Dakar Stage 6 & 7 – Unstoppable Al-Attiyah
Quick Facts: Ha'il to Riyadh – 918 km in total.
358 km Special 560 km Liason
Originally meant to be more than 100 kilometres longer, the Stage 6 special needed to be altered thanks to the fallout from the previous day's rain damage. No one would be resting on their laurels as this would still be a mammoth stage to overcome. As Dakar nears its halfway mark, no one can tap off just yet.
It remains a 'maximum attack' to the end. The remaining 358-kilometre special would comprise more dunes and sand only. Something leader Nasser Al-Attiyah dreams of every night. Rocks and camel grass would be a thing of the past; for now — navigation and dune assessment is the day's priority.
Audi seemed to be under a curse of sorts suffering on the day. Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger were on the receiving end of the most damage after landing a 15-meter jump, with Peterhansel suffering from a concussion. Boulanger hurt his back in the process. Both driver and navigator needed to be hospitalised (we wish them a speedy recovery). Something no one wants to see. 'Control copy and control paste' for teammates Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz, who followed right behind and had the same accident. They ended up breaking their car's suspension but coming out unscathed.
The dunes would claim another runner for the overall victory. Yazeed Al Rajhi and Dirk Von Zitzewitz came to a halt after damaging suspension to their Hilux, putting them down on the leaderboard for the day and damaging their hopes of staying in the running. Guerlain Chicerit and Alex Winocq would be pressing hard in the fight with Henk Lategan and Brett Cummings, but the South Africans would come out on top of that fight, finishing P3 for the day.
Sebastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin's luck was turned around as he set off staying out of trouble the entire stage, capitalising on the bad luck of others. He finished in P2 for the day. There was, however, no stopping Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel, who continued their scalded cat-like charge through the desert, claiming P1 and extending his overall lead in the Dakar, stretching his lead to just over 1 hour overall. Henk Lategan and Brett Cumming's P3 for the day means they move up to P2 in the standings, with Giniel De Villiers and Dennis Murphy sitting in P4, 31 minutes behind Lucas Moraes and Timo Gottschalk. Brian Baragwanath and Leonard Cremer remain in top ten contention, sitting in P9.
Stage 7 – Advantage Toyota
Quick Facts: Riyadh to Al Duwadimi – 861 km in total.
333 km Special 528 km Liason
With the weather taking another side-step and offering torrential downpours, Dakar Director David Castera made the call to cancel the stage for the bikes and quads, leaving the cars to tackle the drenched desert. After a tough night of fixing cars for both Carlos Sainz and Yazeed Al Rajhi's mechanics after the two came home after dark following their disastrous day, both were ready to take on the marathon stage.
With Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel's previous stage win, they'd need to open the stage. With no bikes or quads in front, offering a guide as to the best route, they'd have their backs up against the wall and needed to play a more conservative game of focused navigation and taking care of the car, which is precisely what they did. Damage limitation for the day meant they'd lose out finishing P14 for the day but making use of that overall cushion of the rally lead, only losing 19 minutes. A result the pair would settle for.
Audi's desert curse continued with Mattias Ekstrom, who connected a big rock on the stage, destroying his tyre, rim and rear-left wishbone destroyed. They would end up losing a lot of time.
Yazeed Al Rajhi and Dirk Von Zitzewitz turned their disappointment around, winning the stage with Vaidotas Zala and Paulo Fiuza coming in P2. The final spot on the podium went to Guerlain Chicerit and Alex Winocq, who was one minute ahead of Giniel De Villiers and Dennis Murphy. The top 5 remain unchanged, with the Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel duo still on top. Giniel De Villiers managed to make up 6 minutes on this charge to P3 overall. This is one to watch.
Stage 8 awaits the competitors facing the 822 km route from Al Duwadimi back to Riyadh with a gruelling 346 km special stage. Toyota has the jump on Audi this year, but again these are early days, and just like what we've seen so far, nothing can be banked on. But don't rule out the Prodrive Hunters staying in the mix. Dakar is delivering the action, and even the weather is getting in on the action. But hey, it's not like we had any doubts.
Words: Brent vd Schyff