Heavy rain and flash floods forced race organisers to cut short a chaotic eighth stage of the 2013 Dakar Rally, from Salta to Tucuman in Argentina, on Saturday, with only 12 cars finishing.
The first of two planned timed sections was abandoned, and the second also became a meteorological armageddon as the day went on. The motorcycles got through with mainly only navigational problems but, by the time the cars set off two hours later, dry riverbeds had turned into torrents.
The race was stopped at Checkpoint 2, 88 km into the stage, as a riverbed on the course of the special suddenly swelled with water.
At the time, Nasser Al-Attiyah, in a Buggy, was leading, 13 minutes ahead of Robbie Gordon’s Hummer but, more importantly, almost three minutes ahead of Stéphane Peterhansel (Mini), putting the Qatari within striking distance of the overall lead.
But Al-Attiyah’s Buggy couldn’t get through, although more than 50 cars managed to get across and set off towards the finish, with mixed results.
Al-Attiyah said later: "Everything was going smoothly for us. We were putting the pedal to the metal, and everything was fine.
"But when we got to the river, there was three metres of water - there was no way we could cross that. So we called the organisers, who told us the stage had been neutralised."
South African Giniel de Villiers in the surviving works Toyota Hilux was also forced to stop.
“We didn't get stuck in the water,” he said. “We simply couldn't cross, it was more than 1.5 metres deep and we saw the water flowing down towards us.
Of those who did manage to cross the river, Guerlain Chicherit in an SMG was the first to complete the stage after a hectic 1hour 55minutes and 6 seconds, with Orlando Terranova (BMW) only four minutes behind.
Overall leader Stéphane Peterhansel and Mini team mate Nani Roma were next, about 10 minutes later, but that was as far as the organisers would go, insisting that even those results were provisional. They may still list the finishers as at Checkpoint 2, or scrub the stage entirely.
In either case, Peterhansel will retain the overall lead, albeit probably with a smaller margin , from Al-Attiyah and De Villiers.
Joan Barreda Bort of Spain was first home for his third stage win of the race, although he's out of contention for the overall win. The Husqvarna rider finished in 2 hours 7 minutes and 26 seconds, seven minutes ahead of Johnny Campbell (Honda), with Ivan Jakes (KTM) as further minute behind.
Navigational skills proved to the decisive factor on the day; things started going wrong only 30km into the stage when almost everybody wrong-slotted and eventually wound up riding in circles, looking at each other.
They eventually got back on course, only for the leading pack to take another wrong turn at122km, costing one group almost half an hour, including Stage 7 winner Kurt Casselli and more importantly, Yamaha star Olivier Pain, whose mistake ended up costing him the overall lead, and KTM rider Francisco ‘Chaleco’ López, who also lost his second place overall.
Pain’s team mate David Casteu came in sixth, 14min13 behind Bort, and moved into the overall lead as Pain trailed in 77th, more than half an hour after the leaders.
"A huge navigational success," he said. "I'm over the moon because it's difficult to ride at the front while attacking and keeping your bearings, navigating. I was able to keep my cool while everyone else was spinning around, but I stayed focused and was the first across the line. Leading the Dakar during the rest day, that's terrific."
Defending champion Cyril Despres fought his way back from a disastrous Stage 7; his KTM lost fifth gear early in Friday’s long, fast stage, slowing him dramatically and worse still, no outside assistance was allowed at the Cachi bivouack, so he would have had to ride the bike like that on Stage 8 had not Polish privateer rider Marek Dabrowski offered to swop engines with him, enabling Depres to start Saturday with a ‘born-again’ bike.
He finished 11th, 16 minutes off the pace, which moved him briefly up to second overall, 9min26 down on Casteu - until the organisers hit him with a 15-minute penalty for the unscheduled engine change that dropped him to fifth!
SOUTH AFRICAN CONTINGENT
Honda privateer Brett Cummings enjoyed his best day so far on his first Dakar, finishing 16th, only 17 minutes behind Bort, and elevating himself another three palces to 65th overall.
KTM’s Dakar rookie Riaan van Niekerk got horribly lost, however, and came home 24 minutes off the pace in 36th place, but still managed to move up one place to 14th in the overall standings.
His more experienced team mate Darryl Curtis did even worse on the day, struggling home 76th, 37 minutes behind the leader, but his overall position improved by not one but two spots to 18th, emphasising again the huge effect of the navigational errors made by so many of the leading riders on this stage.
South African quadder Sarel van Biljon (E-ATV) made no mistakes however, winning the stage (his first) by a desperately close 1min49 from overall leader Marcos Patronelli and consolidating his third place overall in the four-wheeler category.
"It was a complicated special with a difficult sandy section at the beginning, where I had a nice duel with Marcos, but I eventually opened a gap after he wrong-slotted - and then I went flat out to the finish!
“I don't know whether I made up a lot of time and I'm way back in the overall standings, but it's my first Dakar, so I don't calculate my efforts anyway; I just attack as much as I can and enjoy the race. – Sapa-AP, IOL Motoring
RESULTS: MOTORCYCLES - STAGE 8
1 Joan Barreda Bort (Spain) Husqvarna – 2hr 7min 26sec
2 Johnny Campbell (United States) Honda +7min04
3 Ivan Jakes (Slovakia) KTM +7min57
4 Pedro Bianchi Prata (Portugal) Husqvarna +11min10
5 Vincent Guindani (France) Yamaha +13min07
6 David Casteu (France) Yamaha +14min13
7 Felipe Prohens (Chile) Honda +14min35
8 Robert Van Pelt (Netherlands) Honda +15min08
9 Lyndon Poskitt (Britain) KTM +15.48
10 Helder Rodrigues (Portugal) Honda +15.57
1 David Casteu (France) Yamaha – 19hr 56min 33sec
2 Ruben Faria (Portugal) KTM +11min16
3 Francisco Chaleco Lopez (Chile) KTM +12min00
4 Oliver Pain (France) Yamaha +16min10
5 Cyril Despres (France) KTM +24min26
6 Ivan Jakes (Slovakia) KTM +26min22
7 Israel Esquerre (Chile) Honda +27min07
8 Jakub Przygonski (Poland) KTM) +31min32
9 Stefan Svitko (Slovakia) KTM +33min50
10 Javier Pizzolito (Argentina) Honda 34min55