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Dakar 2009: Francisco Lopez in time for Chile.

Before the day of rest during which the Dakar will be based in Valparaiso, Francisco Lopez won the first special stage of his career on the Dakar. Just before crossing the border into Chile, the former world 450cc champion has scaled another summit of his career. In the car category, the Volkswagen parade continues. Carlos Sainz grabbed a 3rd stage victory and also took hold of the lead in the general standings. The title holder, Stéphane Peterhansel was forced to abandon after breaking his motor.

Francisco Lopez is not the type of man to put the brakes on and leave his triumphs for later. Indeed, his timing is just perfect. On the day when the Dakar crossed into Chile for the first time in its history, the country’s most promising hope in the event grabbed his first special stage victory on the Dakar. Almost two hours behind Marc Coma in the general standings, “Chaleco” recognized that there are only a few more specials left on which to shine to transform his Dakar into a success. The entry into Chile as winner will do no damage at all to his popularity whilst the rally passes through his native country. But the “Chaleco Tour” could also be accompanied by his climb back up the standings in the two stages that will follow the day of rest, because he is only 35 minutes from a provisional podium finish.

The stakes for the first place in the general standings were not really in play on this shortened special stage, which took place on a sometimes muddy terrain that must have reminded some riders of endurance championship races. Marc Coma, who set off second today, stayed constantly in contact with Cyril Despres, who led the way out for the day’s stage. With the second best time of the day, his consistency over the long haul continues to pay dividends. The day of rest should therefore be very relaxing for the Spaniard, sat atop the comfortable cushion of a 51-minutes lead over Jonah Street. The American, who wavered a bit en route to Chile (finishing 15 minutes behind Lopez), now has David Frétigné snapping at his heals. The Yamaha rider, comfortable on this type of special, has improved his prospects in the general standings thanks to the tire problems encountered by Jordi Viladoms, who drops to fifth place.

The car race once again held plenty of surprises in store on what was, however, only a short special stage before the rest day. After the withdrawal the evening before of Nasser Al Attiyah, who was leader of the general standings at the time, the day was extremely difficult for title holder Stéphane Peterhansel. The story of his day resembles a nightmare: after 57 km, his Mitsubishi Lancer Racing caught fire, but the seven times winner in the car category was able to put it out and resume the race. Twenty kilometers later, the Mitsubishi again ground to a halt with an overheating engine. Finally, Peter’s adventure came to an end a short while later due to a supposed broken engine. In fact, the last 48 hours have been hellish for the Mitsubishi team. After the withdrawal of Luc Alphand yesterday, the Japanese constructor can only count on Nani Roma for success.

This was a God-send for the Volkswagen team, who again saw a rival removed from its road to triumph. On the way to the Chilean border, Carlos Sainz, hungry for success, gobbled up a third stage victory on this 31st edition of the Dakar. Having set off just behind his team-mates De Villiers and Miller, the native of Madrid must have enjoyed setting down the times of reference at each check point. He eventually beat Miller by 3.41 and Robby Gordon, finally amongst the best, by 4.13.

As a result, Carlos Sainz jumps into the lead in the general standings, taking advantage of a slightly disappointing display from De Villiers, 6th to finish the stage 7 minutes behind. In the general standings, the Spaniard only has a lead of 9 seconds over his South African team-mate. A third VW driven by Miller completes the provisional podium. The most threatening rival for the German constructor is currently Nani Roma, who trails by half an hour.

2009/01/09 | 18:13 CET | Editor: MR/HS/ASO

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