The Dakar Rally is experiencing one of its greatest ever duels, with Volkswagen team-mates Carlos Sainz and Nasser Al-Attiyah leaving nothing on the table in their quests for victory. Sainz won Stage 9 to close in on the overall leader.
A chaotic day for the bike field saw American Jonah Street take an unlikely victory while the top runners suffered from navigational errors.
The 225km Stage 9 took competitors back through Chile’s Atacama desert, with the loop stage providing plenty of sand dunes and navigational challenges.
Carlos Sainz won Stage 9 in dramatic circumstances, having raced wheel-to-wheel with team-mate Nasser Al-Attiyah over the final kilometres.
Al-Attiyah had started first on the road thanks to winning Stage 8, but the Spaniard soon caught up when the Qatari suffered an early puncture.
In the end, Sainz crossed the finish line four seconds behind Al-Attiyah, resulting in the former World Rally Champion reducing the deficit to the rally leader by 1:56s – leaving the gap at just over 3:18s.
“I’m happy with my day, especially since dunes, desert and off-track terrain aren’t my favourite type,” said Sainz at the end of the stage.
“We drove a good special. After 100 km we caught up with then overtook Nasser Al Attiyah.
“He had a puncture, but afterwards he clawed back a bit of time on us.
“Tomorrow it will be me opening the way and the roles will be reversed”.
Al-Attiyah, who has enjoyed a frosty relationship with Sainz since the pair were involved in a collision on last year’s rally, says he will follow the Spaniard tomorrow in order to protect his lead.
“We had a puncture and we lost time, but afterwards we came back again and caught Carlos Sainz, finishing in front of him,” said Al-Attiyah of today’s stage.
“I’m quite happy to finish today without any problems. The car is working very well.
“Tomorrow it will be very interesting because we start in second position. As the first car, you always lose time.
“I am sure tomorrow will be better for us and we will try our best. We’ll follow Carlos, just follow…”
The remainder of the top five finished the stage in their overall positions, with de Villies third, Peterhansel – having his first trouble-free day since the rest day – fourth and Volkswagen spares carrier Mark Miller fifth.
American Jonah Street emerged fastest from a memorable stage for the motorcyclists.
Stage 9 featured a ‘traditional’ Dakar start, with the first ten riders leaving the startline together, followed by the rest of the field in groups of 20.
Helder Rodrigues made the most of the situation to lead the opening kilometres. Bizarrely, the chasing nine riders, led by Cyril Despres and Ruben Faria, soon decided that Rodrigues was heading in the wrong direction, and left the Portuguese rider on his own.
With Rodrigues in fact the only one to correctly interpret the roadbook, a second stage win seemed assured. It wasn’t to be however, with the Yamaha running out of fuel after 225km. Rodrigues ended the stage 32nd, having lost well over half an hour waiting for more fuel – which was eventually supplied by Australian rider Jacob Smith.
With the top 10 riders now all out of contention for the stage win, American Jonah Street swept through to take the honours. After days of mechanical problems, it was a sweet victory for the Yamaha rider, who started the day in the third group.
“It’s awesome,” said Street, who suffered a fall during the stage when he was pitched over the handle bars in the soft sand.
“We’ve been capable of it all rally, it just hasn’t fallen into our plate.
“It’s awesome, totally awesome. It’s what we come here to do, to do the best we can and first is the best you can do, so to win a stage pretty special.”
Rodrigues later admitted that he had run out of fuel due to a navigational error at the 215km mark, which caused him to ride approximately 9km further than planned.
“I was riding really well until the 215 km point, then I got a bit lost,” he said.
“It’s terrible. 15 kilometres from here (the end of the stage) I had the best time, but that’s rallying for you”.
In a scrambled leader board, Frans Verhoven (BMW) took second, ahead of David Casteu (Sherco), Gerard Farres Guell (Aprillia) and Jordi Viladoms (Yamaha).
Rally leaders Marc Coma and Cyril Despres were ninth and seventh on the stage respectively, leaving the overall standings largely unchanged, with Coma still leading by eight minutes from the Frenchman.
Francisco Lopez was 10th on the stage to remain third overall, ahead of the troubled Rodrigues, who is now over an hour behind Coma.
Ruben Faria continues to run fifth, after he too was caught out by the navigation in Stage 9 – ending the day 26th.
Jacob Smith starred on Stage 9 courtesy of giving fuel to the stranded one-time stage leader Helder Rodrigues.
The day saw Smith 91st on the stage – dropping from 28th to 46th in the overall standings due to a three hour penalty.
In the Auto divison, Geoffrey Olholm was 25th today in his Rally Raid Desert Warrior, dropping six places overall to be 31st.
Just four stages remain on the 2011 Dakar, with tomorrow seeing competitors heading back across the Andes mountain range into Argentina.
A 686km liason will completed before the 176km Special Stage gets underway.
Video report to follow shortly