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Headline: Peterhansel, Despres and Stacey are the Dakar winners

132 bikes, 109 car teams and 69 trucks reached the capital city of Senegal and finished the 29th edition of the Dakar. The 15th and last stage was raced on the banks of Lac Rose after respecting a minute’s silence in memory of bikers Elmer Symons and Eric Aubijoux who both died during the rally.

Janis Vinters, already a stage winner in Nema, gets the best time of the day in the bikes category whilst Giniel De Villiers adds a fourth stage victory to this year’s list. The last stage did not lead to any major change in the overall rankings: Cyril Despres wins his second Dakar on a bike, while Stéphane Peterhansel, with now three victories in a car, has a total of 9 Dakar victories. In trucks, there is a newcomer at the top: Hans Stacey, in a MAN truck, who put an end to the long series of Kamaz victories.

The bikes category: Despres or why having faith pays off

The bike race was - for sure - a bumpy ride as the two favorites put on a great show as announced in the beginning of the race. But the second victory of Cyril Despres on the Dakar follows a series of more or less unforeseeable events. The heavy blow of Marc Coma on the moral of his adversaries in the first two stages in Morocco was rather logical. Dominating the whole rally season, the title holder was again demonstrating his talents as a pilot and authoritatively asserting his position as the man to beat. The Catalan seemed to be all the more unbeatable that Cyril Despres, twice the victim of a broken gearbox, was almost one hour being the leader.

In the KTM Gauloises team, Isidre Esteve and David Casteu then took over from Despres to chase the world champion. But neither one actually manage to even get close to him, Esteve being also delayed by the defect identified in the gearboxes of the KTM 690 in the Atar - Tichit stage. Against this background, the efforts deployed by Cyril Despres to steel a few minutes a day to Marc Coma might have seemed vain, except if he hoped Coma would actually have to race for a whole special stage in first gear.

It’s however not because of a mechanical problem that Coma had to withdraw. Two days from finish, just after entering Senegal, the leader made a mistake: a navigation error on km 35 of the Kayes - Tambacounda stage, a short period of fear or doubt lost in the forest more than 6 km away from the ideal route and the bike of the Spaniard somersaulted when hitting a stump. Coma himself slammed right into a tree. After having been taken care of by the rally doctors, Coma was finally declared out of danger but forced to withdraw from the rally. This withdrawal was profitable to Cyril Despres, whose misfortune in the 2007 edition will remind everyone of the fact that the Dakar is never over before arriving at Lac Rose.

Behind two-times winner (2005 and 2007), David Casteu remained in ambush and confirmed on this Dakar the steadiness he had already demonstrated all year long: vice-world-rally-raid-champion, he is also second in the benchmark event of this category keeping just about enough distance with USA’s rising star Chris Blais. In the top 10 of the overall rankings, the KTM Repsol team, which lost three competitors along the way, was close to absent. However, the long list of breakdowns gave hope to the amateurs as 7 of them aer in the elite and were the fastest in five of the special stages this year: i.e. Faria, then Rodrigues and Vinters twice each). Amongst them is Portuguese Helder Rodrigues, ranking 5th, who wins in the 450cc category in front of Corsican restaurant owner Michel Marchini and triple winner of the Touquet Enduro Thierry Bethys.

The rookie rankings of the Dakar finds France’s endurance race champion and winner of the FFM Dakar Enduro Challenge, Fabien Planet in the lead: Fabien finishes 12th in the overall rankings. The women’s competition, which remained very animated until Tambacounda for the 6 female bikers who started in Lisbon, was dominated end to end by Ludivine Puy, 44th in the overall rankings.

The specific quad rankings, which lost seven of its 13 competitors initially registered, was dominated by Czech Josef Machacek, 65th in the overall rankings in Dakar.

