A stage that was referred to as the “Devil’s Own” after its original length of 666 kilometers lived up to its name today, as the 2009 Dakar Rally continues to wind its way back to Buenos Aires.
Before the stage even began, changes were happening.
Citing problems such as—of all things—a lack of sand, as well as the testing nature of the stage today and those of the following days, the rally’s organisers decided to shorten the days timed sector by approximately 200km.
After this announcement, the Truck stage—the Trucks are always the last class to begin the stage–was shortened by a further 50km.
After the bike and car classes began, the stage the first test was a number of sand dunes, described on the official Dakar website as “cathedral.” On specialised sand tyres Robby Gordon’s Hummer was ahead of all but one competitor at the first checkpoint, 87km into the stage.
The only man bettering the American was Argentine Orlando Terranova, driving a BMW X3, who though lying eighth overall, some six hours behind the class leader at the time had jumped out to an early lead, bettering Gordon by 46 seconds and overall leader Carlos Sainz by over a minute.
It was a lead the Argentine kept for the second checkpoint after 178km, though Gordon had been leapfrogged by Sainz and VW team mate Giniel De Villiers and so dropped to fourth place. It was here that the Dakar began to show its teeth. Only two kilometres after the checkpoint Terranova rolled his car, and although both he and his co-driver were unhurt in the crash they were forced to withdraw from the rally, and so heartbreakingly from the stage lead.
This left the door open for one of the better duels for a stage win of the rally. At the next checkpoint after 222km (and two hours on the stage) South African De Villiers had fallen back with Sainz beating Robby Gordon’s Hummer by only four seconds. By the next timing point that four seconds had been reversed with Gordon running first over a minute and a half ahead of Sainz.
Again by the next checkpoint the positions had reversed, with Sainz leading Gordon by the same margin. Over the closing kilometres it might have been expected for Gordon’s sand tyres to tame the dunes that faced the runners late in the day, and so it was, with Gordon taking back the lead from Sainz to lead by 50 seconds with 60km—all sand—to go.
Hopes were high for Gordon’s first stage win of the 2009 edition, his first since his Dakar debut. However it was Sainz that came in first, eventually beating the Hummer into first by only 21 seconds after five and a half hours of competitive stage.
The other big story of the day took place in the moto class, with run away leader Marc Coma and Frenchman Cyril Despres making a navigational mistake taking them away from the fastest route and costing the both a chance of the stage win. They would eventually finish the day in sixth and seventh, nearly nine minutes behind the stage winner. However, despite his miscue Coma was still able to extend his lead by 14 minutes.
Today also another serious accident, but something more positive than the other major incidents of this year’s event. A special press release by the organisers describe that Spanish moto ride Christobal Guerrero had an accident 160km into the stage. His Iritrack—the emergency beacon—went off at 12:38pm (local time) and a helicopter was on the scene at 1:06pm to rush him to a local hospital.
After the tragedy that was the death of Pascal Terry, where the ASO’s communication problems may have stopped searches from finding him, it is nice to see the emergency procedures working as they were intended, giving Guerrero every possible chance at survival.