The abrupt break in action on Sunday allowed drivers to spend a day working on their vehicles and get some much needed rest after eight consecutive days of racing. It’s only fitting that the next stage of the Dakar Rally would be the longest of the entire race for all categories but the bikes. The distance was doubled and called for more technical riding, where the drivers wound forests and maneuvered their way through the beautiful Argentinian countryside. Drivers had to be extremely vigilant over the entire 593km/368mi to make sure that they made it from San Miguel de Tucuman to Cordoba in one piece.
The 2013 Dakar is convincing that it is one of most difficult races in the world. Losing motorcycle rider no. 106 Thomas Bourgin (FRA) in Stage 7 in a fatal accident was a wake up call to the dangers the drivers face on a day-to-day basis. Today’s motorcycle race was filled with falls that cost some key players some valuable time in the OA. It was only a matter of time before Frenchman Cyril Despres earned his first stage win of the 2013 Dakar Rally. “I wanted to attack on a day like today. To be strong in the mind in body, that’s what it’s all about,” said Despres. Despite an early fall, Husqvarna’s Barreda Bort was the only rider who came close to challenging the Frenchman and finished second, 1′11″ ahead of teammate Botturi. Even with wins in the second, fourth and eighth stages, Bort has had issues all Dakar and after his second place finish today now sits in 35th place OA.
Bort wasn’t the only one to fall, as the temporary OA leader in Tucumán, David Casteu, could tell you. On yesterdays rest day, Casteu said “I find myself here in the Dakar, on the rest day, in the lead. It’s magical.” However 120km in to the special, Casteu crashed in to a cow when coming out of a turn through the farmlands. A dislocated right shoulder and damaged motorcycle couldn’t stop the Frenchman, as he continued on only to run in to mechanical issues 15km from the finish line. Casteu lost several hours and made it to the end of special on foot. Also taking a tumble (several time) was Oliver Pain, lost significant time and moved from 4th to 6th. The least unlucky of them all was Chaleco López, who also fell but “only” lost 16 minutes to Despres. “I had a little crash in a corner, there was a lot of dust. I’m just going to take it easy now,” said López. This crazy stage turned the overall upside down. Portuguese Ruben Faria, now leads 5′23″ ahead of Despres! Behind them, Chile’s Chaleco López is still in third place, 9′06″ down.
Todays special was split in to two sections and Giniel de Villiers was quickest through the first half. “Puh, what a day. It had started super for us, but again proved the old adage: The Dakar is unpredictable. It was a challenging stage which pushed our equipment to the limit, but our Toyota Hilux handled it well and I am very satisfied. I am naturally happy that we are now in second place. Even on bad days you can be strong,” said de Villiers. Early on in the race proved to be a struggle for the buggies and the fast, narrow sections of the course were ideal for Joan Nani Roma and Stephan Peterhansel’s minis. De Villiers was on pace to take Toyota’s 1st stage win in 2013, faded to 5th in the last half of the second stage. It was South Africa’s Nani Roma who posted the quickest time through the seventh stage and finished 4 minutes ahead of OA leader Stephan Peterhansel. This was Roma’s 13th career win which puts him in 4th place OA. Peterhansel continued to drive consistently the entire day and now has a 50 minute lead over De Villiers in the OA standing. Argentinian local, Orlando Terranova, capped off third which moves him up to 5th OA.
With all the pressure and distractions gone, Robby Gordon has been focusing on driving his Hummer and in doing so today worked his way to finish in the top 5 for the fifth consecutive day. After a promising start to this years Dakar, Nasser Al-Attiyah has failed to make the top 5 for the third day in a row and today saw his last hopes of winning the rally go up in smoke as he is still yet to post a time. OA leader Stephan Peterhansel explains, “We should be more comfortable on these WRC tracks, Me and Nasser.” However Nasser looked everything but comfortable as he putted around leisurely.