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This is the single-news section of the news "Offroad & Motorsports". To see all news please use the link under the article or navigate with the left main-navigation.

Dakar 2007: American Petersen-Chevrolet Buggy not 34th overall.

The question is not if the Dakar will bite you, it is only a question of when. That question was answered today for the Chevrolet buggy of American Michael Petersen. Petersen, who entered today’s Stage Seven from Zouérat to Atar 21st overall, was performing well in the early part of what was scheduled to be a 542 km special timed stage that was cut to 407.6 km, when he came across Team SMG owner Philippe Gache stuck in a sand dune. Petersen stopped to assist Gache and became trapped in the soft, shifting sand himself.

Once free, the Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing entry suffered another blow, a broken serpentine belt that demanded repair. Once Petersen and co-driver Matthew Stevenson had begun to move again, they had lost nearly four hours on the stage winning No. 301 Volkswagen. Petersen/White Lightning finished the stage 80th in class with a time of seven hours, 58 minutes and 31 seconds across the timed portion. Petersen dropped to 34th overall, a 13 position fall from yesterday, and is seven hours, 48 minutes and seven seconds behind in the rally leader in total.

Making an even more challenging day, was a viscous sand storm that forced Amaury Sport Organisation, the sanctioning body for Dakar, to cancel 134 km of the special stage. Instead, they allowed competitors to cut off the southern loop of the special and precede directly to the checkered flag 34 km east of Atar. That decreased the overall distance of the special stage to 407.6 km/253.27 miles. Nonetheless, the storm wreaked havoc on the whole rally and the adjustment to the distance was a welcome reprieve in an event that seldom offers such pardons.

In a rally as grueling and dangerous as Dakar, competitors help competitors for the safety of everyone. But, as a teammate to Gache, SMG is supplying the buggy and support to Petersen/White Lightning, Petersen felt even more compelled to stop and offer assistance. In the process of helping dig out Gache’s buggy, Petersen became ensnarled in the sand as well. Together, Petersen, Stevenson and Gache worked to free the pair of buggies. They eventually cleared a path for both to continue after three hours of strenuous labor in the hot sun of Africa. Not moments down the road, Petersen was again forced to stop and the two residents of the No. 351 again rolled up their sleeves and set to work.

The belt consumed nearly an hour to replace before they could set out to finish the stage. Initial review by team technicians Nico Castellaccio and Dennis Chizma suggests that no serious damage resulted from being stuck or the belt failure.

The day was not without issue for program manager/entrant Dale White either. Not only was White caught in the sandstorm as all the competitors were, he also faced mechanical issues of his own. While traveling from Zouérat to Atar, the thermostat on the No. 671 Toyota Land Cruiser White has been driving failed. White, a skilled technician who designed and built most of the famous Petersen/White Lightning off-road vehicles over the years, quickly got to work making repairs. Once complete he continued on to the bivouac in Atar where he met up with the remainder of the group. But, should one despair too greatly, the realization that the events mid-point is nearly here and the buggy is still running strong is reassuring. Nine more cars retired today, including some early front runners. That brings the total number of cars out after seven stages to 46, leaving only 131 of the original 177.

After six-straight days and 27 hours, 52 minutes and eight seconds on special stages the Petersen/White Lightning crew has reached its first rest day. The rest day could not come too soon for the team. Thursday night’s repairs drug deep into the morning hours. In fact, as Petersen strapped into the No. 351 this morning to pull out for the seventh stage, Chizma was still under the buggy repairing a damaged skid plate that had been destroyed in the sixth stage. That came on the heels of replacing the tire inflation system earlier in the night which had also been severely damaged on Thursday.

The rest day allows the whole rally to spend Saturday here in Atar to re-charge their batteries, both literarily and figuratively, before heading out for Stage Eight on Sunday, January 14. The day will be spent making repairs and preparing the No. 351 for the remainder of the event. Routine maintenance will consume most of the time as will strengthening repairs made on the fly today and in Thursday night’s bivouac. No major repairs are believed to be required as of this time. Many of those came following yesterday’s stage.

There is no gradual breaking-in period for the day following the rest day. Sunday’s eighth stage will again challenge the two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning team. The initial liaison of 35 Km is on pavement before a 589 km war across rocks, gravel, sand, dunes and camel grass to complete the special stage. Even the second liaison of 2 km is on gravel. There is little doubt that, due to the rough terrain, the Petersen/White Lightning team will again be working into the darkest of hours. With the second half of the 15 stage, 7,708 km Dakar close at hand, the final picture of the results begins to sharpen into focus.

2007/01/13 | 14:23 CET | Editor: MR/Petersen

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