BELÉN, Argentina – Temperatures approaching 50 degrees plagued Stage 9 of the 2016 Dakar Rally on Tuesday resulting in the stage being shortened to only 90km for the cars and trucks though the motorcycles completed the full 285km.
The stage again brought mixed results for the South African Gazoo Racing team , with Dakar veterans Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz recording the best Toyota result of the day.
Stage 9, planned as a 285km loop over many dunes around the Argentine town of Belén, was clearly much more suited to the V8 Toyota Hilux race vehicles. Both De Villiers and Leeroy Poulter/Rob Howie had a flying start with Poulter at one point only two seconds behind the leader.
“Unfortunately things didn’t quite go to plan from that point,” Poulter said after reaching the bivouac at the end of the shortened stage. “We hesitated while entering a tricky canyon – there was Peugeot bodywork strewn around and we were overly cautious.”
Poulter/Howie lost time at the canyon before picking their way cautiously along the route. They also had two punctures on Stage 9 and finished 11th on the stage, just over 16 minutes behind stage winner Carlos Sainz (Peugeot). As a consequence they moved down to seventh overall, less than two minutes ahead of team mates Yazeed al-Rajhi/Timo Gottschalk.
Al-Rajhi/Gottschalk were eighth on Stage 9, losing 9min38 to Sainz. They started strong but struggled to find the first waypoint so lost almost 13 minutes early in the stage. They fought back, however, to restrict the damage and finished the day sixth overall.
The drive of the day, however, belonged to De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz who had had a bad day on Stage 8. They bounced back on Stage 9, posting the fourth-fastest time of the day, 38 seconds behind Sainz, despite a puncture mid-stage. This put them fifth overall with four stages to go.
De Villiers told the official Dakar media crew: “I’m a little bit disappointed that they stopped the stage because we were going quite nicely. We had a puncture after about 50km but after that we just tried to concentrate and stay at a good rhythm and make the right decisions in all the navigation place – the stage was very, very difficult.
“It was a very hard stage, a typical Dakar stage. We went well, so for us it was disappointing that they stopped the stage but in a way there will be a good reason for that, so we look forward to Thursday.”
NEW DRIVE SHAFTS FOR THE NEXT STAGE
Team principal Glyn Hall reported from Belén: “The terrain on Stage 9 was extremely tough but we are pleased that all three of our cars ran faultlessly,and are proud that the South African Toyota Hiluxes have proved so reliable.”
Each of the three bakkies was fitted with new drive shafts after Stage 9 in preparation for what could be be the deciding stage on this year’s race – Stage 10 through 278km of the famous Fiambalá dunes. This will be followed by a liaison of more than 400km before the Dakar caravan arrives in the city of La Rioja.
Four stages are left, with the Dakar drawing to a close in the Argentine city of Rosario on Saturday January 16. As things stand after Stage 9, the three Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux race bakkies are separated by only 10min07 and even though their crews are still fighting to make up positions in the overall standings the internal battle is clearly on as well.
De Villiers is leading but his team mates are breathing down his exhaust. The final four stages, Toyota believes, will be interesting. The start of the stage will be given with the 10 leading cars and the 10 fastest bikes of the day. As part of this new configuration the direct confrontation between the competitors could throw up plenty of surprises…
Their day was also marked by the interruption of the race at CP2 initially, and then at CP1. This early finish was legitimate in light of the number of competitors exhausted by the heat but it deprived Toby Price of the opportunity to open an even bigger gap in the general standings. Credited with the lead at CP1, he had an advantage of more than three minutes over Gonçalves (Honda) who then took a tree branch through his radiator.
With his main rival out of the picture, Price’s lead grew to more than seven minutes over Kevin Benavides (Honda) and 10min33′ over Stefan Svitko (KTM).
Heading towards the stage finishwith 11 other racers, Price pushed even harder to gain a further advantage of 14min40 over Svitko and 16min27 over Quintanilla (Husqvarna).
However, the halt at CP2 has proved to be providential for Gonçalves, who should be credited with a grouped time like all the riders stopped at this stage of the race. The Portuguese rider has therefore received a life-line and is not totally excluded from the battle for overall victory… as long as he can find a way, with his remaining team mates, to make sure that his Honda is operational again.
The leading Patronelli brothers were beaten on the stage by countryman Pablo Copetti. In full control on this first part of the marathon stage, Marcos leads Alejandro in the general standings by 1min13 with third filled by Alexis Hernandez more than 40 minutes behind.
It ws another trouble-free day for Gérard De Rooy and his Iveco. The Hollander beat countryman Ton van Genugten and Russian Andrey Karginov. In the general standings, De Rooy now leads by 27 minutes over Eduard Nikolaev, fifth on Stage 9, and more than 41 minutes over Federico Villagra.