Jan 16, 2014, 7:51 PM EDT
Stephane Peterhansel may have to wait another year to claim his 12th Dakar Rally championship.
Going into today’s Stage 11 from Antofagasta to El Salvador, Chile, Peterhansel (pictured, No. 300) had charged to within two minutes and 15 seconds of fellow Mini driver and overall car class leader Nani Roma.
But today, it was revealed that Mini officials had chosen to have their drivers hold position in a bid to secure a overall podium sweep between Roma, Peterhansel and third-place Nasser Al-Attiyah.
“Yesterday, the boss asked us to take no risk at all to keep the three Minis on the final podium,” said Peterhansel. “So I reduced the speed and we started this morning not with the same spirit. It was a safer spirit for the car. For sure, in these conditions first of all, we don’t take any pleasure in driving and it’s a big frustration.”
Roma, who now leads Peterhansel by five minutes, 32 seconds after finishing second today to stage winner Orlando Terranova (another Mini driver), was reported to have said that there were no team orders in place according to the Dakar website’s daily list of driver quotes.
However, in comments to Agence France-Presse, Roma appeared to be just as stunned as Peterhansel.
“It’s disappointing for Stephane, it’s disrespectful,” he said according to AFP. “It’s a bad decision that has been taken.”
Naturally, the race’s organizers were appalled as well, with director Etienne Lavigne telling AFP that he hadn’t been informed of the decision by Mini.
“But we are disappointed, clearly, because it is not in the spirit of the competition,” Lavigne continued. “It’s a little shocking. It’s not fair. If I was being mean, I would say to Mini that they can collect the trophy immediately.
“Fighting without risk is triumph without glory.”
Al-Attiyah was fifth in today’s stage and remains P3 overall at 56 minutes, one second behind Roma, who now appears set to be crowned champion. But with two stages to go, anything can happen – especially in an event like the Dakar.
As for the bikes, Marc Coma remains on course to earn the overall title. Coma won today’s run to El Salvador, coming out ahead of the surging Cyril Despres by two minutes, 51 seconds.
Coma now holds a 52 minute, 36 second overall advantage on Joan Barreda, who battled to a fifth place finish today after falling halfway through the stage and damaging his navigation system in the process. That forced him to wait for other riders and rely on them in order to make it to the end.
Sergio Lafuente lost his engine at the 272 kilometer mark and was forced to retire from the Dakar, seemingly handing the quad class title to Ignacio Casale. The Chilean won today’s stage, beating countryman Victor Gallegos Lozic by five minutes, 12 seconds; with Lafuente out, Rafal Sonik is now the new overall runner-up at more than one hour behind.
And in the trucks, Andrey Karginov finally overtook Gerard de Rooy for the overall lead after earning the win by 14 minutes, 18 seconds over Kamaz teammate Eduard Nikolaev. de Rooy was third but almost 16 minutes back of Karginov, who now sits atop the standings by seven minutes, 56 seconds over the Dutchman.
Next up tomorrow is the penultimate Stage 12, a southern route from El Salvador to La Serena. From there, the final dash to the finish in Valparaiso awaits.