The 2013 is turning into an epic battle between the duo Stéphane Peterhansel’s X-Raid Mini and the Red Bull Buggy of Nasser Al-Attiyah. With today marking the halfway point of the even the competitors finally get a chance to rest at San Miguel de Tucumán in Argentina before the final half of the rally-raid: the surviving cars, bikes, trucks and quads still have 3,892km to navigate through Argentina and Chile before the finish in Santiago on January 20 – half of that competitively.
Following Carlos Sainz’s navigational problems, on Special Stage Five it was the turn for his Red Bull Buggy team-mate and second place man Al-Attiyah to hit trouble: he lost six minutes on the 172km stage after a 337km link section from Arequipa, which opened out the gap to Stéphane Peterhansel’s lead. Mini’s Nani Roma won the day, with a time that put him 10 minutes ahead of team-mate Peterhansel. Robby Gordon showed good pace, coming over the line with the third fastest time, but his Hummer is so far behind that it’s more about pride for the American driver.
The sixth day’s daunting 454km Special Stage from Arica to Calama in Chile saw Al-Attiyah set the fastest time and also pull back all but a minute to Peterhansel after almost five hours of competitive running. Gordon again finished third, showing that his Hummer has the speed if not the luck. As is typical with the Dakar, once trouble hits it tends to quickly accumulate: Carlos Sainz officially retired after more engine trouble, and fate has turned on Nani Roma. He fell from fifth to seventh place after losing an hour stuck in a dune, and would end the day an hour and a half off the lead.
Special Stage Seven across the mountains between Chile and Argentina was taken by Peterhansel, with Al-Attiyah falling back slightly after finishing only sixth fastest over the 220km. Giniel de Villiers’ Toyota continued to set impressive times, keeping third overall, but he is now 45 minutes behind the leading pair.
The eighth stage – and longest yet at 470km – in Argentina set a new challenge after a flooded riverbed meant competitors had to search for alternate crossing points: only five cars made it across before the banks burst and the stage was cancelled. The five finishers’ times were allowed to stand, but all the other competitors who had reached the impassable obstacle were given the same time as Peterhansel – the first of the chasing cars to be stopped by the water. Guerlain Chicherit’s SMG Buggy was one of the few to make it home, and his fastest time has closed him up to de Villiers third-place Toyota.
Dakar 2013: Positions after Stage Eight
1: Stephane Peterhansel (X-Raid Mini) 18h31m04s
2: Nasser Al-Attiyah (Red Bull Buggy) +3m14s
3: Giniel de Villiers (Imperial Toyota) +44m03s
4: Leonid Novitskiy (X-Raid Mini) +48m54s
5: Guerlain Chicherit (SMG Buggy) +1h04m50s