Record altitude as Dakar racers pant through Andes ‘marathon’

Mini crossing Andes Dakar 2016
TO THE HILLS, TO THE HILLS: Mikko Hervonen and co-driver Michel Perin at speed in their Mini All4 Racing entry during the crossing of the Andes Mountains. Image: BMW Mini

UYUNI, Bolivia – The altitude at which the cars were competing on the way across the Andes mountains to Bolivia was the highest in the history of the Dakar, according to the Mini All4 Racing team but added that despite that Nasser al-Attiyah (QAT) and co-pilot Mathieu Baumel (FRA) took Stage 5 “at a fast and furious pace”.

The pair had maintained a constant third place through six of the eight waypoints on the stage, the team reported, but was fourth at the end. That puts the former and defending Dakar champion fourth overall with eight stages left.

Al-Attiyah said later: “We do our best and try to push but it really was not easy to follow because the front car is quite fast. We are happy with what we do until now. There’s still a long way to go and I hope to have a good result. We will continue to push and push.”

Mini crossing Andes Dakar 2016
HIGH-DESERT DUELLERS: Mini All4 Racing X-Roaders Nazareno Lopez (ARG) and Sergio atuente (URU) pick their way through the bush on the Andes crossing. Image: BMW / Mini

Another Mini crew, Mikko Hirvonen (FIN) and co-driver Michel Périn (FRA) in the #315 Mini All4 Racing set out across the mountainous landscape to strengthen its position in the overall standings. The team reported that ” Hirvonen drove a perfectly executed race” to consolidate his seventh overall.

The possibility of making up a place was lost with the distance to the finish reduced to 321km because of the approach of a serious storm front which could have played havoc with what had been a good day’s racing.

The other two Axion X-raid crews also had reason to smile after Stage 5. Argentines Orlando Terranova / Bernardo ‘Ronnie’ Graue (#310) pushed hard to pick up yet more positions. Completing Stage 5 10th puts them 12th overall.

WATCH a video wrap of the day’s Stage 5

Spaniards Joan ‘Nani’ Roma / Alex Haro (#304) also set about making up lost ground and finished Stage 5 12th to move from 15th to 12th overall.

Today’s (Friday) Stage 6 is a 542km loop around the famous Salar de Uyuni and the service crews will remain in the same bivouac for two evenings. This also means that the altitude will remain a factor for the next two stages, after which the Dakar moves back to Argentina and closer to sea-level.

Mini crossing Andes Dakar 2016
HOT SUN, HIGH MOUNTAINS: Hollanders Erik van Loon and Wouter Rosegaar in their high-riding Mini All4. Image: BMW / Mini

The high altitudes of Stage 5 of Dakar 2016 placed the crews of Toyota Gazoo Racing SA under extreme pressure, not only because of the performance differences between the non-turbo V8 Toyota Hilux’s engines but also because of the strain the rapid rise to more than 4300m placed on the crews’bodies.

Even so the team said in a media release they are in good spirits, though looking forward to returning to lower altitudes.

Especially affected is driver Yazeed al-Rajhi, paired with navigator Timo Gottschalk (#305) in one of the three Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux race vehicles. He struggled with headaches and stomach cramps throughout the stage but is upbeat about tackling Stage 6, even though it remains at the same extreme altitude as Stage 5.

“We will have to see how we go, but we will certainly fight hard to regain some of the time we lost today,” he said from the bivouac at the Bolivian town of Uyuni, near the famous salt flats.

NOT A HAPPY RESTART FOR AL-RAJHI

He managed only 15th-fastest time on Stage 5, losing 16 minutes in the overall standings in the process. This places the crew 10th overall now, though they will start Stage 6 in the position they finished Stage 5.

Toyota Gazoo Racing’s team boss Glyn Hall explained: “Unfortunately this means that they will have a dust gap of only two minutes. Not only that, but they will be surrounded by slower competitors, which could make it tough to make up time.

“That said, Yazeed and Timo are fierce competitors. I’m sure they’ll come out swinging.”

For Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz (#301), stages for and five proved tough. They started the two stages – linked as a ‘marathon’ stage during which no service crew is available and the cars receive no service over night – fairly strong. A near-accident with a slow biker in Stage 4, however, gave them a big scare, and they tapped off a bit.

POULTER, HOWIE FOUTH OVERALL

De Villiers said: “It seems we might have been too cautious after that. We lost more time than I would’ve liked but we had a better run on Stage 5.”

He drove a steady stage, as the Dakar competitors relocated from Argentina to the high plains (Altiplano) of Bolivia. A puncture in the latter part of the stage, however, robbed them of a better stage time. They finished seventh-fastest on Thursday and are sixth overall.

Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie (#319) were fourth overall on Stage 5 after taking fourth place on Stage 4. They reported clean runs through both stages though they lost time to the leading Peugeots. The were fifth fastest on Stage 5, despite the high altitude and dropped one position to fifth in the standings.

Poulter said later: “The Hilux ran really well on both stages. We have a lot of confidence in the car.”

LARGER RESTRICTORS, TYRE INFLATION SYSTEMS

All three cars, however, suffer from power loss in the thin, hig-altitude, air, a problem that affects competitive turbodies less.

Hall added: “To make things even more difficult for us the buggies, such as those used by Peugeot, have much bigger tyres, with significantly more wheel travel.

“They also have larger intake restrictors and tyre inflation systems – all of which count strongly in their favour. Despite that the Hilux is extremely capable – when we return to lower altitudes next week we’ll be back on a more even footing.

“There are still many tough stages to come. We must make the most of them. Stage 5 ended with some very rough roads but the crews reported that the new Hilux was very impressive.

“That bodes well for the future.”

The Dakar will end on January 16 in the Argentine city of Rosario.

Programme for the 2016 Dakar

02/01: Start podium in Buenos Aires / Prologue / Liaison to Bivouac “0” close to Rosario
03/01: Buenos Aires – Villa Carlos Paz
04/01: Villa Carlos Paz – Termas de Río Hondo
05/01: Termas de Río Hondo – Jujuy
06/01: Jujuy – Jujuy
07/01: Jujuy – Uyuni
08/01: Uyuni – Uyuni
09/01: Uyuni – Salta
10/01: Rest day in Salta
11/01: Salta – Belén
12/01: Belén – Belén
13/01: Belén – La Rioja
14/01: La Rioja – San Juan
15/01: San Juan – Villa Carlos Paz
16/01: Villa Carlos Paz – Rosario

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