Mini driver Nani Roma reclaimed the Dakar Rally lead on Thursday as fellow Spaniard Marc Coma soared to the top of the motorcycling standings after a brutal fifth stage that saw temperatures reach 47 degrees in the Sierra Hombre Muerto mountains - and claimed the first lives of the 2014 Dakar.
Two members of an unofficial Argentine news team covering the Dakar Rally were killed when the car they were driving in fell into a ravine.
Super Rally magazine manager Francisco Delgado said they were journalism student Agustin Mina, 20, and Daniel Ambrosio, 51, who loved auto racing. Also in the car were 31-year-old Martin Delgado, the magazine manager's son, and Rodrigo de Quesada, 36, both photographers for Super Rally.
The survivors were taken to a hospital in Tucuman.
The cause of the crash was not yet clear, Delgado said. Apparently the car fell 100 metres over a cliff and the two men in the front seats were killed instantly.
FOUR AND A HALF HOURS OF HELL
Roma had led after three stages and he reasserted his authority on the gruelling 912km Stage 5 from Chilecito to San Miguel de Tucuman.
Roma clocked 4hrs 27min01 on the 527km timed section of the stage with South African Giniel De Villiers second in a works Toyota Hilux and American Robby Gordon third in a Hummer.
Roma’s stage win gave him a lead of 26min 28sec in the overall standings on 2011 winner, and Mini team mate, Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar.
“Roma admitted: “I'm happy with the day, but it was hard, probably one of the hardest stages that I've ever driven. We tried our best just to get through it."
“We got stuck in the sand a bit, but only lost ten minutes. The others had bigger problems.”
De Villiers kept himself in contention for a top-three finish, despite being slowed by a brake problem and a puncture, which cost him more than four minutes. He completed the 527km timed section only 4min 20sec behind Roma, moving up to fourth in the overall standings.
“We had a pretty good day,” said De Villiers, ”apart from losing our brakes 15 kilometres from the end of the special stage. We had a high-speed puncture and the tyre caught fire, which we think caused the brake problem.”
His works Toyota team mates Leeroy Poulter, however, got stuck in soft sand trying to skirt around a dune. He and navigator Rob Howie got out the sand ladders and freed the car by reversing out - but soon after the clutch started to stick (Poulter suspected sand in the bell-housing) and they had to stop to bleed it.
At the end of a long, hard day Poulter came in 36th.
"It was very hot and we were grateful for the air conditioning in the car,” he said. “We lost quite a lot of time stopping to sort out the clutch, but we made up some time on the straight sections.
“This is such a cruel race - one minute you’re up and the next you’re fighting for survival.”
Carlos Sainz, the 2010 champion who had led overnight, slumped to sixth overall, almost an hour behind Roma, after a nightmare day where the Spanish veteran endured a number of navigational errors.
“First of all we had a problem to find the way point.”
“We couldn't find it," Sainz said. "We need to check now what has happened because I think we have been passing really, really close.
“Then as we were going up and down trying to find it at one moment we had a problem with the car. We had to stop and one of the electrical connections was coming out.”
Al-Attiyah added: “From the navigation side of things it was very tough.
“We lost a lot of minutes, but we are here and we still have 10 days left.”
Thomas Rundle in the ex-works Toyota Hilux enjoyed another good day on his first Dakar with 34th in Stage 5, completing the 527km racing section in 6hrs 45min20, 2hrs 18min19 behind Roma, retaining 20th overall at 5hrs 13min59 behind the leaders.
“Today was very difficult,” said Rundle, “tough on the car and a big challenge for the navigator with tricky navigation - but Juan was magnificent and the car didn’t miss a beat. This race is very taxing and we’re looking forward to the rest day, but first we have to meet the challenge of the second-last stage in Argentina before we cross over the Andes Mountains into Chile on Monday.”
NO REAR BRAKES
The sole surviving Team Ford Ranger posted its best result so far with seventh for Argentinian Lucio Alvarez on the undulating and sandy Stage 5 - despite losing approximately 20 minutes searching for an errant waypoint, along with many of the other front-runners.
They were also hampered by a rear brake problem about 20km into the stage, along with the thick dust that has become a common theme on this year’s Dakar.
“Today’s stage was very long and difficult,” Alvarez commented. “There was a lot of navigation with plenty of soft, sandy tracks and dunes, and we drove without rear brakes for most of the stage.” “Then we had a navigation problem and couldn’t find one of the waypoints, and spent about 20 minutes searching for it. But when we finished the stage we saw that many of the teams had the same problem so there must have been an issue with the road book.
“The special was very hard on the car - a lot of big jumps with hard landings. It was also extremely hot and I drank about three litres of water in the first part of the stage alone.”
The motorcycling section of the race was shortened as the heat was deemed to be close to danger levels for the riders.
Former champion Coma, on a KTM, was declared the stage winner in a time of 3hrs 02min08, with fellow Spaniard Jordi Viladoms second and Kuba Przygonski of Poland third.
