Marc Coma has avoided a rash of transmission problems with the new KTM 690 machines. The latest caused his nearest competitor, Isidre Esteve Pujol, to fall over two hours behind. Coma’s lead is now quite comfortable.
Isidre Esteve Pujol had a day he’d rather forget after taking yesterday off for the sole period of rest these competitors will get. The Gauloises KTM rider hadn’t finished outside the top-5 throughout the opening half of the Rally but a broken transmission, identical to the one suffered by his teammate, Cyril Despres, on Stage 3, left the Spaniard in 38th today. Esteve Pujol finished 2:10’10 behind stage winner and overall leader, Marc Coma. The Repsol KTM rider now has the lead well in hand as he is nearly 55 minutes ahead of the rebounding Despres and 2:20’57 over Esteve Pujol who fell to eighth.
During the 589 km special test en route to Tichit, Pal Anders Ullevalseter of Norway finished third ahead of David Casteu and Frans Verhoeven. Verhoeven catapulted from 10th to sixth in the overall standings while Casteu and Ullevalseter are now nestled in third and fifth, respectively.
The current string of transmission problems with KTM’s new 690 machine may play a decisive role in the success of American Chris Blais. The Red Bull KTM contestant chose to stick with the trusty KTM 660 Rally while most of his competitors jumped to the bigger bike. He finished sixth today but moved back into the fourth spot overall courtesy of Esteve Pujol and the aforementioned tranny woes. Blais had dropped to fifth just before the rest day after his humanitarian efforts with the injured Jordi Viladoms in Stage 7. He’s a distant 1:31’26 off the leader but only 28 minutes off the podium.
Casey McCoy took 34th and is in 35th overall on his Pai-Rally American KTM 525 XC.
Marc Coma (Repsol KTM) – Winner, 1st OA
The stage was long and hard: 8 hours on a bike is not easy. In the beginning, we had a lot of rocks and sand mixed together. Then, terrain was better. I caught up with Cyril (Despres) and at CP 2 we heard that Isidre (Esteve) had problems. Then we drove together Cyril and I at a good pace but not at full speed. It’s a pity for Isidre because the battle was interesting and it was providing for a great show. But nothing is settled yet. I only took a little step in the right direction. But those who know the rally know that Mauritania is very demanding. So as long as you’re not out of it. Tomorrow I will be the first to start the stage and it’s always tricky. I will have to study the road book carefully.
Pal Anders Ullevalseter (KTM) – 3rd, 5th OA
I spent most of my day alone. I couldn’t keep up with Coma from km 150 onwards. He is really something. He did not make any mistake. But I had a rather good day, I felt strong. I did not make any navigation error. Tonight I will have to change the wheels because there were many rocky trails. As for the overall rankings: before the start, I was aiming at a place in the top 5, now I just want to take it one day at a time. We will start thinking about strategy in a few days and wait for others to maybe make mistakes.
Cyril Despres (Gauloises KTM) – 2nd, 2nd OA
It was really a great stage with 150km of very demanding course at the end of the route: turn after turn on soft sand with camel grass as soon as you leave the trail. At mid special stage, we had almost 200km of sandstorm blowing right in our faces. At one point, I got stuck in a dune; it took me a while to lift up my bike. It’s more or less when Marc caught up with me. Then we rode together without attacking because the pace was already high enough. Physically, I feel tired because it is the first really difficult stage. Imagine, it’s almost like finishing Paris-Marseille on a bike with just small trails as roads! But I am thrilled; this is what Dakar is all about for me: it’s an endurance race in the desert. What is interesting for me is that I may not have the speed of a Coma on 200 km, but on a 600km stretch, I do. As for final victory, it may even be a game of musical chairs because mechanics is involved. With this gearbox problem, we are all crossing our fingers because none of us is safe. The advantage is that five or six days ago I had lost the Dakar and now I am second at 54′, but no one can really tell who will win in the end. The problem is that there is a faulty part somewhere on all our bikes and no one is to be blamed for it. KTM does not have the same money as Mitsubishi or VW in the cars category. Personally, I have been riding with them for more than six years and may have driven 150,000 km and I had never had any problem before this year.
David Casteu (Gauloises KTM) – 4th, 3rd OA
I am sad about what just happened to Isidre. He was the only one who could really counter Coma, now it will be much more difficult to go get him. As far as I’m concerned, I made a mistake in the beginning of the stage already. Actually I think I was looking for a piece of land to buy in Mauritania! I did not even see Isidre and Marc pass me. When I finally found my way, I just saw there was a bit more tracks than previously. It’s part of the reason why I lost so much time. But I also did not forget that it was a marathon stage, so I preserved my machine. Actually, the bike did not hit the ground a single time and it’s exactly what I wanted. Breaking the gearbox is of course a risk. I can tell you that every time I change gear I do it gently. As I would with a woman!
Isidre Esteve (Gauloises KTM) – 34th, 8th OA
Everything was going fine this morning. At CP1 it was perfect. I was with Cyril (Despres) and Marc (Coma). But on km 230 my gearbox broke. And the end of the special stage was at km 589! I had to do all the rest in 1st gear! It really is major bad luck. But let’s look at the bright side: doing 40 km/h, I could actually enjoy the scenery. For the rest, all my options to win have vanished even if it isn’t ever over till the fat lady sings. Tonight we’ll do some mechanical work with the new engine which is the T4 of the in race assistance team. I don’t know where I stand now. I will look into it and try having some fun too.
Stage 8 had a little of everything as racers reacquainted themselves with the course after a day of rest.
Stage 8 Results:
1. Coma, KTM
2. Despres, KTM
3. Ullevalseter, KTM
4. Casteu, KTM
5. Verhoeven, KTM
6. Blais, KTM
7. De Azevedo, KTM
8. Sala, KTM
9. Bethys, Hon
10. Katrinak, KTM
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