Stage 4 – Loeb flexes muscle in the Camel grass
Quick Facts: Ha’il > Ha’il – 573 km in Total 425 km Special 148 km Liaison
Following the previous day's torrential downpours, competitors would be longing for more arid terrain, which would seem like smooth sailing compared to the events that unfolded during the last stage. Stage 4 would offer precisely that. Giant mountains of sand, together with smaller demanding dunes, awaited everyone around the Ha'il area, a historical area once known for its camel caravan route between Damascus and Medina, transporting spice. Spice is a theme that would reappear at the end of the day.
If it were an absolute high for Orlando Terranova and Alex Haro Bravo, who finished P3 in the previous stage, it would be an absolute low the next day, needing to retire thanks to a recurring back injury for Terranova that has left the Argentinian in excruciating pain needing to retire after hitting a nasty jump. The conditions would be a gamble for all drivers needing to navigate the uncertain surface of the camel grass. High stakes, high rewards or losses.
Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz turned their previous miserable day into something more respectable, finishing P3 for the day. Yazeed Al Rajhi and Dirk Von Zitzewitz continue their consistent performance. Al Rajhi, with that home-ground advantage, clearly showed and ended P5 on the day and stayed in the hunt. As determined as ever, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel set out on a convincing run to avoid obstacles to finish P4 for the day.
The spoils for the day belonged to Sebastien Loeb and his Prodrive Hunter, who had no power steering for the last 30 km and fought back after a tough few days previously. The Frenchman valiantly shows what's made him the champion, he is pulling through with such grit. No power steering means he might have needed someone to brush his teeth that night. Dakar never bores.
Giniel De Villiers and Dennis Murphy finished the stage in a respectable P9, with Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings in P6, 7 minutes behind the leader. A P29 for Brian Baragwanath after a titanic struggle in the camel grass. He would have wanted something else, but this is Dakar, and we're still in the early stages.
Overall, Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel still top the table, with Yazeed Al Rajhi and Dirk Von Zitzewitz closely behind the pair by 18 minutes, followed by Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger, who's P2 for the day ensures they're right up there in the thick of things.
Stage 5 – Spice route in Ha’il
Quick Facts: Ha’il > Ha’il – 643 km in Total 373 km Special 270 km Liaison
About that Spice…News broke about an increase in power for the Entries (8kW) after data showed that the Audis were disadvantaged. The news broke, infuriating Al-Attiyah, who commented,” What a surprise to give our main rivals 11HP more!!!... Thank you for killing the race early” Al-Attiyah would not be taking this lying down.
Stage 5 and a shorter special compared to the previous day comprising mostly desert sand and smaller dunes. The loser of the day was Lara Sanz rolled their Astara five times. Both Navigator and driver left unhurt. Their Dakar hopes of finishing now, however, are in jeopardy. Sebastien Loeb was the next to go rolling after hitting camel grass, losing precious time. Audi’s previous reliability issues returned to haunt Mattias Ekstrom, who found himself stuck in the desert trying to diagnose a problem with the team back at the camp via satellite radio. The extra advantage contributed to Stéphane Peterhansel, and Edouard Boulanger would finish in P3 in their Audi behind fellow Audi teammates Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz. Nasser Al-Attiyah responded emphatically with a stellar performance to finish in P1 for the day, 1 m 57 secs ahead of the Spaniard and continued leading in Stage 6, extending his lead to 22 minutes and 36 seconds.
Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings finished the stage in P6, 12 minutes behind Al-Attiyah, with Giniel De Villiers and Dennis Murphy a further 7 minutes behind them. It wasn’t the best day, continuing the disappointment for Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer, who would cross the line P20. They will, however, be motivated as ever to turn this around. The teams now leave the Hai’il area for Stage 6. Destination…Riyadh and the longest stage of Dakar.
Words: Brent vand der Schyff