RALLYE MONTE CARLO

THE SEASON KICKS OFF WITH THE LEGENDARY RALLYE MONTE-CARLO!

The Abu Dhabi Total WRT has entered two cars at the Rallye Monte-Carlo (21-24 January), the opening round of the 2016 World Rally Championship. Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle and Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau will have to meet the combined challenge of Monte’s demanding course and the typically wintry conditions that are expected at the event.

As usual, the new season – the final one for the generation of World Rally Cars that first appeared in 2011 – kicks off with the world’s most famous rally. Taking over from Citroën Racing – which is actively preparing for its return as a works team in 2017 – the Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team will be competing at a number of European rounds of the WRC, starting with the Rallye Monte-Carlo.

Prepared by PH Sport and featuring the same technical spec as at the end of 2015, the two WRCs have been entrusted to crews of differing experience and ambitions. At 36 years old, Northern Irishman Kris Meeke is competing in what is already his eighth Monte-Carlo. After scoring a podium-finish here in 2014 alongside co-driver Paul Nagle, he has proven his ability to keep out of trouble on the tricky course in the south of France. Already very familiar with the car and the Michelin tyres that will be available, he may have greater freedom here and be able to adopt a bolder strategy!

In comparison, 23 year-old Stéphane Lefebvre’s experience is more limited. That said, the young Frenchman has nonetheless secured two category wins in his two appearances here! Last year, he pulled off a real coup in winning the WRC2 class after a flawless performance in his DS 3 R5. Now competing alongside co-driver Gabin Moreau, Stéphane will be contesting only his sixth WRC rally, but he is determined to grab the opportunity to showcase his skills!

The Abu Dhabi Total WRT will undertake preparations this weekend, with two days of pre-event testing organised near to Gap. Recce gets underway next Monday before the crews get back into their race cars for the shakedown on Wednesday afternoon. The ceremonial start of the 84th Rallye Monte-Carlo will be held on Thursday at 6.15pm in Monaco’s Place du Casino. Friday and Saturday’s legs will be held on roads around Gap, before the short final day on Sunday, which includes runs on the famous Col de Turini.

QUOTE, UNQUOTE

Kris Meeke (#7): “2016 is not just a new season, it’s the start of a new chapter in my career. I am extremely pleased to be competing at the Rallye Monte-Carlo with the Abu Dhabi Total WRT. Obviously, we are not in the same situation as the other WRC drivers. I don’t feel like I’m under a great deal of pressure, mainly because we’re not aiming for a particular result at the end of the season. At the Monte-Carlo, and at the other rallies, I’ll be looking to do my very best and get as much experience as possible. Although there are a few new stages, the course seems to be pretty similar to 2015. The major imponderable is the weather. If the cold conditions persist, we should have a lot of snow and ice on the stages. Instinctively, it’s a rally that I love because it sums up all the excitement of the start of a new season. But when you get to the service park and you have to make a tyre choice that will inevitably involve a compromise of some kind, the love can sometimes turn to hate! If we manage to have an error-free race and make the right calls, I think we shouldn’t be too far away from the podium.”

Stéphane Lefebvre (#8): “Monte-Carlo is a rally where I have done fairly well in the past, since I won my class in 2011 and then secured the WRC2 category win last year. This year, I would dearly love to get a good result and prove that I can be counted on. I like the course here, but I will be giving it all the respect such a legendary rally deserves. The Monte-Carlo is not a sprint like some of the other World Championship rallies. We saw last year how quickly gaps can be established and then disappear! You must never get too carried away and just build your strategy over the course of the stages. I’ll be counting on the experience of the team’s members to help me with that. I’ll also be getting advice from my gravel crew, Alexandre Bengué. I don’t have any specific goal as regards the result, because we don’t know to what extent the works teams have improved during the off-season. I would be pleased if I manage to keep improving something like I did at the end of last year on tarmac, whilst trying to stay in touch with Kris. I have the good fortune to have a team-mate who is very quick on these roads, so he’ll be my marker!”

COMING UP

Wednesday, 20 January: shakedown in Gap (route de la Garde) from 4pm to 6pm.

Thursday, 21 January: start of Day 1 “Monaco-Gap” at 6.15pm from Monaco (Place du Casino). Finish in Gap from 11.53pm following two stages covering a total of 41.34km.