The cars category: Peterhansel still has it

The final verdict of the car race seems like the same old story being told - and heard - again and again and again: Mitsubishi wins for the seventh time in a row and for the twelfth time in its Dakar history with its star driver Stéphane Peterhansel, who is now at his third victory behind the wheel of a car, for a total of nine Dakar victories in his whole career! And to make things even more perfect, title holder Luc Alphand - also behind the wheel of a Mitsu - finishes second and Hiroshi Masuoka completes his twentieth Dakar in fifth position.

Statistically speaking, the track record of the rally is cruel for the competition but is certainly not the faithful translation of the battle that happened on the trails of the Dakar from Lisbon to Dakar. The triumphant series of victories of Mitsubishi is first of all tarnished by the absence of stage victories for the team in this 2007 edition. Although this may sound secondary, the zero stage victory result of the Japanese car maker is a pale contrast to the foray of victories Volkswagen managed to get: 10 stage victories out of 14: five for Carlos Sainz, four for Giniel De Villiers and one for Carlos Sousa, a private pilot behind the wheel of a Race Touareg.

And the performances of Volkswagen are not just fascinated for fans of statistics who had not seen such a long list of victories since the 11 stage victories (out of 20 stages in total) of Jean-Louis Schlesser in 2001. They also gave headaches and nightmares to the Mitsubishi team that had not been that shaken for a long time. At rest day, the situation was more than embarrassing for Mitsu, as the ‘reds’ were relegated more than 25’ behind the ‘blue cars’ of De Villiers and Sainz. The big reversal of fortunes that took place owes a lot to the darkest hours of Volkswagen between Tichit and Nema. First, Giniel De Villiers saw his engine catch fire at the foot of the Elephants’ Rock just minutes before Carlos Sainz gets stuck by electronics problem and is immediately deprived from any prospect of final victory.

With the two top positions in the overall rankings in their hands, Stéphane Peterhansel and Luc Alphand then started a pretty tame internal struggle. Race orders or not, both former winners refused applying the same outrageously risky strategy as VW. Without really feeling any threat, the Mitsubishi drivers preferred protecting themselves form the potential come-back of the blue buggy of Jean-Louis Schlesser, who also finishes the rally on the podium with two stage victories in his hands and a first place in the two-wheel drive rankings. The BMW X-Raid team, which was supposed to play referee in the battle, lost many illusions, the fast fall of Kleinschmidt, who was already 2h23 behind the leader after two stages in Morocco, the somersaults which put an end to the adventure of Guerlain Chicherit, who was then sixth in the overall rankings, and the penalty that expelled from the top 5 Nasser Al Attiyah, the only stage winner of the team were just too much.

In the rankings of production vehicles, victory goes to Japan’s Jun Mitsuhashi, 25th in the overall rankings behind the wheel of a Toyota, who is 30’ ahead of Jean-Pierre Strugo (Nissan), in a competition where the first five cars remained in the race for the title for a long time.

The trucks category: Stacey stood his ground

After five years of domination of Kamaz and four victories by Vladimir Chagin, the truck race saw a real renewal of its elite. The Russian who was aiming at a sixth victory had to say goodbye to the race on stage 5 after a serious accident on the way to Tan Tan. Two days later, De Rooy father and son also left the Dakar due to serious mechanical problems on their GINAF. The favorites gone, Hans Stacey already second in last year’s edition, had a free hand. In the lead in the overall rankings at the end of stage 5, the Dutchman kept increasing his lead over challenger Ilgizar Mardeev on a Kamaz up to Lac Rose. At the end of the rally, Stacey wins with a huge 3h10 lead and gives MAN its very first Dakar victory. Ranking third for his first Dakar participation, behind the wheel of a Tatra, Ales Loprais, nephew of the record holder of Dakar victories, Karel Loprais, has a bright future ahead.

Like Loprais, winner of his first special stage in Tambacounda, three other truck drivers won their very first stage on the Dakar: Dutchmen Wulfert Van Ginkel and Arjan Brouwer (twice including the last stage on Lac Rose) and Frenchman Philippe Jacquot, who broke the habit of Dutch victories in this category.

2007/01/22 | 13:18 CET | Editor: MR/EP/ASO

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