Another Dakar In The Books
Stage 13- Villa Carlos Paz to Rosario
The final stage of the Dakar Rally is often superfluous, with the outcome already decided. This year was no different. The 180 kilometer special stage from Villa Carlos Paz to the podium in Rosario was won by Sebastien Loeb, but had no bearing on the final results. Loeb won three stages in his inaugural Dakar, but not surprisingly they were all on rally roads. The race was won and lost on Stage 10 in the dunes of Fiambala, where Stephane Peterhansel gained 52 minutes on Nasser Al-Attiyah. Despite shaving away minutes on each stage, Al-Attiyah was still down by 34 minutes at the end of the race, giving Peterhansel a comfortable margin of victory. This is the problem with the Dakar Rally having multiple stages consisting of rally roads and only two true off-piste sections. The top positions on the rally roads are decided by a matter of seconds, while Peterhansel got lost and stuck and suffered flat tires on his Peugeot 2008DKR… and still gapped the field.
On the rest day, Peugeot held three of the top four spots in the rally. By the end, Peterhansel would be the only Peugeot on the podium, but he was on the top step. Peterhansel’s teammate Carlos Sainz went from first place to DNF on Stage 10, Sebastian Loeb wadded up his 2008DKR on Stages 8 and 10, and Cyril Despres was a loyal teammate, sacrificing time to help his countrymen. In the end Loeb finished ninth and Despres finished seventh.
Following the top Peugeots, Minis, and Toyotas was Robby Gordon in 26th place. Gordon’s best stage performance was 8th place on Stage 5, but a variety of maladies put nearly 11 hours between Gordon and Peterhansel when the Dakar Rally concluded. Gordon got stuck in the mud on Stage 2, ran out of fuel on Stage 6, and experienced multiple mechanical issues on Stage 8, following the rest day in Salta. Never one to give up, Gordon kept plugging away and moved up in the standings as the race progressed. Although David did not defeat Goliath this time, we will keep rooting for Robby Gordon simply for the fact that he represents all Americans by doing things on his terms and taking on all comers.
Gordon’s teammate Sheldon Creed was disqualified after missing 15 waypoints on Stage 8 of the Dakar Rally, but not without a bit of controversy. Team manager Kyle Robbins reportedly checked with the race stewards prior to Creed missing the waypoints and was told that there would be a time penalty but Creed could continue. Something lost in translation perhaps? Creed was running in 24th place and seemed to be improving each day, with his best stage position (20th) on Stage 7. Look for a full post-race interview with Creed on RDC in the near future.
Gerard De Rooy won the T4 truck class, beating the Kamaz juggernaut for only the second time in twelve attempts. Man, Iveco, and Kamaz all won stages in a tightly contested rally. Surprisingly, Kamaz was never in the position of power this year. Rather it was Hans Stacy and the MAN team that started strong, but in the end, De Rooy made the least mistakes. Like Peterhansel, Stage 10 was the decisive factor that allowed De Rooy to win the race. He actually lost the stage to Pascal De Baar in a Renault, but the margin between De Rooy and De Baar was small, while the rest of the truck field was left far behind.
On bikes, Australian Toby Price filled the void left by the departure of Marc Coma and Cyril Depres. Price held off Paulo Goncalves, who retired after Stage 11 following a brutal crash on the previous day. American Ricky Brabec finished ninth in his first Dakar Rally, showing amazing promise for the future. The 2016 race had a finish rate of 60%, but surprisingly four out of the five Americans who entered the rally on bikes completed the rally. Privateer Ian Blythe finished 26th on his KTM with the help of Rally PanAm. The quad category was won by Argentine and local favorite Marcos Patronelli. It was his third win, with brother Alejandro as his runner up. The quad category is a favorite in South America, since it is dominated by locals.
Perhaps most interesting in the car category is that last year Nasser Al-Attiyah beat Giniel De Villiers by 34 minutes to win the rally. This year the gap between the two was 28 minutes, except this time they were second and third. De Villiers has the distinction of being the only car driver to complete every Dakar Rally since the race moved to South America, placing on the podium six of those times. Peterhansel didn’t just get lucky though, this was his 12th Dakar victory. Last year he finished in 11th place, but Peugeot gave him that much better of a car this time around. “On the home front, I’m happy with the reliability of our vehicle, but it’s difficult to hold our own against turbo engines,” De Villiers conceded. “The Peugeots are very fast. We’re reliable but not fast.” Rather than work with X-Raid to elevate their program, we expect Nasser Al-Attiyah to leverage his Red Bull sponsorship to get a ride in a Peugeot for 2017. He has been outspoken in his admiration of their performance, and at the finish he mention “We’ll see about the future, I’m free. I haven’t got a contract for next year.” X-Raid and Hallspeed will need to step up their game in order to compete with Peugeot. The same goes for Robby Gordon, who has already promised a few surprises for next year. Is it December yet?