Friday, 22 January: start of Day 2 “Gap-Gap” at 8.45am. Finish from 5.45pm following six stages covering a total of 115.52km.

Saturday, 23 January: start of Day 3 “Gap-Monaco” at 6.40am. Finish in Monaco from 7.40pm following five stages covering a total of 172.75km.

Sunday, 24 January: start of Day 4 “Monaco-Monaco” at 7.12am. Overall finish from 1.39pm following three stages covering a total of 45.28km

 

DAKAR RALLY

AL-ATTIYAH, MÉO & NIKOLAEV SCOOP DECISIVE DAKAR STAGE WINS

Another sandy stage at the Dakar Rally resulted in further movement on the leaderboards today as caution was thrown to the wind across all four categories. Stage 11 featured a mix of soft terrain including the infamous fesh-fesh sand synonymous with northern Argentina along the route from La Rioja to San Juan. Today’s stage winners featured a trio of Red Bull Desert Wings: Antoine Méo, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Eduard Nikolaev.

Defending Dakar champion Nasser Al-Attiyah has the appearance of a man in a class of his own when it comes to racing on sand and today was no exception as he took the stage win. Alongside French co-driver Mathieu Baumel a masterclass of off-piste rally raid racing was put on by the Qatari as he inched closer to the race’s summit.

Despite losing 8m05s to Al-Attiyah on stage 11 it is still Stéphane Peterhansel of Team Peugeot-Total who leads the car race. 11-time Dakar winner Peterhansel had the tricky job of opening the road today following yesterday’s stage win. In the end the Frenchman was satisfied to finish up with an overall lead of 51m55s over Al-Attiyah in second place with just two day’s racing remaining.

Nine-time WRC winner Sébastien Loeb was able to put a trio of testing days behind him to finish second-fastest on this stage, despite being towed for the final 2km by Cyril Despres after his Peugeot 2008DKR16 suffered problems with the transmission and the power steering pump. Despres himself was seventh-quickest today even though he slowed down to help Loeb. The fourth member of Team Peugeot-Total, Carlos Sainz, did not race today after his car was deemed unrepairable last night.

The bike race was once again cut short due to extremely high temperatures on the course with the planned 431km shaved down to 243km. Keeping the coolest head out on the stage was Dakar debutant Antoine Méo who continued his South American adventure with a second stage win of the race. The Frenchman’s rapid adaption to rally raid now sees him occupy third place in the overall rankings after chasing down Pablo Quintanilla.

Top of the tree in the bike race is still Méo’s fellow Red Bull KTM Factory Team member Toby Price. The Australian was able to increase his cushion over second-placed Stefan Svitko by 12m11s to now lead the race by an impressive 35m23s.

Pressure was applied by Team Kamaz Master’s Ayrat Mardeev on the leader of the truck raceGerard de Rooy. The Russian in second place overall took six minutes out of the Dutchman’s lead while Kamaz’s Eduard Nikolaev battled back from a tough day yesterday to win stage 11. Meanwhile, quad race leader Marcos Patronelli conceded 1m26s to his brother Alejandro, but maintains the overall lead by eight seconds.

There’s more than 900km to cover tomorrow during the Dakar’s penultimate stage with 450km of the route to be raced again the clock. With time running out to make an impression on the overall classification – expect big risks in the hope of big rewards

DAKAR RALLY

PEUGEOT RUN INTO TROUBLE

As sure as day follows night, the Dakar Rally’s perennial trip to the Fiambalá dunes proves a decisive factor in determining success and failure at the world’s toughest race. Legions of competitors fell by the wayside during today’s 245km timed special stage between Belén and La Rioja, but a trio of Red Bull Desert Wings stood tall to lead the car, bike and quad races at this Dakar.

The intense difficulty of today’s route was underlined when even the new car race leaderStéphane Peterhansel ran into trouble in the early part of the stage. Peterhansel and co-driverJean-Paul Cottret lost 15 minutes just 32km into the stage as they tracked down the day’s first waypoint. The setback was soon behind them however as the French crew and their Peugeot 2008DKR16 powered through the rest of the stage in the day’s quickest time, a flat tyre the only other hiccup along the way.

