X-RAID'S PETERHANSEL CLIMBS TO EIGHTH AFTER SETTING FASTEST TIME INTO IQUIQUE
* Chicherit delayed and rises to seventh overall
* Novitskiy snatches fifth fastest time and holds 10th
* Carlos Sainz extends his overall rally lead to 15m 24s
IQUIQUE (Chile): Team
X-raid GmbH's Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret bounced back from their fifth stage disappointment to claim outright victory and eighth overall on the 418km special stage of the Dakar Rally between Antofagasta and Iquique in Chile on Thursday.
The Frenchman's 20th Dakar stage victory in a car (53rd in total) capped an excellent day in the Atacama desert for the Trebur-based team of three surviving BMW X3 CCs. Russia's Leonid Novitskiy and German co-driver Andreas Schulz set the fifth fastest time to move up from 14th to 10th overall.
Frenchman Guerlain Chicherit and Swedish co-driver Tina Thõrner recovered from early stage delays to set the eighth quickest time and they hold seventh, giving team director Sven Quandt three cars inside the overall top 10 of the world's most famous rally after six days.
Peterhansel had dropped to 10th in the overall standings at the start of the sixth stage into Iquique after Wednesday's transmission woes but, despite setting the 33rd fastest time on stage five, he was permitted to start stage six from 14th position on safety grounds.
"I am surprised that we have done as good a time as we have, because we spent 200 kilometers in the dust of others," said Peterhansel. "But, for 150 km, we found a good rhythm, ensuring good navigation. We scaled our goals down, for sure. It was the victory and it is now much more complicated. So I want to ride as fast as possible and take the X3 to the best possible finishing place. We can, perhaps, get closer to the top five or even the top three. We will see."
Only 250 of the original 362 entrants, including 82 of the 134 cars that crossed the start line in Buenos Aires on New Year's Day, began the stage.
Peterhansel shadowed Robert Baldwin through the first 68km, with Novitskiy lying in fifth position. Chicherit was delayed and dropped 16 minutes to the leading Hummer.
Peterhansel had taken the lead by the 153km checkpoint and extended that on-stage advantage over Sainz to 2m 19s through 195km, where rockier terrain gave way to sandier conditions. Novitskiy held fifth and Chicherit had climbed back from earlier delays and was running as the 15th fastest driver on the stage.
The flying Frenchman maintained his lead through the checks at 252km, 292km and 359km and eventually finished the timed section 47 seconds in front of Carlos Sainz, who extended his lead to 15m 24s lead in the overall classification. Peterhansel overtook 11 cars during his superb stage performance.
Tomorrow (Friday) the route turns south from Iquique towards Antofagasta for the last stage before Saturday's rest day. A short 37km liaison section guides crews to the start of the longest special stage of the entire rally -- a daunting 600km competitive challenge, which finishes a mere four kilometres from the coastal city. The stage features seven passage controls and two refuelling points for the bikes.
Event officials reckon that this will be the most varied special of the entire Dakar, featuring sand dunes, an unusual area called the salar (crystallized salt blocks) - where speeds may drop as low as 10km/h - and faster and rockier sections to the finish. The rulebook permits competitors to reach the rest day by 18.00hrs the following day -- such is the potential severity of the stage.