Dakar Rally racing
competitors arrived in Calama, Chile today as Stage 4 departed San Salvador de Jujuy with a 554 km transfer and short-but-intense 207 km special. Bikes and cars were not separated by alternate routes today and Stage 3 winner, Marc Coma, led the riders to start. Men and their 450cc machines wheezed across the Andes Paso de Jama pass at nearly 15,800 feet of elevation and battled cold weather. Height and oxygen starvation are some of the defining characteristics of the Dakar now that it resides in South America.
Marc Coma was running from the competition while leading all day, though his margin of victory was slim.
Starting as the lead rider is always a challenge as it leaves no room for error on the navigational side. Despite having no tracks in front of him, Coma laid down the tire marks for all others to follow with impeccable navigation that saw him complete the special stage with a time of 2:04:00. Coma guided the rest of the competitors as the course dropped out of the Andes and straight into the Atacama desert. His main competitor, Red Bull KTM
’s Cyril Despres, crossed the line a mere 16 seconds behind. The difference was slight, but it was all that was needed to allow the Spaniard to overtake the Frenchman on the overall leaderboard for the first time in this 2011 edition of the rally. Coma snuck into the top spot by only two second heading into the Chilean portion of the raid. After winning yesterday, Coma and Despres have both collected two stage victories thus far as the rivalry heats up. With tension mounting it’s a question of who will break first.
Francesco Lopez Contardo is starting to feel like he’s on home turf and the Chilean finished third aboard his Aprilia
machine. At just over two minutes behind the leader, Contardo had a healthy gap ahead of Frenchman Olivier Pain who led a contingent of strong finishes for Yamaha
riders. Helder Rodrigues and Jordi Viladoms were fifth and seventh, respectively, on their blue machines. While the Yamaha riders came on strong, it was not a spectacular day for the BMW
contingent. Frans Verhoeven managed ninth, but Portuguese rider Paulo Goncalves struggled to 19th after getting off-track in the desert, which saw him drop to 25 minutes behind Coma where he sits in fourth overall.
Red Bull KTM's Cyril Despres gave up the overall lead by finishing second, but trails by a scant two seconds.
Likewise, America’s top rider, Jonah Street, slipped just a bit with his 12th-place result. He’s now just outside the top-10 overall while Quinn Cody remains in 13th after finishing Stage 4 in the same position. On another American note, Robby Gordon lost a wheel bearing on his Hummer which prevented him from reaching the start of the special stage. By the time his support crew reached the stranded vehicle, race officials had already closed the starting point. Gordon will return home with a very disappointing DNF.
Marc Coma (ESP – KTM) 1st, 1st OA
“It was a very important day for me, even if it was only a 207-km stage. It was difficult to open the way. I’m happy and I felt great. I hope it stays like that right until the end. The general standings don’t matter for the moment. The most important thing will be the last day. It’s essential to have a good pace and avoid making mistakes. Now we’ll have to deal with two very difficult stages.”
Cyril Despres (FRA – KTM) 2nd, 2nd OA
“For this type of terrain that’s so different you need to change the way your brain’s wired. There’s no more hard ground, just desert, off-track riding and surfaces which break up. For a first day in the sand, it was a good start to the desert stages. Today, Marc Coma rode a great stage. It’s a superb battle with Marc. Today again we opened up a little more of a gap on the others. This evening, I’m in second, two seconds behind. For a number two, that’s a neat trick, isn’t it?”
Francisco Lopez Contardo (CHL – Aprilia) 3rd, 3rd OA
“It was a very quick day. I finished third on the special. I feel a lot better in Chile even if it’s going to be a lot more complicated tomorrow. Cyril and Marc are riding at a crazy pace. I can’t keep up with them for the moment. I prefer the stages with more off-track riding. Today was a positive day. I’m going to try and claw time back on Coma and Despres but it’s not easy. They have machines that are performing excellently and they’re great riders as well. Mind you, there’s still a long way to go in the rally.”
David Casteu (FRA – Sherco) 8th, 10th OA
David Casteu was eighth and is now inside the top-10 overall.
“We’ve been used to following the route, but this time we’ve really got down to the nitty gritty, with a real rally special stage. I’m gaining more and more confidence. From the start of the rally, the bike has been working really well. We haven’t had any engine problems or difficulties with the chassis. Despres and Coma have a lot of experience. It’s a duel between KTMs, with big stakes, which obviously motivates them a lot. For the moment, their brand has years of experience, whereas we are just a small team who are continuing to grow. But sometime soon we’ll be able to battle with them.”
2011 Dakar Rally Stage 4 Results:
1. Marc Coma, ESP (KTM) 02:04:00
Jonah Street (top) and Quinn Cody (above) were 12th and 13th, respectively.
2. Cyril Despres, FRA (KTM) 02:04:16
3. Francesco Lopez Contardo, CHL (Aprilia) 02:06:05
4. Olivier Pain, FRA (Yamaha) 02:10:20
5. Helder Rodrigues, PRT (Yamaha) 02:10:55
6. Juan Pedrero Garcia, ESP (KTM) 02:11:15
7. Jordi Viladoms, ESP (Yamaha) 02:12:22
8. David Casteu, FRA (Sherco) 02:12:53
9. Frans Verhoeven, BEL (BMW) 02:13:43
10. Pal Anders Ullevalseter, NOR (KTM) 02:14:26
2011 Dakar Rally Overall Standings:
1. Marc Coma, ESP (KTM) 11:43:12
2. Cyril Despres, FRA (KTM) 11:43:14 00:00:02
3. Francesco Lopez Contardo, CHL (Aprilia) 12:03:24
4. Paulo Goncalves, PRT (BMW) 12:08:52
5. Helder Rodrigues, PRT (Yamaha) 12:09:14
6. Juan Pedrero Garcia, ESP (KTM) 12:09:35
7. Ruben Faria, PRT (KTM) 12:10:19
8. Jose Helio Rodrigues Filho, BRA (BMW) 12:10:28
9. Jordi Viladoms, ESP (Yamaha) 12:13:23
10. David Casteu, FRA (Sherco) 12:13:32
Video courtesy of Dakar.com.