Overall Results after Stage Seven
1, Cyril Despres, France, KTM 18:12:38
2, Marc Coma, Spain, KTM at 7 minutes 48 seconds
3, Helder Rodrigues, Portugal, Yamaha at 49:39
4, Paolo Goncalves, Portugal, Husqvarna, 55:33 (6 minutes penalty)
5, David Casteu, France, Yamaha at 1:05:38
6, Jordi Viladoms, Spain, KTM at 1:07:40
7, Gerard Farres Guel, Spain, KTM at 1:08:00
8, Stefan Svitko, Slovakia, KTM at 1:17:19
10, Joan Pedrero, Spain, KTM 51:23:48 (15 minutes penalty)
12, Alessandro Botturi, Italy, KTM at 1:34:10
13, Pal Anders Ullevalseter, Norway, KTM at 1:41:03 (40 minutes penalty)
15, Rubin Faria, Portugal, KTM, 2:00.39 (40 minutes penalty)
16, Felipe Zanol, Brazil, KTM at 2:13:46 (40 minutes penalty)
17, Paolo Ceci, Italy, KTM at 2:37:07
20, Henk Knuiman, Netherlands, KTM, 2:42:26
23, Johnny Aubert, France, KTM, 2:48:09
KTM’s Marc Coma and Cyril Despres, both 3 x Dakar winners, set out in Mar Del Plata on New Year’s Day each in pursuit of a fourth victory in the Dakar 2012, the world’s toughest rally. After Stage 7 and on the eve of the only rest day in the 15-day, 9,000 km competition, the rivalry is as fierce as ever. Coma took Stage 7 and Despres stays in charge of the overall standings
The two factory riders, one of the great rivalries in modern motorsports are equally determined to ensure that the 2012 edition is remembered as a copybook example of their skill and determination on their KTM 450 rally bikes.
On Saturday Coma secured his third stage victory but was closely shadowed the entire way by teammate Despres, and while Coma did manage to claw back two minutes in the overall standings, Despres still leads the field by almost eight minutes at the half way mark.
Cancellation of Stage Six breaks race rhythm
Neither rider was happy about having the rhythm of the competition broken on Friday when Stage Six had to be cancelled after the high mountain pass across the Andes Cordillero from Argentina into the coastal desert of Chile was closed overnight. Teams instead went in convoy across the mountains and down to Copiapo to prepare for the looped stage on Saturday that included 419 km of timed special that ended in the dunes of the notorious Atacama Desert, the driest place on the planet.
Despres opened the road as the winner of Stage 5 on Thursday but Coma rode like a man possessed, leading the stage throughout the second half of the times special. Throughout the day he was closely shadowed by Despres who was just as determined not to sacrifice too much of his overall lead. In what is as much a war of nerves and tactics as a battle on the course, the two riders attacked the hard and fast sand courses in the first half of the special and continued with equal passion into the dunes.
Marc Coma: “We all know that the stage before the rest day is always difficult, and today was no exception, with stifling heat and very soft sand. Nevertheless, we rode very fast and I was able to attack. I gained two minutes on Cyril but that is obviously not enough! We know the strategy well, so we are aware that I will probably gain two minutes one day, then Cyril will gain two minutes the next… And it is hard to change this when there is only one road. Anyway, we are second in the general classification on the rest day and everything is going smoothly, so it has been a good rally for us so far.”
Cyril Despres: I was a bit lazy today, since Marc led the race from km 200 onwards, the start of the second special, but I think that is also part of the race. There is always a strategic aspect, since we know we can control two-minute gaps. Having said that, I finished with my hands numb but it was a really beautiful special with beautiful dunes… And it feels good to lead the race on the rest day. I am happy.”
Still a long way to Lima
While the rally is far from over and riders are still to tackle brand new territory in Peru this year, the two lead KTM riders already have accumulated an impressive overall lead. Third placed Helder Rodrigues of Portugal is more than 49 minutes behind the leader. Ten KTM riders are currently in the top 20 and they include the factory team’s two support riders, Joan Pedrero of Spain, the water carrier for Marc Coma at overall tenth and Cyril Despres’ support rider Rubin Faria of Portugal who is currently 15th. Faria and Pedrero were eighth and eleventh in Stage 7. KTM Enduro factory rider Johnny Aubert, riding in his first Dakar and on a series bike is holding up well in 23rd overall.
