Todays Stage 12 called for a very early start with the bikes getting of the line at 4:15AM local time in freezing cold weather.
American rider and Baja regular Caselli started 1st due to his stage win yesterday but navigational mistakes pushed into a 16th place finish. He gave up 13 Minutes 26 Seconds to the leader of the stage. He ranks 15th Overall with over 4 Hours away from the podium.
Verhoeven claimed todays stage win on the bikes by 1 Minute and 38 Seconds over Faria, but the Overall Rally is still dominated by Despres. The top 5 bikes are only separated by 41 Minutes so the battle is still on and it would be premature to call a Rally winner yet.
In the car class things look a bit different with 10 time Dakar winner Peterhansel holding a solid 50 Minute lead over the next competitor. It looks like all he has to do now is to continue at a 90% pace to avoid costly mistakes and the victory will be his with only 2 more days of racing left. Todays stage confirms such a strategy as he finished 4th giving only single digits Minutes up in the overall ranking. His multi year experience is clearly showing again this year and it seems like he is at this point racing in his own race.
American racer Robby Gordon pushed very hard today and a stage victory looked to be his until he got himself stuck while at a checkpoint that the organizer setup in a soft uphill sand section. He lost about 10 Minutes there and that pushed him into 2nd place for the stage 4 Minutes 18 Seconds behind Monster Energy Mini driver Roma.
De Villiers had a fantastic run and completed the stage 3rd just seconds behind Robby Gordon.
The battle in the cars group at this point is for 3rd place overall between De Villiers, Roma and Novitskiy. All three are just 15 Minutes apart while Robby Gordon remains throughout the last few stages about 6 Hours behind the leader Peterhansel. That is good for 16th place overall and hopes for a top 10 finish this year depend on not falling further back or racers in front of him falling out of the race.
This stage 12 was considered by some as one of the toughest of the Rally due to the long distances traveled and the high elevation that peaked 4800 Meters.
After watching todays Dakar Television show the wear on the racers was very obvious. More 3 day-beards, sagging eyes, bad hair then on any previous stage could be seen. The physical and mental toll that it takes to compete in what many consider the toughest Motorsports event has definitely set in.
Tomorrows Stage 13 will deliver more dunes.