Ford's Xavier Pons excels in the heat and sand of a shortened ninth Dakar special around Belén
BELÉN (ARGENTINA): Spaniard Xavier Pons put his Ford Ranger to work in a treacherous off-road environment and much higher temperatures for the first time on this year’s Dakar Rally, during the ninth loop stage around Belén in northern Argentina, on Tuesday.
He was running extremely well through the demanding stage when race officials took the decision to stop the special at the second passage control on safety grounds. Several of the leading motor cycle riders had experienced problems in the baking temperatures in the sand dunes at Fiambalá and ASO management did not want back markers and the remainder of the field to be put at risk.
After their impressive performances on the seventh special on Monday, Pons and Ford Ranger team-mate Daniel Mas Valdes had lined up in 48th and 26th overall for the Belén loop and were granted starting positions of 32nd and 29th on the road.
The original stage was short by Dakar standards – only 285km of competition – but it featured long stretches of vegetation-scattered dunes, soft sand, camel grass and demanding riverbeds in much higher outside temperatures of between 36 and 38°C.
The Fords performed superbly through the opening section. Pons and co-driver Ricardo Torlaschi are running their Ranger in a joint venture between DMAS South Racing and Esponsorama and the Spaniard enjoyed his first ever taste of Dakar sand dunes. He was 24th through PC1 and went on to complete the special without incident to maintain a strong position for the next assault at the dunes on Wednesday.
Mas Valdes and co-driver Juan Pablo Latrach suffered a burnt out clutch in the soft sand before the modified finish and were forced to wait for their assistance vehicles to arrive before they could continue on to the night halt in Belén.
“It was a hot and very difficult stage,” said DMAS South Racing’s team director Scott Abraham. “Xevi finished the special without problems, although there was an issue with his tracking system and he didn’t show in the results. Daniel was forced to stop with clutch issues and was waiting for the assistance crews. It’s a very difficult section of the special where he stopped.”
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 (Wednesday), is another long and tiring day through Argentina and features more off-road challenges and tricky navigation on a special stage of 276km and road liaisons totalling 485km between Belén and La Rioja.
The competitive action takes place to the west of the overnight halt and features another extensive section through the notorious dunes at Fiambalá – a graveyard for many Dakar dreams since the event moved to South America in 2009.
A southerly liaison then guides teams around the Sierra de Velasco mountain range to La Rioja, the provincial capital of an important cattle farming and wine producing region and the birthplace of former Argentinean President, Isabel Martínez de Péron.