11-time Dakar winner Peterhansel was followed home by fellow Team Peugeot-Total driver Cyril Despres as the five-time bike race victor continued his fine start to the second week of the rally. Meanwhile, this morning’s race leader Carlos Sainz endured a horrid day at the Dakar. The Spaniard suffered a flat tyre and navigation issues before landing his Peugeot on a huge rock which impacted the spacer between gearbox and engine. This may have put pay to Sainz’s ambitions of winning a second Dakar, but he’ll remain in the hunt for stage wins.

The fourth Peugeot 2008DKR16, driven by nine-time WRC winner Sébastien Loeb, struck back after two testing days to go fifth-fastest on the stage. The top 5 result was achieved despite 10 minutes stuck in the sand, two punctures and a roll in the dunes after which the help of spectators was required to get the car back on its wheels.

The main benefactor of Peugeot’s problems was defending Dakar champion Nasser Al-Attiyah. It was hardly a smooth day at the office for the Qatari, his Mini ended up on its roof after just 6km, but along with French co-driver Mathieu Baumel the duo came home with the day’s fourteenth-fastest time to move second in the overall classification. South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers now occupies third place in the general rankings after more steady driving from the serial podium finisher.

Temperatures in the mid-40 degrees centigrade led to a mandatory cooling down break in the bike race, during which riders spent time in refrigerated trucks. If leading biker Toby Price was feeling the heat the Red Bull KTM Factory Team biker certainly didn’t let it show. The Australian rode a tactically sound second half of this marathon stage to end the day with a cushion of 23m12s from his nearest rival with three day’s racing remaining.

Price upset the status quo during his Dakar debut 12 months ago when he finished on the podium and now his team-mate Antoine Méo is threatening to do the same. The Frenchman, a five-time World Enduro champion, has excelled himself during his first experience of dune racing and now lies less than 10 minutes off third spot in the general classification.

Quad race leader Marcos Patronelli may have narrowly missed out on the stage win by 29 seconds, but the Argentine was still able to increase his lead at the front of the race by nearly a minute from his brother and fellow two-time Dakar winner Alejandro.

The feeling inside Team Kamaz Master was that the time had come to go on the attack if they were to reel in truck race leader Gerard de Rooy. At the start of the stage Kamaz’s Eduard Nikolaev was around 30 minutes behind the Dutchman in the overall standings, but midway through today’s racing the Russian had reduced the arrears to under 15 minutes. Nikolaev’s extreme pace was to land him in trouble though as his truck fell onto its side after hitting an obstacle on the stage. Following Nikolaev’s misfortune it’s now his Kamaz team-mate Ayrat Mardeev who sits second overall behind de Rooy.

With so many competitors and machines coming back battered and bruised to the bivouac in La Rioja it’s looking like a long night for mechanics. With plenty more sand on the menu tomorrow during the 431km timed route to San Juan there’s still lashings of drama left to play out at the 2016 Dakar Rally.

DAKAR RALLY

TEMPERATURES SOAR IN THE DAKAR RALLY

The Red Bull-backed Peugeot 2008DKR16 of Carlos Sainz takes the overall lead with a fine stage win today. There’s another member of Team Peugeot-Total in second overall, as 11-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel battled back from getting stuck in the sand on stage nine.

Nine-time WRC winner Sébastien Loeb was back in the race today after rolling his car yesterday. Loeb’s car was repaired overnight and he return for more action today. The Frenchman and co-driver Daniel Elena got stuck in the sand several times and also had to make mechanical repairs on the stage. They came home 1h13m47s behind Peugeot team-mate Sainz.

The news was better for the Peugeot 2008DKR16 driven by Cyril Despres: the five-time bike race winner clocked the day’s sixth-fastest time. Despres could have recorded an even better time, but he stopped to help Peugeot team-mate Peterhansel.

Nasser Al-Attiyah is continuing the fightback by showing his mastery of the off-piste stages. The Qatari was quickest on the splits before encountering two punctures simultaneously – but he has still managed to consolidate his third place.

Toby Price continues to lead the bike section, stretching his advantage to more than 24 minutes at only his second Dakar. But a portion of his hard work came to nothing when the organisers cancelled the stage after CP2, two thirds of the way into the stage, due to extreme heat that had affected previous competitors. The Australian completed the whole stage, before it was shortened, and won that convincingly as well.

