Dakar Rally Leg 3 - Summary
The competitors in the Dakar 2007 edition got to the heart of the matter today with their arrival in Africa after the night's crossing between Malaga and Nador. Taking advantage of his start in 5th position for today's special stage, Marc Coma
recorded the best time on a bike. The title-holder leads Chris Blais, who left in 79th position this morning. Isidre Esteve sits at the top of the rally's rankings whilst Cyril Despres lost more than 20' after having broken his gear-box.
Marc Coma kept with the pace without overdoing it during the two Portuguese special stages. He had not wanted to take any needless risks in Europe, but once he arrived in Morocco, the Spaniard gave a clear demonstration of his skills and ambitions, winning the ‘first round' of the battle between the favourites. Taking no time to catch up with his rivals in the KTM-Gauloises team, Esteve and Casteu, the Catalan, who won his first title without winning a single stage, hit even harder than last year right from the word go.
This was a special stage that could have held good fortune for Chris Blais. After having lost almost 11 minutes yesterday due to a serious oil problem, he took advantage of a late start to aim for a stage victory in Morocco. The young American, who had to overtake around forty competitors, recorded the best time at CP 1 (after 113 km), but then lost his lead in the most riding-friendly part. In the end, he fell short of Coma by 59''.
As regards the challengers for overall victory, Coma has therefore made up time on his rivals in the KTM-Gauloises team: 2'57 on Isidre Esteve and 3'28 on David Casteu. Nonetheless, Esteve heads the motorbike category with a lead of 26'' over Coma and 1'03'' over Casteu. The day's biggest loser was Frenchman Cyril Despres. Although he kept the pace until CP1, where he was classed third, the winner in 2005 broke his gear-box in the last part of the course and was obliged to finish the special section in first gear. Although he lost more than 22' on Coma during the day, the leader of the KTM – Gauloises team still harbours hope: "There's still a race to be won", he declared before setting off along the 192 km connection section to Er Rachidia… in first gear.
There were no such sudden new developments in the car rally.
After their demonstration in Portugal, the Volkswagens reinforced their excellent showing. Sixth to start, Giniel De Villiers picked up a sixth success in the special stage. The South African beat team-mate Carlos Sainz who won the previous stage, but on the other side of the Mediterranean. The two VW drivers fought ‘mano a mano', and they will be hoping to continue in this vein right up to Dakar. De Villiers eventually beat the former WRC champion by 25''. It is very likely that Sainz will be happy with his first place in the general rankings, though.
Whilst the Volkswagen drivers battled it out for victory, the Mitsubishis were distanced by more than 3'. Stephane Peterhansel, third-placed at 3'18'' behind, finished in front of his countryman Luc Alphand. Hiroshi Masuoka, who was keeping pace with the best at CP1, then suffered a power steering problem. The Japanese driver crossed the finish line almost 6' behind the winner.
As for the BMW X-Raid team, Jutta Kleinschmidt suffered another big blow. After experiencing electrical problems during the first stage, the German got stuck in a ditch this time, resulting, in a time loss of 28'46 at the finishing line.