Sometimes the difference between winning and losing is as thin as a razor’s edge…and sometimes it isn’t.
Stage 10 of the 2014 Dakar saw one of the two remaining drivers able to contest the Mini juggernaut on a daily basis end his effort under strange circumstances. Carlos Sainz, former Dakar winner and WRC champion, crashed his SMG buggie on a non-competitive, transit stage during a brief excursion to find fuel. Buggie totaled and driver banged up (thanks to not being belted in before he started cruising down the road into a blind turn), a helicopter flight to a local hospital left South African Giniel de Villiers as virtually the only vehicle between Mini and a seemingly endless parade of these “girly” cars from crossing the podium.
The day’s stage would contain 375 miles of contested racing crossing portions of the Atacama Desert (driest location on earth) and hard to navigate Copiapo Dunes. Long sections resembling sandy salt flats with mining access roads would mix with gravel filled river washes and lead to some sixty miles of imposing dunes truly worthy of a Dakar event. Today would also see the competitors exceed the 5,000 total mile mark for the event but rest would not come just because everyone is tired, machines are worn out and over half the field has already packed up their gear, turning into spectators.
Beginning the day Nassar Al-Attiyah looked to make things very interesting. He had taken the Stage 10 win cutting Nani Roma’s lead by 13 minutes and started Stage 11 in third place overall some 46 minutes behind. He looked to be continuing this pace throughout much of Stage 11, jumping ahead on time early despite having to “break trail” all day. By WP 12 of the day he had cut another 12+ minutes out of Roma’s cushion and if things continued that way would have set up a contentious final two days of racing for the overall. Things just wouldn’t break the Qatari’s way however…
The pace Al-Attiyah had been setting over the previous two days may have finally found his Mini’s breaking point as with the stage seemingly in the palm of his hand and heading to the finish he ground to a halt with broken wheel after an encounter with a large rock. For the better portion of an hour Al-Attiyah enacted repairs on the Mini, drove cautiously onward and finished the day some 21 minutes back of the surprise Stage 11 winner, Argentinean Orlando Terranova. Overall leader Nani Roma came in second and the ever steady de Villiers rounded out the daily podium in third and continues to suffer from multiple punctures in virtually every stage stating “We caught up with the Minis, two of them – I don’t know who it was – in the rocky part and then just as I got close I got a puncture. It was impossible to stay with them in the sand. I caught them again in the rocky section. I think they were obviously going slowly in the rocks, but then I had another puncture and twenty kilometres from the end I had a third puncture. Every time we had a puncture the tyres were burning at the back, so we had flames and it was a big mess.”
In the overall standings Terranova’s performance today means that Minis now hold each of the top four positions with de Villiers nearly 20 minutes back of third place Al-Attiyah. Of note here is that even with his issues today and a one hour penalty for a missed waypoint, Al-Attiyah sits only 56 minutes back of Roma. Stephane Peterhansel, who entered the day only two minutes back of Roma, finished fourth on the day, 14 minutes adrift of Terranova and more importantly, about four minutes behind Roma.
This may end up being the story of the day—the existence, or lack thereof, of Mini team orders. Various sources and Stephane Peterhansel himself loudly voiced their acknowledgement and in Stephane’s case, personal disappointment in the Mini team’s announcement the previous night that they wanted to see the team hold their current positions and not compete with each other for the remainder of the event.
“Yesterday, the boss asked us to take no risk at all…So I reduced the speed and we started this morning not with the same spirit. It was a safer spirit for the car…we don’t take any pleasure in driving and it’s a big frustration.”
It appears however at least one member of team Mini would rather not acknowledge the now widely known détente. Roma’s remarks at the conclusion of the day directly contradicted much of what had already been disclosed “It’s okay, it was nice… a good stage for me. I had one puncture and then also another one at the front…I made time on Stéphane…I started this morning flat-out to try and keep Stéphane at bay… but for the moment there are no team orders.”
It will be interesting to see if team orders hold up with Mr. Dakar only five minutes back and at least a few ripples of discontent and disagreement amongst team Mini.
Robby Gordon had another day to forget in the ’14 Dakar as it never really started. A reported issue with bad fuel sent the Gordini back to the bivouac to reportedly wait out the drying of the fuel cell, though upon consultation with the ASO, Gordon was going to be allowed to restart the stage late in the day. Unfortunately in late breaking news, it appears as if whatever damage had been done to the vehicle at this point was not able to be corrected and Gordon’s Dakar seems to be over for another year. Truly a two week period that could leave most competitors completely gutted, Gordon would have loved to put on a great show for his throngs of South American fans during the final two stages.
The other remaining North American car effort, El Martillo Racing spent over nine hours racing in Stage 10, getting stuck at least five times in the deep sand but had to get up and do it all over again today. While no threat to the top teams, the Jimco driven by the CAN/MEX/USA effort finished the day in the 31st position. With only two days remaining, this is looking like a great rookie Dakar effort.
Over in the two wheeled world, KTM rider Marc Coma retains his relatively comfortable lead, finishing the day in the tenth position, partly due to an early but minor crash, remaining 37 minutes ahead of Honda’s Joan Barreda Bort. “It was a very long day. I had a little fall at the start, but it wasn’t serious. After that, I tried to maintain a good pace. The important thing is still being here in the race and also to be careful, because there is still one tough day left.”
Three North American competitors remain with hopes of reaching Valparaiso in a couple days. Mike Johnson (Honda) finished 64th on the day, Carlos Gracida Garza (Honda) posted a solid 56th and Octavio Valle (KTM) drove home in 44th. The three stand 74th, 59th and 64th overall and have all done their respective countries proud, with Mike Johnson stopping during today’s stage to provide assistance to a downed rider. Well done boys!
|Stage 11 Car Ranking|
|1. Terranova (ARG)||005:58:00|
|2. Roma (ESP)||006:08:57||+00:10:57|
|3. De Villiers (ZAF)||006:10:38||+00:12:38|
|4. Peterhansel (FRA)||006:12:14||+00:14:14|
|5. Al-Attiyah (QAT)||006:18:57||+00:20:57|
|31. Mathew (CAN)||008:35:39||+02:37:39|
|OVERALL Car Ranking after Stage 11|
|1. Roma (ESP)||045:04:54|
|2. Peterhansel (FRA)||045:07:26||+00:05:32|
|3. Al-Attiyah (QAT)||045:57:55||+00:56:01|
|4. Terranova (ARG)||046:05:33||+01:03:39|
|5. De Villiers (ZAF)||046:17:51||+01:15:57|
|52. Mathew (CAN)||102:02:08||+57:00:14|
Photos by: Willy Weyens, Mini X-Raid Agency