In the quads, Marcos Patronelli maintains the lead by just over a minute, while there are also no movers in the truck category, with Gerard de Rooy still hanging on to an advantage over Kamaz’s Eduard Nikolaev.

All the motorbikes and quads now go straight to parc ferme as today was the first half of the second marathon stage of this Dakar, which meant that none of the vehicles were allowed mechanical assistance from service crews at the bivouac.

Tomorrow, they face even bigger sand dunes, with the Fiambala dunes section that are set to provide the biggest challenge of the rally to date over 278 km. External temperatures today have peaked at 47 degrees centigrade – less than 10 degrees off the highest temperature ever recorded in the world, which was 56.7 degrees in Death Valley, California.

DAKAR RALLY

DAKAR SPRINGS BACK TO LIFE AFTER A DAY OF REST

The Dakar’s final week commenced with dune racing as the dimensions of the contest changed from flat-out speed to navigational challenges on the 393km timed route from Salta to Belén.

Defending Dakar champion Nasser Al-Attiyah talked openly during the rest day about his intentions to take the fight to the three Peugeot crews that started today in the car race podium positions. At the conclusion of today’s racing it’s now Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumelwho are celebrating their first stage win of this Dakar, as they managed to get ahead of all fourTeam Peugeot-Total crews for the first time at the rally. The Qatari used all his desert racing experience on the dunes and off-piste sections of stage eight while his French co-driver ensured their were no navigational mistakes along the way.

Closely challenging Al-Attiyah was the Peugeot driven by Carlos Sainz with only 12 seconds separating the former Volkswagen team-mates at the end of today’s stage. The Peugeot 2008DKR16 of 11-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel was also on the pace despite an early setback on the stage.

Peterhansel now heads the general classification after this morning’s leader Sébastien Loeb ran into problems on the stage. Frenchman Loeb and Monegasque co-driver Daniel Elena got their Peugeot stuck in the sand early on the stage and worse was to come just 11km from the day’s finish line. Loeb’s Peugeot rolled several times after hitting a channel in a riverbank, leaving driver and co-driver working frantically by the side of the road to get their machine to the end of the stage. Under the intense glare of the sun, Loeb and Elena were able to get back on the move and finish the stage. The Dakar debutants lost over an hour to team-mate Peterhansel and now sit eighth in the overall rankings.

Among the members of the Red Bull Desert Wings squad still going strong at this Dakar is Australian biker Toby Price. Today proved memorable for the Red Bull KTM Factory Teamracer as a stage win saw him leapfrog Paulo Gonçalves to take the overall lead. Price beat the Portuguese rider by 5m17s to open up a cushion of 2m05s at the head of the bike race. The manner in which Price rose to the challenge of racing on the most technical stage so far of this Dakar suggests he can now hang onto top spot on the road to Rosario.

Price’s consistency is all the more remarkable given that he is racing only his second Dakar – he finished third on his debut 12 months ago. This year Price has a debutant team-mate inAntoine Méo and the Frenchman was forced to open the road following his stage seven win. On a stage littered with potential navigational pitfalls, Méo lost his way while facing dunes for the first time, but dug in to maintain sixth place in the overall rankings.

The bike race has started its second week missing two of its biggest personalities: Joan ‘Bang Bang’ Barreda was forced to retire in Bolivia while Matthias Walkner is out as well following an accident in which he broke his leg on stage seven. Like all Dakar competitors, these guys are made of strong stuff and will be back and fighting soon.

On the quads today it was Marcos Patronelli who led throughout the 393km timed special, winning the stage and passing his brother Alejandro in the general classification to lead the race. Both brothers already have two Dakar wins each and every passing day makes it look more likely that one of these Argentine siblings will be celebrating a third title when we get to Rosario on Saturday.

The big move in the truck race came from former Dakar champion Eduard Nikolaev of Team Kamaz Master. The Russian trucker scored the second-fastest time on the stage to rise from fourth to second overall. The gap between Nikolaev and race leader Gerard de Rooy stands at under eight minutes, hardly an insurmountable gap given that five days of racing remain.

There are plenty more dunes and off-piste navigation on the menu tomorrow at the Dakar as all four categories embark on a 285km timed loop around the bivouac in Belén. With temperatures soaring  in northern Argentina we’re promised another gruelling test of both man and machine. There are extra complications for the bikes and quads as they embark on the first half of their second marathon stage at this Dakar.

