Like a desert scorpion, the Dakar Rally is renowned for having a sting in the tail. And with just three days of competitive action remaining, the race delivered its most challenging day yet, which caught out practically all of the top drivers.
La Rioja, Argentina – The Fiambala sand dunes required not only precise navigation today but also exceptional driving skill to negotiate the sand, rocks and gravel. So challenging was the stage that it was shortened by 34 kilometres from its original length of 278 kilometres.
At the end of it, Nasser Al-Attiyah emerged from the chaos holding the runner-up spot in the overall standings, behind the sole Peugeot remaining at the sharp end of the field, driven by Stéphane Peterhansel.
However, things hardly went according to plan for Nasser and his co-driver Mathieu Baumel. Within five kilometres of starting the stage, they were on their roof, as the result of tripping over an embankment.
Baumel, from the co-driver’s seat, described what went on: “Every time we’ve come to Fiambala it’s been an adventurous occasion!” he said. “But when you start with a roll after five kilometres, you know that it’s going to be a difficult day in the office! Afterwards, finding the waypoint was extremely difficult and I lost us 20 minutes. At the beginning of the second part of the stage, we got stuck in a dune with camel grass for a long time, so at the end it was a difficult day with a bad result. But the good thing is that we managed to come back to the bivouac and we’re even in second place. If there’s one thing we’ve seen from today is that anything can still happen.”
Having survived that incident with a time loss of around 15 minutes, the intrepid duo set off again, but it was to have far-reaching consequences. The accident damaged the roof and more importantly the Mini’s complex cooling system (with external temperatures still close to 40 degrees centigrade), which meant that Nasser and Mathieu had to keep stopping to ensure that the car was OK and would carry them to the end of the stage. In the end they made it with the 14th-fastest time: an indication of the savage rate of attrition that had carved up the field.
But nothing ventured, nothing gained. With the leading Peugeots demonstrating pace that he couldn’t live with, Al-Attiyah pushed hard to make up ground on the rally’s trickiest stage.
“We had to take some risks today, as it was a stage where we could make the difference,” said Nasser. “We needed to push but sometimes you can have bad luck. The dunes were more difficult than usual today, with lots of vegetation. But I’m happy just to make the finish: despite our problems we limited the time loss to Giniel de Villiers) and Mikko (Hirvonen). We’re second overall and now we have to try and defend this position.”
While Nasser is exactly an hour behind the leader, Peterhansel, he only has a 12-minute buffer over Toyota driver (and former Dakar winner) Giniel de Villiers, who moved up to third on today’s action-packed stage.
Today’s stage was designated as a ‘superspecial’, which meant that the competitors started in an unusual order, with the 10 fastest cars on the previous stage all starting alongside stage nine’s 10 fastest bikes and five fastest trucks. The first group of starters, including Nasser, didn’t get the best of the conditions.
There will be more sand tomorrow, including powdery fesh-fesh that can easily bog the cars down, as the crews head from La Rioja to San Juan, covering 431 competitive kilometres.
2016 Dakar Rally Stage Ten Results – Car race
1 Stéphane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) 3h58min32sec
2016 Dakar Rally Overall Results – Car race
1 Stéphane Peterhansel (F)/Jean-Paul Cottret (F) Peugeot 32h44min59sec