (Honda) remains the lone USA rider left in this year’s Dakar, finishing 67th on the day while Mexican riders Carlos Gracida Garza (Honda) and Octavio Valle (KTM) ended their salty journey in 61st and 59th seemingly making for a North American convoy of bikers. Of note here is that Garza found the opportunity to converse with the President of Bolivia after Stage 7 where they were greeted as conquering heroes by the locals—given that the race has seen over a 50% rate of attrition already, this type of welcome each day is much deserved.
Photos by: Willy Weyens, Mini X-Raid Agency, De Villiers PR.
|Stage 8 Car Ranking|
|2. Peterhansel (FRA)||002:34:09||+00:01:12|
|3. Sainz (ESP)||002:35:33||+00:02:36|
|4. Terranova (ARG)||002:39:37||+00:06:40|
|5. Hololwcyc (POL)||002:40:46||+00:07:49|
|10. Gordon (USA)||002:48:51||+00:15:54|
|15. Gordon (USA)||002:51:46||+00:18:49|
|36. Mathew (CAN)||003:13:15||+00:40:18|
|OVERALL Car Ranking after Stage 8|
|1. Roma (ESP)||029:46:08|
|2. Peterhansel (FRA)||030:09:54||+00:23:46|
|3. De Villiers (ZAF)||030:34:33||+00:48:23|
|4. Terranova (AEG)||027:58:26||+00:48:25|
|5. Al-Attiyah (ZAF)||030:55:13||+01:09:05|
|34. Baldwin (USA)||041:53:51||+12:07:43|
|71. Mathew (CAN)||079:02:27||+49:16:19|