The Monster Energy Mini X-Raid team delivered the first volley on Stage 1 by taking the top three positions. On Stage 2, NASCAR Al-Attiyah fired right back with an impressive stage win. After mechanical woes on the first stage, there were concerns that the last-minute deal for Nasser Al-Attiyah to drive Robby Gordon Motorsport’s second Hummer. They have quickly been dismissed, as have any doubts about whether Nasser will have any issues adapting to the 2WD, mid-engine Hummer. The reigning Dakar champion and Citreon WRC racer teamed with off-road legend, energy drink manufacturer, and stock car racer Robby Gordon to from a dream team RDC has coined “NASCAR Al-Attiyah”. The Qatar driver won the second stage of the 2012 rally, a grueling 290 kilometer special stage that ended in the infamous black sand dunes of Nihuil; the same dunes that ended any hopes of victory for Stephane Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah’s nemesis Carlos Sainz in 2009.
Peterhansel doesn’t make many mistakes, and he certainly doesn’t make them twice. He finished second in the stage, 54 seconds behind Al-Attiyah to put him first place in the cumulative car standings. His Mini X-Raid teammates Krzysztof Holowczyc and Nani Roma finished fourth and fifth respectively, with Robby Gordon sitting ahead of them in third place for the stage. All of the speculation leading up to the race (Will Johnny Campbell be a competent navigator? Will Robby be the water carrier for Nasser? Will Nasser be a water carrier for Nasser?) has been answered early on, and the results look incredibly promising. After strong finishes on the first two days Robby Gordon is in the hunt in the cumulative standings- quite a change from the wet rally roads of last year’s Dakar Rally!
The situation was less rosy for the bulk of the field. As we entered the bivouac at 11 PM, motorcycles were still arriving and the car count had been pared down to 149 from 172. The dining hall in the bivouac, normally sparsely populated after 10 PM, was bustling with late arrivals and crews still waiting to hear from their teammates. Amongst the casualties was Mark McMillin, who was able to cheat death after the first stage but chronic overheating issues have ended his race. McMillin was towed to the end of the special stage by Robb Rill, whose rally is also in question due to severe brake issues. Rill’s Desert Warrior pulled McMillin’s Grand Cherokee the last twenty kilometers of the special stage, with McMillin providing braking for the joined vehicles! Rill has a start time for Stage 3 and his crew intends to get him there if at all possible.
Darren Skilton is still in the rally, but he lost a several hours on the leaders after experiencing vapor lock that required him to stop repeatedly to physically pour water on the fuel pump. The result is discouraging after Skilton’s strong start yesterday, but he experienced similar issues last year in early stages and managed to regroup and win his class. The Canadian entry of David Bensadoun finished in 77th place for the day; quite well compared to most of the North American competitors. We went to Bensadoun’s pit in the bivouac but only one crew member was present, and he was working furiously on the car so we couldn’t bring ourselves to bother him for the day’s details. Finishing just ahead of Bensadoun’s Desert Warrior was Joaquin de Uriarte of Mexico in his Ford Raptor. We saw Joaquin’s son Pedro de Uriarte at the starting line today in his Predator buggy. He had a sensor fail and was attempting to swap it out, but the new sensor had three black wires instead of the black, white, and green wires on the existing sensor. Pedro was able to sort out that issue and start the special stage, which was all he needed to do in order to continue since there were no checkpoints on the stage.
The bike teams had an equally rough day, with Quinn Cody finishing 24th, almost twenty minutes down from stage winner Marc Coma. Ned Suesse finished 62nd and James Embro finished 91st. Notably missing from that list is Jonah Street, whose bike experienced critical failure at KM 234 of the special. The level of difficulty so early in the rally is a departure from the past few years and has come as a shock to many, but tomorrow’s special stage to San Juan is fast roads that should claim less victims. Unfortunately it is also the terrain that plays to the strengths of the 4WD Mini team, so NASCAR Al-Attiyah have their work cut out for them in Stage 3.