Dakar Rally : Leg 2 - Summary
After the car-bike double the day before, Portugal was once again celebrating after its second and last special stage this year. On a route snaking through the hills of the Algarve where earth replaced sand, Helder Rodrigues recorded his first
victory on the Dakar, taking revenge on countryman Ruben Faria, who beat him into second place yesterday.
He had been aiming for victory on the first stage of the Dakar, but had to wait 24 hours to fulfil his goal. Portugal's Helder Rodrigues, who twice came 3rd last year, finishing in the top 10, made the most of the splendid Algarve tracks to record the time to be beaten on two wheels. On a very slippery surface, the Yamaha rider has confirmed his status as the leader for the Japanese constructor that he carved out in 2006. This success is all the more resounding, given that the last stage victories for the rising sun constructor, excluding the David Frétigné's seven victories during the last three years, date back to the Stéphane Peterhansel era. By 47 seconds, Rodrigues leadshis countryman Ruben Faria, a specialist on the Lusitanian tracks, but who was unable to avoid a fall which put paid to his hopes of a brace of victories. Yesterday's hero has been obliged to go to hospital to have checks on his injured knee.
Third after the 67-km special stage, Isidre Esteve is the best official KTM rider of the day, beating his team-mate David Casteu. For his first Dakar, Fabien Planet, French endurance champion, managed a promising 5th place on a route which, it's true, was perfectly suited to his skills. Similarly, Thierry Bethys, new to the rally last year, but with an impressive roll of honour of victories on the Touquet endurance event, finished his special stage just behind Planet. Cyril Despres had his first scare of the year. The winner in 2005 suffered a slight fall trying to avoid a spectator. He lost 13 seconds on the day's winner.
Carlos Sousa opened proceedings with the same ambitions as his countrymen who won on the bikes. However, the favourites seem to have called an end to playing cat and mouse. Spaniard Carlos Sainz, the winner who took all in 2006 in Portugal, did not pull his punches in Portimao.
Always in control, the former WRC champion gobbled up the narrow and slippery tracks tackled today. His colleagues in the Volkswagen team, who accomplished a great feat yesterday, had less impact in the south than in the north of the country. Especially Ari Vatanen who, after finishing within the same second as his former WRC rival yesterday, was left way back in the general rankings. After getting stuck in the middle of a ford with a flooded engine, his Race Touareg number 308 can already wave goodbye to any chance of overall victory.
As regards Mitsubishi, they are gradually getting up to speed. Luc Alphand, who lost several minutes due to a puncture yesterday, calmly climbed back up the rankings today. With the third best time today, 29'' behind Sainz, just like Roma, the title-holder is now 9'27''behind Sousa, who is still provisional rally leader. Before setting off for Africa, Guerlain Chicherit again showed himself to be the best placed to settle the Mitsu-VW duel: he arrived in 6th place in the general rankings, 4'49'' behind Sousa.