As the 2009 Dakar Rally enters its final week NASCAR driver Robby Gordon continues to turn in impressive performances and challenge the drivers of the factory Volkswagen and Mitsubishi teams.
Gordon, driving a two-wheel-driver Hummer H3, prepared by Team Dakar USA—a division of the same Robby Gordon Motorsports empire that fields the No. 7 Sprint Cup Car—finished today's ninth stage in third, just over two minutes behind stage winner and two-time World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz, driving a works VW.
Today's stage leaves Gordon fifth in the car category, one hour and 34 minutes behind class leader Sainz.
Sainz is followed in the order by two VW team mates, American Mark Miller and South African Giniel de Villiers, and Joan Roma in a works backed Mitsubishi.
Gordon is safely in fifth, 38 minutes behind Roma, whom Gordon made 26 minutes up on today and over 90 minutes ahead of sixth place.
While such formidable time gaps may make any improvement of position a daunting task, there is still a chance, and Gordon himself appears confident. This year's Dakar has proved itself more than willing to break a winning chance in an instant.
Early leader Nasser Al Attiyah was thrown out of the rally late last week after missing two of a stage's waypoints and gaining an advantage. Past winners (and works Mitsubishi team mates) Luc Alpand and Stephane Peterhansel were both forced to withdraw from the race, Alphand after a health scare for his co-driver and Peterhansel after a catalogue of technical problems, including a fire in his engine.
In an interview after today's stage Gordon described how his Hummer was running perfectly and was looking forward to the upcoming stages, including what is rumoured to be the hardest stage on the rally tomorrow. He said how each extra kilometre was a chance for his competitors to make a mistake or their cars to break—a chance he hoped to take advantage of.
Gordon's Hummer is equipped with tyres designed for sand, and that exactly is what tomorrow's stage includes. However, there are unconfirmed stories that, much like several other stages so far, the stage may be shortened—a change that would not suit Gordon as a majority of the sand dunes lay late in the stage.
Gordon has previously competed in the rally on three occasions, finishing 12th in 2005, running for the very works VW team who are now his main opposition, before moving to drive a Hummer, failing to finish in 2006 and finishing eighth in 2007.
Elsewhere in the rally, Gordon's de facto teammate, Frenchman Eric Vigouroux, lies 22nd in the car category, benefiting from the same consistency and reliability as Gordon's car.
The bike race is dominated by Spaniard Marc Coma, who runs over an hour ahead of his closest competitor. The truck race is currently led (and at the time of writing the first truck runners are yet complete stage nine) by Vladimir Chagin, 20 minutes ahead of Gerard De Rooy.
The Dakar Rally finishes in Buenos Aires on Sunday. There are six stages left to complete.