Xavier Pons gains three places and guides his Ford Ranger to new Dakar Rally heights in Bolivia
UYUNI (BOLIVIA): Xavier ‘Xevi’ Pons carefully steered his Ford Ranger to new heights, as the 2016 Dakar Rally crossed the Argentine frontier into neighbouring Bolivia and competitors tackled a punishing 321km special stage at high altitude on Thursday.
Storms and heavy rain had affected the surrounding area and race officials shortened the special by six kilometres. Pons and Argentine co-driver Ricardo Torlaschi took no risks, avoided the debilitating symptoms of altitude sickness and were classified 20th through the sixth waypoint check.
They went on to finish the timed test in 46th overall after a late steering issue cost them over an hour, but Pons still climbed a further three places to 40th overall after the costly time loss in choking mud in Argentina at the start of the week.
The Spaniard had begun the breathtaking and energy-sapping special in Villazón from 22nd on the road, as the designated route climbed to a Dakar Rally record height of just under 4,600 metres above sea level. The stage then finished near the Tazna mining hub in close proximity to the Salar de Uyuni (salt flats).
Run under a joint venture between DMAS South Racing and Esponsorama, the Ford Ranger’s engine never missed a beat in the oxygen-starved environment - where motors lose power and experience of the changing atmospheric conditions are crucial to the success or failure of a Dakar team.
“For sure, it was a bit disappointing to have the problem so close to the end of the stage,” said Pons. “The most important thing was we got to the finish. Everyday I get a better feeling for the Ranger and the Dakar and I’m loving the challenge.
“I would like to thank Peter Jerie, who helped me on the special today. He’s a man who showed the true spirit of the Dakar!”
Chilean Daniel Mas Valdes and co-driver Juan Pablo Latrach began the day in 31st overall and seven places further back on the road in the second Ford Ranger run by DMAS South Racing. The crew improved on that position as the stage progressed and were running in a virtual 26th through the sixth waypoint check.
Several rivals hit trouble over the closing kilometres and Mas Valdes crossed the finish line in Uyuni in 23rd on the stage and holds 27th overall at the overnight halt.
Only 100 of the original 111 cars that started out of Buenos Aires began the first of the three Bolivian stages.
Support for Pons’s Dakar challenge comes from Air Europa, Fundación Incorpora Deportistas Solidarios, Avintia Grupo, Power Electronics, KP Sport, Galfer, Jjuan Faura, King Regal, Las Rozas Cuidad Europea del Deporte 2016 and the Palladium Hotel Group.
South Racing also has support from NWM, Rudy Project, OMP, TW Steel, Gold Nutrition, Michelin, MotoGP Argentina, Argentina Tourism and Ecomac.
Tomorrow (Friday), teams tackle the second of the high altitude stages across the Bolivian plateau. In a gruelling route of 723km, drivers will tackle 542km against the clock, including a section across the awe-inspiring Uyuni salt flats, the largest of their kind anywhere in the world.