DAKAR RALLY

SAINZ MAINTAINS PEUGEOT’S HOT STREAK

Violent storms returned to the Dakar Rally during a turbulent seventh stage that saw more lightening quick times set by the Red Bull Desert Wings. Heavy rain on the Bolivia/Argentina border did nothing to dampen the speed of Carlos Sainz as he ensured the Peugeot 2008DKR16 was the fastest car on the stage for a sixth consecutive day. Despite the Spaniard’s blistering pace, the sight of his team-mate Sébastien Loeb in the rearview mirror was never far away as the Frenchman came home 38 seconds later to place second on the stage. Loeb and his co-driver Daniel Elena actually finished the first part of the special stage two minutes ahead of the rest. Then during the second timed section they battled back from turbo problems and a slight navigational hitch to get back on the attack.

Today’s results see Dakar debutant Loeb return to the top of the overall classification with the spot guaranteed for the rest of the weekend with all competitors getting a well-earned day off tomorrow. 11-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel sits second overall, 2m22s behind Loeb with Sainz a further 2m28s back in third as Team Peugeot-Total hold a clean sweep of the podium positions. Cyril Despres continued his own four wheel education with a fine sixth place finish on the stage at the wheel of the fourth Peugeot.

Defending Dakar champion Nasser Al-Attiyah had his foot down today as he strives to stay in touch with the trio of Peugeots ahead of him. The Qatari is hopeful of turning the tables during the Dakar’s second week as he trails Loeb by 17m36s while in fourth place overall. South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers is another who has tasted victory at the Dakar and will look to use his position of sixth in the general classification as a springboard for success on next week’s route to Rosario.

Marek Dabrowski ended the week on a high note with the day’s 17th best time with fellow PoleKuba Przygonski a further 12 places back. It was a tough day for the third Red Bull-backed Polish driver at the Dakar as Adam Malysz remained stuck on the stage as night fell.

It has been a memorable first week of Dakar racing for five-time World Enduro championAntoine Méo. The Red Bull KTM Factory Team new recruit has been quick to adapt to rally raid riding despite it being a completely new discipline for him. The Frenchman won today’s bike stage following 02h27m27s of terrific riding and now sits fifth in the overall classification. KTM also saw Toby Price move up to second position overall while Jordi Viladoms is poised to take advantage of some technical stages still to come.

Meo, Price and Viladoms will be without their team-mate Matthias Walkner for the second week of the Dakar. The Austrian suffered a fall 15km into today’s stage which resulted in a broken femur and will fly home early. We wish him a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing him back on his bike soon. Many riders, including race leader Paulo Gonçalves, demonstrated the true spirit of the Dakar as they stopped to wait with Walkner while the medical helicopter flew to collect him.

Still in with a shout of a podium finish is Portugal’s Hélder Rodrigues who can enjoy his day off from the vantage point of sixth overall. Iván Cervantes of Spain may not be matching Meo’s Dakar debut heroics, but another solid top-10 ride today places the Spanish rider 18th in the general classification.

After suffering mechanical misfortune on yesterday’s stage Joan ‘Bang Bang’ Barreda decided to withdraw from the race this morning due to an injured hand. Barreda set the fastest time on three of the six days he raced at this edition of the Dakar and will be back to show his speed in the future.

There’s still plenty of racing left in Team Kamaz Master as they completed their strong finish to the week. Former Dakar winners Eduard Nikolaev and Ayrat Mardeev are at the controls of two Russian trucks making a charge up the rankings. Nikolaev won today’s stage and was followed home just 58 seconds later by Mardeev. The latest results put the duo both within 11 minutes of race leader Pieter Versluis, a minimal gap in the ever fluctuating truck contest.

It’s turning out to be a family affair in the quad race with Alejandro and Marcos Patronelliincreasing the cushion between themselves and the rest as the Dakar left Bolivia and returned to the brothers’ native Argentina. With four Dakar wins between them already it looks like a fifth could be waiting in Rosario.

There’s no racing against the clock tomorrow, but don’t let the term ‘rest day’ deceive you. Competitors will be putting in a long shift on Sunday alongside engineers and mechanics to ready their machines for the remaining 4,000km that still stands between themselves and the Dakar finish line.

The Premiere Motorsport Podcast