X-RAID'S PETERHANSEL LOSES CRUCIAL TIME ON THE ATACAMA STAGE INTO ANTOFAGASTA
* Chicherit seals sixth fastest time and climbs to eighth * Novitskiy takes 10th; Carlos Sainz inherits outright lead
ANTOFAGASTA (Chile): Team X-raid GmbH's Stephane Peterhansel and
Jean-Paul Cottret endured a disappointing fifth stage of the 2010 Dakar Rally between Copiapo and Antofagasta in Chile on Wednesday.
The French duo began the day with a 7m 36s advantage in the general classification in their BMW X3 CC, but were forced to stop on two occasions during the stage with a broken prop shaft.
Stephane had dropped two hours and four minutes to the leading driver after 339km of the stage and was struggling to the stage finish in two-wheel drive as the leading crews arrived in Antofagasta on Wednesday afternoon. He eventually finished the stage in 33rd place and slipped to 10th in the overall standings.
The special stage win fell to American Mark Miller, but Spaniard Carlos Sainz now holds a 4m 37s outright lead for the first time.
"It is obviously very disappointing for the whole team," said X-raid team director Sven Quandt. "Stephane was driving superbly and then we have this unfortunate mechanical problem. This was a new prop shaft that we had fitted last night and it failed after 120km today. It is so difficult to drive this stage in two-wheel drive and just reaching the finish without dropping too much time is an achievement in itself."
Guerlain Chicherit and Tina Thõrner started the longest stage of the event so far from 12th position on the road and managed to secure the sixth fastest time in their BMW X3 CC. They move up from 11th to eighth in the overall standings.
Russia's Leonid Novitskiy and German co-driver Andreas Schulz began the day in 18th place in the overall standings and the 10th fastest time saw them climb into 13th overall in the third Trebur-built BMW X3 CC
The fifth stage began at Inca del Ora and included four passage controls before finishing 97km from Antofagasta. X-raid crews held fourth, ninth and 11th trough the first rocky and stony 53km, with Peterhansel trailing stage leader Sainz by 53 seconds.
The Frenchman began to lose touch with the leading trio over the subsequent kilometres and trailed stage leader Miller by 4m 20s at the 123km mark. He was then forced to stop with a broken prop shaft at the 135.5km point on stony terrain and duly slipped off the leader board. He eventually passed the checkpoint 1h 03m behind Miller.
Miller, Sainz and Giniel de Villiers took up the running at the front of the field, with X-raid's Chicherit in seventh position - 5m 55s behind the leading American - and Novitskiy in a virtual 14th, although the Russian climbed to 12th after 187km. Peterhansel continued to lose time to the leaders and was 1h 19m behind at the checkpoint.
The Frenchman was forced to stop again for over 25 minutes with ongoing drive problems after 215km and reached the 244km point, 1h 53m behind the stage leader. It was a disappointing end to a brave challenge for outright victory for Peterhansel, Cottret and the X-raid team.
Tomorrow (Thursday) the 598km leg features typical Mauritanian-type dune crossings, fast off-piste tracks and mountaineous walls of sand before the descent into Iquique and the overnight halt at the side of the Pacific Ocean.
A 180km liaison from Antofagasta, via La Chimba National Reserve, guides teams to the stage start near Coya Sur to the west of Calama, a former rest halt town on the Patagonia-Atacama Rally.
The stage then heads north through the Pampa del Tamarugal National Reserve, before turning west towards the coast and the finish in Iquique. This reserve is world renowned for its rare forests found in the middle of the rainless desert.
Iquique is the capital of the Tarapaca region of northern Chile and is one of the largest duty-free commercial ports in South America. Copper mining is a major contributor to the local economy.