Francisco Lopez (#3) remains more than 18 minutes behind Spaniard Marc Coma in the overall standings after finishing 03:45 ahead of him in Stage 7.
After having the chance to rest their bodies and machines competitors suited-up for Stage 7 of the 2011 Dakar Rally. During the shortened 273 km special Chilean rider Francisco Lopez snagged his first stage victory of the rally by more than two minutes ahead of KTM’s Cyril Despres. Lopez kept things pretty well under control for the majority of the stage after the 176 km checkpoint, where he had a four-minute lead over Spaniard Marc Coma. After finishing third Coma is gradually coming under pressure from Despres, who remains only 00:07:24 adrift of the leader with half the rally remaining. This is the third stage in a row that KTM rivals Coma and Despres have missed out on stage wins, allowing Lopez who is only 00:18:27 behind Coma to slowly make up ground on the leader.
In the seventh stage riders were met with a shortened special taking place between Arica and Antofagasta. Yamaha‘s Helder Rodrigues started the special after being declared the official winner of Stage 6 following a timing issue with Portugal’s Ruben Faria. However, just 40 km into the stage Rodrigues was overtaken by Despres. By the first checkpoint Lopez was in the picture and trailing Despres by only five seconds with Coma nearly a minute and a half behind in third. At 136 km Lopez crept into the lead, which he kept for the reminder of the day’s competition.
“The first part of the stage was very fast, and it took me some time to overtake Svitko,” said Lopez. “Then, I reached Coma and we continued the road together. He slowed down at the end; there were lots of fesh-fesh. The next stages of the Dakar will be decisive. .. I´m waiting for the right moment to attack.”
Currently 12th in the overall rankings, France’s David Casteu lost tremendous time when he encountered a blocked gear box at the third checkpoint. Also struggling was American Jonah Street, who had to stop at the 149 km mark due to an engine breakdown on his Yamaha WR450F. After finishing Stage 7 in 53rd Street has dropped from seventh in the overall rally down to 14th more than two hours off the pace of the leader.
Cyril Despres was overtaken by Francisco Lopez at the 136 km mark during Stage 7 and finished 02:21 behind the Chilean rider.
Meanwhile Honda’s Quinn Cody experienced an overall good day after finishing the most recent stage in 11th. He remains more than an hour and a half off the pace of the leader and is now the highest-placed American in the rally.
With approximately half the competition remaining the top-three riders remain separated by less than 20 minutes. In a rally which normally sees first and second-place riders finishing within the vicinity of an hour, this year’s event is coming down to a question of minutes as the top-two riders remain separated by less than 10 minutes. The last Dakar to feature a win earned with less than a 10-minute lead was registered back in 2005.
Francesco Lopez Contardo (CHL – Aprilia) 1st, 3rd OA
“It was not easy. There was a lot of dust in the beginning. I went a little faster afterwards but I lost my exhaust at mid stage more or less. So after that, I was afraid my engine would break. Fortunately, it was the shortest special stage since the beginning of the raid; if it had not been the engine would have been hit bad. I won and that is all that matters. I had a good day. Everything is fine. Last week, I had a cold, but I feel better now. I am in great shape. I feel that I am driving well.”
Cyril Despres (FRA – KTM) 2nd, 2nd OA
“The rest day was a good thing for the bike and for the man. Today was one of the best days of motocross-type racing of my entire life. Thank you David Castera for such a fun riding experience. Not only was it a beautiful stage, it was also a fantastic one to ride. A really great day, even in terms of results. This morning, we were wondering if we would have our fill with 272 km; now my answer is YES.”
Marc Coma (ESP – KTM) 3rd, 1st OA
“It was a technical stage. There was a purely motocross part to the stage… nice but demanding. I suffered in the first part, because I was behind Ruben Faria and I was getting a lot of his dust; it was hard to pass. But in the last part, the sand dunes, I could ride at my own pace.”
Helder Rodrigues (PRT – Yamaha) 4th, 4th OA
“I had to open the road in the first kilometers. It was going pretty well. After the sand dune, Cyril Despres overtook me. I stayed behind him till the end. My aim is a place on the podium, or even better. But it will be a tough call. Chaleco is a fast rider and he is on home turf.”
Pal Anders Ullevalseter (NOR – KTM) 7th, 10th OA
“This stage was a rather good one for me. I am really getting used to the bike now. I know how to handle it. And – by the way – I am having much more fun now and I am much faster as well. The feeling is getting better every day. I know I will not be able to win anymore. A few days ago, the aim was to finish in the Top 10. Now that it’s done, I must keep climbing the ranks. The race is still long.”
2011 Dakar Rally Stage 7 Results:
1. Francisco Lopez Contardo, CHL (Aprilia) 03:29:45
2. Cyril Despres, FRA (KTM) 03:32:06
3. Marc Coma, ESP (KTM) 03:33:30
4. Helder Rodrigues, PRT (Yamaha) 03:38:59
5. Ruben Faria, PRT (KTM) 03:40:29
6. Stefan Svitko, SVK (KTM) 03:41:04
7. Pal Anders Ullevalseter, NOR (KTM) 03:43:48
8. Paulo Goncalves, PRT (BMW) 03:43:48
9. Frans Verhoeven, BEL (BMW) 03:45:50
10. Juan Pedrero Garcia, ESP (KTM) 03:47:50
2011 Dakar Rally Overall Standings:
1. Marc Coma, ESP (KTM) 26:13:50
2. Cyril Despres, FRA (KTM) 26:21:14
3. Francisco Lopez Contardo, CHL (Aprilia) 26:32:17
4. Helder Rodrigues, PRT (Yamaha) 26:46:54
5. Ruben Faria, PRT (KTM) 26:54:43
6. Frans Verhoeven, BEL (BMW) 27:28:00
7. Juan Pedrero Garcia, ESP (KTM) 27:30:23
8. Stefan Svitko, SVK (KTM) 27:30:44
9. Jordi Viladoms, ESP (Yamaha) 27:34:01
10. Pal Anders Ullevalseter, NOR (KTM) 27:51:13
Video courtesy of Dakar.com.