“It was another tough day,” said Coma. “It was really hot out there. It's also difficult in terms of navigation as well because of the rain last week which makes it hard to see anything.
“To get to the end of the stage, I rode for 10km lost in a river bed. In general, it's tough for everyone. For the race lead, you can lose lots of time at any moment. When you open the way, it's a bit like playing Russian roulette.”
In the overall standings, Coma held a 41min 10sec lead on Honda's Joan Barreda Bort, the previous leader.
CRASH AND BURN
South Africa’s Riaan van Niekerk put in the ride of a lifetime as ‘everything just kept going right’ – starting 72nd on the road, he found the way where practially everybody else got lost and came in an incredibly fifth, moving up to seven places in the overall standings to 15th in the process.
The day was not without its drama however. As Van Nierkerk was navigating through the camel grass he crashed into Paulo Gonzalves’ burning Honda and nearly set himself alight.
As he tried to pick the KTM up his handguard hooked onto one of the cables of Gonzalves’ bike.
“The flames were licking at my bike’s rear tanks,” said Van Niekerk. “A few seconds more and it would have been all over.
“Farres’ Gas Gas also went up in smoke today, the temperatures were simply too high. Grass collects in the bash plate and by the time you realise what’s going on, it’s too late".
The only other South African competing on two wheels, Honda privateer Brett Cummings, put in a solid ride to finish 35th and move to 30th overall.
Commented works-supported KTM rider Van Niekerk: “That’s a great achievement for a privateer riding in the Malle moto class, meaning that he has to maintain his bike himself.”
RESULTS – CARS: Stage 5
1 Nani Roma (Spain) Mini - 4hrs 27min01
2 Giniel De Villiers (South Africa) +4min20
3 Robby Gordon (United States) Hummer +20min12
4 Orlando Terranova (Argentina) Mini +20min44
5 Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qatar) Mini +21min38
6 Stephane Peterhansel (France) Mini +23min55
7 Lucio Alvarez (Argentina) Ford +25min45
8 Adam Malysz (Poland) Toyota +27min18
9 Marek Dabrowski (Poland) Toyota +29min20
10 Federico Villagra (Argentina) Mini +57min36
34 Thomas Rundle (South Africa) Toyota +2hrs 18min19
36 Leeroy Poulter (South Africa) Toyota +2hrs 28min08
RESULTS – CARS: Overall after Stage 5
1 Nani Roma (Spain) Mini - 19hrs 21min54
2 Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qatar) Mini +26min28
3 Orlando Terranova (Argentina) Minii +31min46
4 Stephane Peterhansel (France) Mini +39min59
5 Giniel De Villiers (South Africa) Toyota +41min24
6 Carlos Sainz (Spain) SMG +59min43
7 Federico Villagra (Argentina) Mini +1hr 42min42
8 Marek Dabrowski (Poland) Toyota +1hr 45min58
9 Adam Malysz (Poland) Toyota +2hrs 31min56
10 Robby Gordon (United States) Hummer +4hrs 34min29
20 Thomas Rundle (South Africa) Toyota +5hrs 13min59
30 Leeroy Poulter (South Africa) Toyota +6hrs 37min45
49 Lucio Alvarez (Argentina) Ford +12hrs 35min56
RESULTS – MOTORCYCLES: Stage 5
1 Marc Coma (Spain) KTM - 3hrs 02min08
2 Jordi Viladoms (Spain) KTM +12min54
3 Kuba Przygonski (Poland) KTM +22min45
4 Helder Rodrigues (Portugal) Honda +25min53
5 Riaan Van Niekerk (South Africa) KTM +32min04
6 Juan Carlos Salvatierra (Bolivia) Speedbrain +33min12
7 Juan Pedrero (Spain) Sherco +34min03
8 Stefan Svitko (Slovakia) KTM +36min38
9 Robert Van Pelt (Netherlands) Honda +37min04
10 Daniel Gouet (Chile) Honda +37min53
26 Brett Cummings (South Africa) Honda +1hr 22min45
RESULTS – MOTORCYCLES: Overall after Stage 5
1 Marc Coma (Spain) KTM - 18hrs 45min11
2 Joan Barreda Bort (Spain) Honda +41min10
3 Francisco Lopez Contardo (Chile) KTM +53min41
4 Jordi Viladoms (Spain) KTM +58min58
5 Alain Duclos (France) Sherco +1hr 02min13
6 Olivier Pain (France) Yamaha +1hr 12min22
7 Kuba Przygonski (Poland) KTM +hr 14min27
8 Cyril Despres (France) Yamaha +1hr 23min01
9 Jeremias Israel Esquerre (Chile) Speedbrain) +1hr 23min30
10 Stefan Svitko (Slovakia) KTM +1hr 30min13.
15 Riaan Van Niekerk (South Africa) KTM +3hrs 10min57
32 Brett Cummings (South Africa) Honda +6hrs 00min01