Ford's Pons and Mas Valdes get their first taste of sand dunes on eighth Dakar stage between Salta en Belén
BELÉN (ARGENTINA): Spanish driver Xavier Pons and Chilean Daniel Mas Valdes were back in Dakar Rally action in their Ford Rangers and got their first real taste of sand dunes and tricky off-road navigation on the eighth 393km special stage between Salta and Belén in northern Argentina on Monday.
Pons also produced a sterling fight back through the field on the day’s special and, having started 128th amongst all the cars and trucks on the road this morning, he came home with the 30th fastest time and at the tail end of the leading group of 35 cars.
Mas Valdes and co-driver Juan Pablo Latrach resumed their push towards the top 20 from 32nd on the road and 29th overall.
Only 91 cars and 51 trucks took the start of the stage, which was split into two sections by a neutralisation road and featured the first series of sand dunes and some tricky navigation to whet the appetite for the coming days. After their delays into Salta, Pons and co-driver Ricardo Torlaschi started the stage 53rd in the general classification in a Ford Ranger run in a joint venture between DMAS South Racing and Esponsorama.
The two Fords were classified in 30th and 34th overall after the opening section, but the terrain and the navigation became more difficult as the stage progressed. Mas Valdes held 27th through the seventh of nine route waypoint checks and went on to finish the special in a similar position in a time of 4hr 57min 04sec. He duly moved up three places to 26th overall.
Pons started the special a long way behind his team-mate, overtook over 60 vehicles and arrived at the finish with the 30th quickest time of 5hr 05min 21sec.
“After the problems with the radiator on stage seven, Xavier did a great job not to damage the engine into Salta and he has bounced back today with a superb performance,” said DMAS South Racing’s team director Scott Abraham.
“He started 128th on the road amongst the cars and trucks and had passed 60 vehicles by the end of the first section of the stage. To set such a good time and not damage the car passing all those vehicles was a good achievement and it gives him a good starting position for what promises to be a tricky stage in the dunes on Tuesday.
“Daniel is driving very well too. He has delivered another solid performance in the second Ford Ranger today and continues to creep towards the top 20.”
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 (Tuesday) service vehicles and assistance crews remain at the bivouac in Belén, while competitors tackle a loop stage of 285km in a shorter day of just 396km. But the special promised to be a tricky one, with difficult navigation and a series of dunes on the agenda.