Roma takes battle to rivals with second quickest time on shortened fifth stage


Overdrive Racing’s Joan Roma and Alex Haro are within striking distance of the podium places at the 2017 Dakar Rally, after recording the second quickest time in what turned out to be a shortened fifth special stage of just 219km between Tupiza and a finish in Uyuni in Bolivia on Friday.

The Spanish Toyota Hilux crew began the day third on the road, fifth overall and trailing the outright leader Cyril Despres by 10min 50sec in the overall rankings. The pair started strongly and were running in a virtual second position behind multiple WRC champion Sébastien Loeb through the third waypoint and moved up to second after WP4.

Only 64 of the original entrants in the car category started the special and Roma went on to record a time of 2hr 24min 47sec, which was sufficient to give the Spaniard the runner-up spot on the day’s stage and fourth overall. He now trails new rally leader Stéphane Peterhansel by just 5min 35sec.

The Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa Team’s Giniel De Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz started the day in seventh and still in striking distance of the podium. They were fourth overall through the third waypoint check, but made a navigational mistake soon afterwards and eventually reached the stage finish 29min 51sec behind Loeb to lose even more ground on the leading group.

Sixth fastest time for Dakar rookie Conrad Rautenbach

Race officials assessed time penalties on Thursday evening and Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach and co-driver Robert Howie moved up a place to 18th in the overall standings. They had been ninth quickest after the third waypoint on the day’s special and reached the shortened finish in an excellent sixth place to hold 15th overall. It was the Dakar rookie’s best Dakar stage performance so far.

The Dutch crew of Erik van Loon and Wouter Rosegaar had the target of getting back into the top 20 after delays over the opening days. They were 22nd at the start of the day and enjoyed a solid 11th-placed finish on the special to regain their top 20 position on the run into Oruro.

Alejandro Yacopini and Daniel Merlo also improved a place to 24th before action resumed on the Altoplano. The Argentineans were classified 27th through WP3 and 18th at WP4 and completed the stage in a similar position to climb to 22nd.

The Chinese crew of He Zhitao and Kai Zhao missed the stage crossing into Bolivia in their Boundless Yong Team Toyota Hilux prepared by Overdrive Racing. They were given a position of 54th on the road for the shortened fifth stage, but did not start the special.

Engine issues meant that Ronan Chabot and Gilles Pillot were not able to complete the second part of the fourth stage into Tupiza and they were forced to join Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah on the list of retirements on Thursday evening.

Today and tomorrow

The fifth special started to the west of Tupiza and headed north on to the Bolivian Altoplano in the direction of the next bivouac in Oruro. There was a neutralised zone through the town of Uyuni, but the original special should have run for 447km nonetheless and finished south of the night halt, the day also including 245km of liaison. The special climbed to over 4,400 metres shortly after the start and took place entirely over 3,600 metres above sea level. Race officials deemed the second section unsafe for safe passage, however, and a mid-morning decision was taken to cancel section two and stop the special after 219km in Uyuni.

Saturday’s route is another grueller at altitude and offers a real sting in the tail before the rest day in La Paz on Sunday. In a route of 786km, 527km will be competitive – the longest competitive section of the entire event – and features dune crossings at altitude and views over Lake Titicaca en route.