No engine changes for KTM’s two leaders on rest day
After Stage 7, Alex Doringer, Team Manager of the KTM Factory Rally Team also announced that there are to be no engine changes to the KTM 450 rally bikes of the lead riders, Despres and Coma on the rest day on Sunday. Under the new regulations an engine change incurs a 15-minute penalty.
Of the six stages so far held in the 33rd edition, Coma has now won three and Despres two. Meanwhile the original field of 178 bikes had been trimmed by 50 by the start of Saturday’s stage and with navigation a key issue in Stage 7 organizers were expecting many of the riders to eventually get back to the bivouac during the night and even possibly tomorrow.
The Bavarian-Italian Husqvarna Rallye Team by Speedbrain is lying solidly at the halfway point of the Dakar 2012. Paulo Goncalves recorded another podium finish ahead of tomorrow´s rest day. The Portuguese used today´s stage seven to improve to fourth in the standings.
Goncalves was happy to finish the day in third. He had a decent outing and didn´t make any mistakes. At one point during the loop from Copiapo to Copiapo he was even leading. The route was hard and fast, then came different sections which required good navigation and a change of rhythm. Goncalves didn´t attack towards the end to save his machine. “I want to thank my team now that we´re at the halfway mark,” he said. “They do a great job and all is running smoothly and always well prepared”. Goncalves plans to go for the top three in the second week of the rally. He´s only sitting six minutes behind fellow countryman Helder Rodrigues.
Joan Barreda opened the day in third. He tried to close in on defending champ Marc Coma, but that didn´t work out. Barreda rode all day on his own, collected a lot of valuable experience, but he made a navigation error also. That costed him ten minutes. Nevertheless he was going strong and proved again to have podium speed.
Zé Hélio didn´t have the very best ride. The Brazilian had to deal with dust in the beginning and crashed once. He also had to repair a damaged front wheel. Jose Manuel Pellicer enjoyed a better day. The Spaniard arrived back at Copiapo in 21st place.
Team principal Wolfgang Fischer conducts a positive first week: “Basically we´re satisfied with the achievement so far. It´s not nice having lost Ike Klaumann from the race early. Everyone over here wishes him a fast and speedy recovery. Also it´s a little sad that Joan Barreda dropped back on two occassions, he has the speed to be a front-runner for sure.
“We´re having no technical problems whatsoever and our bike is totally competitive. A big thanks goes to all team members for their endless hours and for the excellent team spirit. The first week has been hard, harder than expected. We did a good job, many of our competitors already had to quit.”
Chaleco Lopez- I fell in the first part of the special – not very hard, but enough to re-awaken the pain in my right knee. In the second part of the special I suffered so much on the dunes that I was hardly able to ride. I do not know, but I fail to see how I could continue tomorrow. Fortunately, tomorrow is the rest day, so I will see the bivouac doctors and call mine, but I think my Dakar has come to an end. I am in a world of pain right now.
Chris Birch- Chris had a really good day, he was a bit nervous and I think he expected the day to be longer for him that it was. He made up 6 places today and is 41st overall.
Laia Sanz- closed the first week of Dakar with optimism and good race pace. The Catalan was happy with her role in the seventh stage: “Has been the first day that everything has gone well and I have fun.” In addition, I am happy because my hand is much better. Now gaining back positions slowly and not wanting to run faster than necessary. Leaving a few posts later because we will be faster than today because we will have fewer people front which delayed our rhythm. “Marc and I are doing what we have to do and will continue as well.”
Ned Suesse- is the only American left in the event, James Embro appears to have dropped out today. Ned finished the stage in 87th position today, not sure on the overall but that will drop him back a ways, but he just needs to keep it steady now as much of the real work is still in front of him.