Too Little, Too Late For X-Raid
Stage 12- San Juan to Villa Carlos Paz
After Stage 10 in Fiambala, Stephane Peterhansel secured a one hour lead ahead of Nasser Al-Attiyah. While Al-Attiyah, last year’s winner, has been shaving time off of that gap, it is too little, too late. Al-Attiyah won Stage 11 to take away eight minutes from Peterhansel, and reduced the lead by another 11 minutes today, coming in second on Stage 12 to teammate Mikko Hirvonen. Rally raid rookie Hirvonen edged out Al-Attiyah by seven seconds to take his first stage win at Dakar, placing his X-Raid Mini in fourth place in the overall standings. The Finn’s extensive rally experience have served him well, like fellow rally star Sebastien Loeb, who finished Stage 12 in eighth place and is in ninth place overall. “I was thinking if I can avoid any mistakes, maybe I can finish in the top five and be close to it,” Hirvonen humbly reported. “The first week was a bit of a surprise, with how much we used normal roads and stages, but the second week has been fantastic, even though it has been really tough. But that’s something I was expecting. If I can, I really want to come back.”
The good news is that the Peugeot juggernaut, which dominated the first week of the rally, has experienced their fair share of hardship in the second week. The overall standings are now much more interesting, with Peterhansel’s Peugeot 2008DKR followed by Al-Attiyah’s Mini and Giniel De Villiers Toyota Hilux, respectively. “This stage was a long one and it was very, very tricky. We tried to put in a good time and we’ll see what we can do,” Al-Attiyah explained. “After the second week of the Dakar our Mini is really working very well, apart from one mistake I made when I rolled it and it cost us a lot of time. Otherwise we could have genuinely won the Dakar, I think”. Team orders have been issues and both Loeb and Cyril Despres followed Stephane Peterhansel to Villa Carlos Paz to help ensure overall victory for Peugeot. “We followed Stéphane through the stage in case he needs something, but he did a good stage with no problems,” Loeb stated at the end of the stage.
For the second day in a row and the third stage of the rally, Robby Gordon mixed it up with Orlando Terranova on the course. Terranova finished physically right after Gordon, but beat him on time. At the end of the special stage, Terranova blocked Gordon from exiting his car by parking within inches of his door and jumped out of his X-Raid Mini. The Argentine then started yelling and proceeded to write “100 km” on the hood of the Gordini, indicating the distance he claimed to follow Gordon’s dust. “We pulled over at one point but there was no one there,” Gordon explained. “Sometimes these Sentinels can be finicky.” Gordon finished the stage in 13th place, 13 minutes back from Hirvonen. This position is close to where Gordon has run throughout the rally, suggesting that he has more work to do before returning to Dakar. “I’ve got some ideas, and I’m sure I’m not the only one rethinking my program,” Gordon noted. “Peugeot has definitely raised the bar. They can outspend me but they can’t work harder than me.” We tried to reach Terranova for his side of the story, but he was unavailable for comment.
While the win is a virtual lock for Peterhansel, there are still drivers fighting for position on the last stage of the rally. Only four minutes separate De Villiers and Hirvonen for the last spot on the podium with 180 kilometers to go. Hirvonen gained one minute on De Villiers on Stage 12, so he has his work cut out for him, but this will be the battle to watch as the 2016 Dakar Rally heads to Rosario for the final stage.