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Motorsports Mondial


Dakar Rally Victories, Lima

While the last special was won by Norway’s Pâl Anders Ullevâlseter (motorcycles) and Robby Gordon (cars), France’s Cyril Despres and Stéphane Peterhansel took their fourth and tenth Dakars respectively, all categories included. The champions were applauded on the podium on Lima’s Plaza de Armas by a huge crowd which came to acclaim both the competitors and the arrival of the greatest rally raid in the world to Lima’s capital. All in all, 97 motorcycles, 12 quads, 78 cars and 60 trucks made it to the finishing line of the 33rd Dakar, i.e., 249 of the 443 vehicles which started the rally in Mar del Plata.

Advantage Despres… The demonstration was decided at all levels. After covering 8,300 kilometres on roads, courses and dunes since the start in Mar del Plata, the gap between Marc Coma and Cyril Despres is 53’20”. The Frenchman has won his fourth title in Lima… One more than his great rival in the elite of this sport! Once again, the extremely close race between the two champions proved that one has to be an all-rounder in order to win a Dakar: physical stamina is important, navigational mistakes were tiny but enough to decide their duel, their piloting was as good as it was fast, strategy played an important role, the mechanical aspect (on identical KTMs) was well-managed… with a disappointment for Marc Coma: on the eve of the finish, a gearbox breakdown prevented him from fighting on at a time when he was leading the general classification. The Catalan was also forced to replace his engine, which gave rise to a 45-minute penalty pursuant to the new rule. This time loss proved fatal, following a two-week battle in which victories were measured in seconds.

Behind Despres and Coma, the riders vying for a podium spot were never in a position to challenge the title contenders. Strong and consistent Hélder Rodrigues finished the rally in 3rd place, just like last year. He took a stage win but ended up 1 h behind the French champion. He may be able to mount a stronger challenge if he ends up with a Yamaha YZF, which neither David Casteu nor Olivier Pain was able to place at the top of the classification. On the route between Mar del Plata and Lima, those following the motorcycle category discovered that the future of Catalonia no longer rests exclusively on Marc Coma’s shoulders. The breakthrough of this year came from Joan Barreda, who lost all chances of shining in the overall classification at the beginning of the rally (11th at the end) but was still able to leave his mark on the race, with a stage win and eight specials in the Top 5.

Italy’s Alessandro Boturri was the fastest rookie in the Dakar (8th, 2 h 59’04” behind Despres), racing for the new team Bordone-Ferrari, which also placed Jordi Viladoms in fourth. The Catalan clan can be happy, with Laia Sanz taking the win in the ladies’ category. On the other hand, Stéphane Hamard won the classification of riders participating without assistance.

In the car category, everyone expected it to be a Mini affair, since the X-Raid team seemed to have the best hardware and the best drivers… and this was the case! In the end, the Frankfurt-based team won eight stages out of thirteen with four different pilots (with Stéphane Peterhansel taking three). Most importantly, the team was always in command of the overall classification. Therefore, it was no surprise to see the main duel take place between “Peter” and his most experienced teammate, Spain’s Joan “Nani” Roma. Although he took the lead in stage 3, master “Peter” still had to wait until the penultimate stage to get an unassailable advantage. In the end, Stéphane Peterhansel took his fourth win in the car category (the first in South America) with a margin of 41’56” over the Catalan driver, joining Vatanen as the record-holder in the car category. Most importantly, the driver from Vésoul has written yet another chapter in the history of the Dakar with his tenth win, all categories included!

Nevertheless, X-Raid’s irresistible performance cannot hide Robby Gordon’s comeback. Aided by the driving skills of his teammate and defending champion, Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, and propelled by the raw power of his car (whose compliance with the rules was disputed), the driver from California left his mark on the 33rd edition of the rally, both on the course and in the bivouac, since he was the only pilot able to stand up to the X-Raid tyranny. But, despite his three stage victories, Gordon only managed to finish fifth in the overall classification, more than 2 h 15′ down.

The highlight of the 2012 Dakar was the performance of ever-consistent Giniel de Villiers, with a less boisterous but more effective style. Although his preparation was cut short and the project was still in the making, the South African driver managed to crack a podium place in the very first participation of the new Toyota. This will give him confidence and ambition for the future.

Finally, the win in the two-wheel drive category went to Ronan Chabot and his SMG buggy. He was extremely consistent and beat South Africa’s Mark Corbett by over nine hours. This margin would have made much easier the life of Xavier Foj, the winner of the production category! But once again, the Spaniard had to wait until the final part of the race to open the decisive gap and win the race against his best enemy, Japan’s Jun Mitsuhashi, by 59′.

The statistics of the quad category are misleading. Defending champion Alejandro Patronelli managed to get back-to-back wins. He seized the lead after the Copiapó-Copiapó loop and never let it go. His brother Marcos lost all his chances when he conceded 1 h 20′ in stage 7. But the formal domination of the race by the elder of the brothers from Las Flores was contested throughout the entire rally by another Argentinean: Tomás Maffei. Last year’s seventh-placed pilot took the lead after stages 4 and 5 and was able to cling onto the Patronellis, only losing his second place after stage 9. The list of stage winners is proof of how hotly contested the race was: four for Maffei, including the prestigious finale in Lima, and three for each of the brothers. Behind the terrific trio, Chile’s Ignacio Casale and Uruguay’s Sergio Lafuente round off the Top 5… over six and eight hours back, respectively. The Italo-French pilot Camelia Liparoti went one better than last year, finishing ninth.

