Today the Dakar Rally went from one extreme to another, following yesterday’s short stage with a 483km long epic, skirting Chile’s Atacama Desert between Copiapo and Antofagasta.
The result was one was of those days the Dakar Rally is famous for, with stage leads shifting and changing like the sands of the desert they’re racing through, and some competitors’ chances of an overall victory seem to have slipping though their fingers.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the bikes. Frenchman Cyril Despres started the day leading from David Casteu by a little under nine minutes, with Spaniard (and reigning champion) Marc Coma trying to stage a comeback after winning yesterday’s stage trying to fight back from several delays.
And early on in the stage it looked like the Coma renaissance would continue, as he took the stage lead from Despres in time for the second checkpoint at 138km. Coma was flying Despres by six minutes at the next checkpoint as he moved into the overall top five and toward a second consecutive stage victory—the first this year for anyone outside of the Truck class.
But it too was short lived as the Spaniard was stopped again by mechanical issues and lost 40 minutes fixing his bike. That, of course, saw Despres back into the stage lead, followed by Chilean Francisco Lopez Contardo and Casteu.
Or at least it should have been Casteu, had the Frenchman and his 450cc Sherco not been the latest victim of what is turning into an unforgiving race. The man who had won the opening stage fell heavily after 395km severely injuring his leg.
Such was the severity of his injury he was unable to set off his emergency beacon with David Fretigne and Paulo Goncalves stopping to help Casteu for the five minutes before a helicopter evacuated him to the bivouac for medical attention.
Casteu’s misfortune left Despres and Lopez Contardo alone at the head of the stage times, Fretigne third fastest, now twelve minutes adrift. In the closing kilometres, the home country hero eclipsed Despres, leading at the fourth and final checkpoint by 1:14, extending his lead by another sixteen seconds to take the stage win in his home country and giving the Italian manufacturer better known for Superbike exploits its first Dakar stage win.
Fretigne finished the stage third ahead of Despres’ teammate Ruben Faria and Norwegian privateer Pal Anders Ullevalseter.
It was a similarly topsy-turvy day in the cars. The VW army were in fine form early on in the stage with the five Race Touareg 2 machines of Mark Miller, Giniel de Villiers, Carlos Sainz, Mauricio Neves, and Nasser Al-Attiyah locking out the top five positions at the first checkpoint.
And then the day got better for VW, as it got worse for Stephane Peterhansel.
The BMW driver, then the only man who stood between VW and domination, stopped apparently with driveshaft problems at 135km. He tried to repair the car and minimize the time lost to the Touareg phalanx, but it was to no avail.
When the X-Raid car finally got going again it had lost over and hour to Miller, the leading VW, and was struggling as the problem had left the normally 4WD BMW languishing with 2WD.
That handed the non-VW stage win challenge duties over to a car that was intended to be 2WD: Robby Gordon’s Hummer Buggy.
Gordon, starting first today after his narrow win yesterday, was fast throughout the day looked like he could spring another surprise as he gained on Miller through the second half of the stage.
He was six minutes behind at 224km, four minutes 100km later, and had pulled in to scarcely two minutes behind before the final, mostly downhill, 27km blast to the stage finish.
And when the results came in it was an American at the top.
But that American was not Robby Gordon, it was Mark Miller (from Phoenix) who won the stage ahead of teammates Sainz (who took the overall lead) and Al-Attiyah, Gordon’s Hummer losing two minutes and slipping to fourth fastest.
Struggles for the pre-stage leaders were again a theme of the quad class, as the curse of the stage win struck again, with Alejandro Patronelli the latest victim as the Yamaha ride lost nearly 90 minutes between 138km and 187km.
With his brother disappearing down the order, Marcos Patronelli had the opportunity to extend his overall lead. Having taken the stage lead after Martin Plechaty had crashed into retirement at 127km, the younger brother exchanged the lead with Uruguayan Luis Henderson before pulling out nearly a 20 minute lead at the third checkpoint at 339km.
Patronelli won the stage in 7h39:49, underlining the huge proportions of the day, beating his countryman Jorge Miguel Santamarina by 29:41.
Stage Five Results
1. Francisco Lopez Contardo (Aprilia) 5h52:40
2. Cyril Despres (KTM) +0h01:30
3. David Fretigne (Yamaha) +0h13:13
4. Ruben Faria (KTM) +0h15:09
5. Pal Anders Ullevalseter (KTM) +0h18:24
1. Mark Miller (VW) 5h06:15
2. Carlos Sainz (VW) +0h02:10
3. Nasser Al-Attiyah (VW) +0h04:27
4. Robby Gordon (Hummer) +0h04:48
5. Mauricio Neves (VW) +0h09:21
1. Marcos Patronelli (Yamaha) 7h39:49
2. Jorge Miguel Santamarina (Can-Am) +0h29:41
3. Juan Manuel Gonzalez (Yamaha) +0h32:54
4. Rafal Sonik (Yamaha) +0h40:18
5. Bernardo Graue (Can-Am) +1h31:04
1. Firdaus Kabirov (Kamaz) 5h48:50
2. Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz) +0h00:19
3. Joseph Adua (Iveco) +0h37:48
4. Ilgizar Mardeev (Kamaz) +0h42:28
5. Marcel Van Vliet (Ginaf) +0h43:12
Overall Standings After Stage Five
1. Cyril Despres (KTM) 16h38:26
2. Francisco Lopez Contardo (Aprilia) +0h37:37
3. Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha) +0h44:01
4. Alain Duclos (KTM) +1h01:34
5. Pal Anders Ullevalseter (KTM) +1h08:07
1. Carlos Sainz (VW) 16h10:51
2. Nasser Al-Attiyah (VW) +0h04:37
3. Mark Miller (VW) +0h09:39
4. Robby Gordon (Hummer) +0h59:55
5. Carlos Souza (Mitsubishi) +1h13:22
1. Marcos Patronelli (Yamaha) 20h48:02
2. Jorge Miguel Santamarina (Can-Am) +1h00:36
3. Juan Manuel Gonzalez (Yamaha) +1h07:13
4. Alejandro Patronelli (Yamaha) +2h07:45
5. Oldrich Brazina (Polaris) +2h47:23
1. Vladimir Chagin (Kamaz) 18h20:32
2. Firdaus Kabirov (Kamaz) +0h26:08
3. Marcel Van Vliet (Ginaf) +3h07:26
4. Ilgizar Mardeev (Kamaz) +3h41:12
5. Johan Elfrink (Mercedes) +4h06:14