BIG DAY FOR HIRVONEN: Regular World Rally championship driver Mikko Hirvonen won Stage 12 of the 2016 Dakar Rally on Friday after a tough drive in his Mini All4 race car. Image: Mini
VILLA CARLOS PAZ, Argentina – Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen took his first Dakar Rally special stage win on Friday (Jan 15) with the Mini All4
Axion X-raid Team (#315) driver and French co-driver Michel Périn finishing Stage 12 in the No.1 slot after 481km of racing over hard-packed, pebble and rock-littered terrain.
It is Hirvonen’s first Dakar after a career as a World Rally championship driver and the stage win took him to fourth overall in the multi-stage, ultra long-distance race through two South American countries though he still wants to make th top three. He said after the stage ended in Villa Carlos Paz after a chase from San Juan – a total distance of 931km.
AL-ATTIYAH BACKS UP WITH SECOND ON DAY
“That was a bit of a surprise!” he said later. “It didn’t feel so fast – it was a tricky stage and not easy to keep a good speed or rhythm. When I thought it would get faster a tricky section would happen but it appears it was difficult for everybody. I’m happy with the way it’s been going and the team has been fantastic in the way they keep us going.
“We will keep trying until the end…”
Team mates Nasser al-Attiyah (QAT) and co-pilot Mathieu Baumel (FRA) continued their fight for the Dakar top slot by finishing second on the stage but only nine seconds behind Hirvonen. The Qatari said later: “It was a long stage and it wasn’t easy to open up some distance because the surface was very, very loose. On Saturday I will try to take some more time from the leader.
“We need to have a good run but everything is still open until the end. We’ll see…”
Another Mini pair, Spain’s Joan ‘Nani’ Roma and Alex Haro, were fifth at the end of the stage, blaming a lack of overtaking opportunities and dust for their All4 Racing Mini not doing even better.
“It’s not such a good day,” Roma said. “I had to stay in the dust of many competitors and this made the stage even more difficult. It has been a strange Dakar. We haven’t had many good sides.”
GORDON ‘LIKE A WALL’
He added that working with Haro was one positive thing from the event. “The partnership is great and now we work together in an automatic way.”
Argentines Orlando Terranova/Bernardo ‘Ronnie’ Graue, also with the Axion X-raid Team, again displayed their high-speed determination and navigational skills to finish seventh on the stage and 12th overall.
“We got stuck behind Robby Gordon,” he laughed. “We started eight minutes behind him and when we caught him he was like a wall!”
Further down the field, the official Dakar media people reported, Stéphane Peterhansel didn’t take any chances as his shot at a sixth Dakar car title lay within reach.
The race for stage victory was awesome, however, between the two Toyotas Hiluxes of South African’s Leeroy Poulter and Giniel de Villiers and the two Minis of Nasser al-Attiyah and stage winner Mikko Hirvonen.
Toyota team bosds Glyn Hall told The Corner later in a media release from the bivouac: “Leeroy and Rob drove a stunning stage and remain fifth overall. They looked on for a stage win but missed by only 45sec after five-and-a-half hours of flat-out racing!
“The excitement in the bivouac was immense as the team watched Leeroy and Rob increase their lead at every way point.”
KTM’S MEO THE DAY’S BIG LOSER
The ‘don’t overdo it’ scenario was similar in the bike category with Aussie leader Toby Price (KTM) finishing the day second, 7min32 behind Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha). It was the official Yamaha rider’s first stage win on the 2016 event and took him to fourth overall.
Antoine Meo (KTM), third overall at the day’s start, was the day’s big loser. He fell 20km from the finishing and dropped three places in the overall Bikes rankings.
However, the major spectacle of the race was that between Toyota’s Leeroy Poulter and Giniel de Villiers and Mini’s Nasser al-Attiyah and Mikko Hirvonen. “The Toyotas against the two Minis devoured the 481km special as if they were starving for victory,” the Dakar report said. “On terrain more favourable to the qualities of their Hilux bakkies the two South Africans did not need to be asked twice to step on the gas.”
They drove at a pace that only al-Attiyah could match – at least early in the stage. The Qatari perhaps hoped to push De Villiers into making a mistake and so leave the way open for his team mate Hirvonen who started the day fourth and 5min23 behind the South African.
PETERHANSEL COOLS IT TO STAY IN FRONT
De Villiers slowed a little towards the end of the special to avoid falling into the Minis’ trap, the Dakar report said, but, there was still Leeroy Poulter to catch “and he was driving like a bat out of hell on the road to victory”. With al-Attiyah coming up, Hirvonen pulled out all the stops and took the lead 20km from the stage end for his first rally-raid victory ahead of al-Attiyah for a Mini 1-2
Overall leader Stéphane Peterhansel took his day less competitively with only 386km to go to a sixth Dakar win in Rosario. “Any other strategy would have been suicidal for his ambitions,” the Dakar report suggested. He and his Peugeot DKR 2008 are now more than 40 minutes ahead of al-Attiyah and and hour and seven minutes ahead of De Villiers.
Mikko Hirvonen is fourth and only 4min27 from a podium place.
Provisional main contenders’ classification Stage 12 (San Juan-Villa Carlos Paz)
1 Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Michel Perin (FRA), Mini All4 Racing 5hr34min17
2 Nasser al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA), Mini All4 Racing +09sec
3 Leeroy Poulter (ZAF)/Robert Howie (ZAF), Toyota Hilux +45sec
4Giniel de Villiers (ZAF)/Dirk Von Zitzewitz (DEU), Toyota Hilux +57sec
5 Nani Roma (ESP)/Alex Haro Bravo (ESP), Mini All4 Racing +3min09
8 Sébastien Loeb (FRA)/Daniel Elena (MC), Peugeot 2008 DKR +8min33
9 Cyril Despres (FRA)/David Castera (FRA), Peugeot 2008 DKR +9min17
10 Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA)/Jean-Paul Cottret (FRA), Peugeot 2008 DKR
Overall classification after Stage 12
1 Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA)/Jean-Paul Cottret (FRA), Peugeot 2008 DKR 47hr27min42
2 Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Matthieu Baumel (FRA), Mini All 4 Racing, +40min59
3 Giniel De Villiers (ZAF)/Dirk Von Zitzewitz (DEU), Toyota Hilux, +1hr07min16
4 Mikko Hirvonen (FIN)/Michel Perin (FRA), Mini All 4 Racing, +1hr11min42
5 Leeroy Poulter (ZAF)/Robert Howie (ZAF), Toyota Hilux, +1hr36min16
7 Cyril Despres (FRA)/David Castera (FRA), Peugeot 2008 DKR, + 1hr55min05
9 Sébastien Loeb (FRA)/Daniel Elena (MC), Peugeot 2008 DKR, +2hr22min46
No change in the race lead. Toby Price (KTM) enjoyed a trouble-free day but the stage went to Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha) and took him to fourth overall. Antoine Meo (KTM) fell less than 20km from the finish. The Frenchman who had decided to sacrifice his third in the general standings to escort team leader Price – in accordance with team instructions – lost more than 38 minutes and three places.
He injured a hand in the fall; that and damage to his bike put him 38min behind the stage winner.
Price has kept his lead of more than 37min over Stefan Svitko and 53min over Pablo Quintanilla. If he wins on Saturday Price will be the first Australian rider to win the Dakar.