All the riders seemed to agree that Stage 5 of the 2011 Dakar Rally was the most difficult yet. There wasn’t much time to warm up as riders left Calama for a short 36 km connection to the special test. Once there, navigation through 423 km of sandy gravel and dunes proved to be a deciding factor in the day’s standings. Crashes, injuries and mechanical woes all came into play as well making for a very exciting and complex day of rally raid en route to Iquique.
BMW finally broke the Austrian stranglehold on stage victories as Paulo Goncalves put his Speedbrain prepared G450RR onto the top rung of the podium and teammate Frans Verhoeven managed his best finish yet in third. The two were split by local hero Francesco Lopez Contardo who trailed the leader by 2:18 – just one second faster than Verhoeven. BMW has not won a stage in over a decade since Richard Sainct won his second-of-three title in 2000, so the Portuguese rider’s victory signals a return to Dakar glory for the German manufacturer.
“It´s a great experience for our young team to celebrate such a success upon our first Dakar,” said Team Manager, Wolfgang Fischer. “I´d like to thank everyone involved, the team members, the supporters and all who believed in us. Today sets a true milestone.”
With hidden waypoints throughout, the first checkpoint wasn’t until the 202 km mark where riders were able to refuel their thirsty machines. They then had to find three more checks before the finish line and a well-deserved night of rest. Riders had to soothe their mounting frustrations with the refreshing promise of the Pacific Ocean waiting for them at the bivouac.
Marc Coma was awarded fourth after a time adjustment for stopping to aid a fallen rider. The Spaniard lost time early on, however, due to a crash.
Frenchman Oliver Pain crash badly 231 km into the contest and the Yamaha rider was left unconscious. Spaniard Marc Coma had started the day first after winning Stage 4, but a crash and subsequent radiator problems caused him to drop back early on. The factory KTM pilot found the Frenchman, activated his emergency signal and waited for assistance. Goncalves would also pause for aid and Pain was eventually air-lifted to safety with a broken wrist.
Frans Verhoeven rode a near race-winning pace all day until crashing only two kilometers from the finish line, making his one-second deficit to Aprilia-mounted Contardo extra difficult to swallow. Both riders thought they were the top two until Goncalves time was adjusted to compensate for his assistance with the injured Pain. Both Goncalves and Coma were gifted a time allowance as per Dakar rules. Coma’s day was filled with challenges but after losing time for the early mistake and then receiving a discount for his humanitarian efforts, the factory KTM rider landed in fourth and retains his spot in the overall lead. Cyril Despres finished just 12 seconds behind in fifth, but the Frenchman was dealt a 10-minute penalty before the day even started. A mistake during the starting procedure of Stage 4 cost him dearly
Jonah Street came storming back to seventh overall courtesy of an eighth-place result in Stage 5. The Yamaha rider is still looking for a stage victory, which he hasn’t experienced since 2009, but with his strong navigation, passage through the dunes might be a region where he can make time on a top-five position. Fellow American Quinn Cody got his first taste of big South American dunes with a 22nd-place result aboard his Honda Europe/JCR Honda CRF450X. His lowest stage result yet has dropped him to 15th overall.
Day 5 had a lot of ups and downs, but as the dust settles, the top-10 overall riders are separated by less than 50 minutes with just one more stage before the rest day. This seems to indicate that the 450cc-only class is a much leveler playing field and the action is as tight as ever. Tomorrow the racing contingent will leave Iquique and set out for Arica with a brutally long outing – a 265 km transfer in the morning followed by 456 km of special section.
Paulo Goncalves (PRT – BMW) 1st, 4th OA
“It was a very difficult stage, very long but also very beautiful. I think I rode it well. After the refueling point, I stopped to help Olivier Pain who had fallen. The rules say we should stop. I waited for four to five minutes. The main thing is that he’s ok. So I’ll probably have some time taken off my end result. The bike worked well on the quick parts as well as the technical ones.”
Francesco Lopez Contardo (CHL – Aprilia) 2nd, 3rd OA
“It was really difficult today. I lost track of the way twice, but Cyril found the right way. After that, it was my turn to find the correct direction. The navigation was extremely complicated, but that’s the Dakar. The race really started today. It was a genuine day of rally-raiding with technical problems and lots of navigation. In the end, I rode quite cautiously. Grabbing a good finish today was really great.”
Frans Verhoeven (BEL – BMW) 3rd, 10th OA
“Today was a very, very hard stage, but that’s my kind of thing because I like the long stages with a lot of navigation. As you can see, I had a good result. I attacked all day and didn’t make any mistakes. But just two kilometers from the finish I had a very big crash. Luckily, I didn’t hurt anything, but my head was turning and I was seeing everything double.”
Marc Coma (ESP – KTM) 4th, 1st OA
“It was a difficult day. I fell then I had problems with my radiator. I managed to repair it and carry on more or less as normal. After the refueling, I stopped for Olivier Pain who had just had a fall. He was unconscious, so I activated the alarm and stayed with him until my water carrier Juan Pedrero arrived. It was a genuine Dakar stage where all sorts of things happen. I lost time on Despres, but I should recover some time after stopping to help Pain.”
Cyril Despres (FRA – KTM) 5th, 2nd OA
“I was told at half past four in the morning that I’d been given a penalty. I just forgot my thermal gloves, so I went back to get them and I didn’t see that there were signposts I had to follow at the exit. Unfortunately for me, that’s the race rules, but I’ve already forgotten about it with what I experienced today. This is why I ride rally-raids: 425 km of navigation and pleasure. We had to go looking for GPS coordinates that were genuinely like needles in haystacks. Forgetting about the time or penalties, the most important thing for me is to feel good and enjoy myself. I saw that Marc Coma was carrying out repairs around the 70 km point. I’ve never rejoiced about other people’s problems. What’s important for me, is the race I ride.”
2011 Dakar Stage 5 Results:
1. Paulo Goncalves, PRT (BMW) 05:12:23
2. Francesco Lopez Contardo, CHL (Aprilia) 05:14:41
3. Frans Verhoeven, BEL (BMW) 05:14:42
4. Marc Coma, ESP (KTM) 05:16:21
5. Cyril Despres, FRA (KTM) 05:16:33
6. Helder Rodrigues, PRT (KTM) 05:22:24
7. Ruben Faria, PRT (KTM) 05:24:28
8. Jonah Street, USA (Yamaha) 05:27:38
9. Pal Anders Ullevalseter, NOR (KTM) 05:29:24
10. Juan Pedrero Garcia, ESP (KTM) 05:29:59
2011 Dakar Rally Overall Standings:
1. Marc Coma, ESP (KTM) 16:59:33
2. Cyril Despres, FRA (KTM) 17:09:47
3. Francesco Lopez Contardo, CHL (Aprilia) 17:18:05
4. Paulo Goncalves, PRT (BMW) 17:21:15
5. Helder Rodrigues, PRT (Yamaha) 17:31:38
6. Ruben Faria, PRT (KTM) 17:34:47
7. Juan Pedrero Garcia, ESP (KTM) 17:39:34
8. Jonah Street, USA (Yamaha) 17:42:28
9. Jordi Viladoms, ESP (Yamaha) 17:43:56
10. Frans Verhoeven, BEL (BMW) 17:49:28
Video courtesy of Dakar.com.