Finally, today will go down in history as the first time the Dakar rally was won by Gerard de Rooy and the Italian constructor Iveco. A winning combination which already seemed to have it in the bag at the start in Mar del Plata, such were the means mobilised by the Dutch armada to reach their goals. Nevertheless, the balance was only tipped in favour of De Rooy Jr after stage 9, with the withdrawal of Aleš Loprais due to an accident. The young Czech driver had been able to keep Gerard de Rooy in his sights until then, losing only 15’39” in the general classification. Despite this mano a mano, it was De Rooy who left his mark on the 2012 edition by taking the most stages (5) and leading the race from stage 4 onwards. 25 years after his father Jan, Gerard has written a new chapter of De Rooy history in the Dakar, in a category marked by the failure of the Kamazs to repeat last year’s dominating performance. The overhaul of their management team still has to pay dividends. Eduard Nikolayev’s disqualification for anti-sportive behaviour in stage 4 showed just how difficult the transition is proving to be. Nevertheless, this allowed Andrey Karginov and the reserved Kazakh Artur Ardavichus to shine by taking their maiden victories at the Dakar.

Motorsports Mondial


Dakar Rally, Nasca

Taking advantage of the starting order today, the third man out, Marc Coma, achieved a not inconsiderably splendid performance in the dunes at the end of the special stage to pick up his 5th stage victory of 2012. More importantly, the Catalan beat his main rival Cyril Despres by 3’57” and regained the lead in the general standings by 1’35”. In the car race, whilst American Robby Gordon picked up the gauntlet by winning his 2nd stage victory of 2012, the day especially saw a big fright for Stephane Peterhansel when he became stuck for several long minutes in the dunes, before finally conceding only 2’49” to Nani Roma, who he still leads by 20 minutes in the general standings.

Assisted by the strategy used yesterday, which enabled him to start the day’s special in 3rd position, Marc Coma went on all out attack throughout the 197 kilometres of the timed section on the 12th stage, picking up his 21st stage victory on the Dakar. At the finishing line, the Spaniard beat his two countrymen, rally revelation Joan Barreda, 2nd 2’43” behind, and Jordi Viladoms, 3rd 3’10” behind.

Handicapped by having to open the road, Cyril Despres tried everything to foil the Catalan’s strategy. Risking everything, the Frenchman managed to only concede a little more than thirty seconds before getting to grips with the unstable dunes on the last part of the special stage. On this tricky terrain, despite the enjoyment he claimed, the man from Andorra could not prevent himself from losing time whilst opening the road, finally conceding 3’57” to his main rival.

Two days from the finish in Lima, Coma has taken command of the general standings, 1’35” ahead of Despres, who nevertheless may have played a good strategic card, since he will have the advantage of starting in 4th position tomorrow, whilst his Catalan rival will have to open the road… Behind, the battle for the 3rd place on the podium is still close: Helder Rodrigues, 7th today 7’31” behind Coma, lost 4’21” to his main rival Jordi Viladoms, and now only has a lead of 26’45” over the 2nd Catalan in the Top 4.

Whilst Gordon put on a show, “Peter” got a big fright… After losing 1 hour and 50 minutes due to a mechanical problem yesterday, Robby Gordon only has stage victories to look forward to as a consolation on the Dakar 2012. Twenty-second to start this morning, the American went on the attack from start to finish on the day’s special, annihilating the competition to pick up his 6th stage victory on the Dakar, 15’18” ahead of Russian Leonid Novitskiy, and 22’06” in front of South African Giniel De Villiers.

Respectively 1st and 2nd to get to grips with the tracks this morning, Stephane Peterhansel and Nani Roma both came close to a major setback today when they both got stuck in the sand for a not inconsiderable time. Stephane Peterhansel seemed to fair worse, losing almost 20 minutes to get out of a “sink hole” between dunes after 145 km. However, he hurtled back into the race over “the 50 km where I’ve attacked the most during the whole rally” in his own words. The man from Vésul eventually caught up with his team-mate and nonetheless rival just before the finishing line to only concede 2’49” to Roma, the Catalan having also encountered the same sort of problems after 155 km, but taking less time to get over the mishap.

Two days from the finish, in the general standings, Stephane Peterhansel therefore brilliantly limited the damage today and now has a lead of exactly 20 minutes over Nani Roma. Behind them, Giniel De Villiers still appears able to protect his 3rd place until Lima, but still has to steer clear of problems and keep a watchful eye on Robby Gordon in fourth who probably still has not given up hope of a podium finish, despite trailing the South African by 37’24”.

42 seconds separated the two Patronelli brothers on the finishing line in Nazca, but this time Marcos was king of the reduced pack of quads still in the race. After Alejandro on Thursday in Arequipa, the 2010 winner triumphed in a stage that was a carbon copy of the previous days’ scenarios. The two Patronellis and Maffei are singing from the same hymn sheet without worrying about the other competitors, who are struggling to get themselves noticed. In spite of the difficulties announced and encountered during the day, none of the leading trio faltered and the general standings, with gaps in the region of an hour separating the three men, seems almost set in stone with the perspective of an all Argentinean podium.