Xavier Pons and his Ford Ranger battle against bruising terrain and punishing heat on tenth Dakar stage into La Rioja
LA RIOJA (ARGENTINA): Spaniard Xavier Pons is certainly experiencing everything race officials and the elements can throw at him on his Dakar Rally debut in the Ford Ranger.
Overnight thunderstorms and flash flooding again forced organisers to shorten the day’s delayed 10th special stage between Belén and La Rioja in north-western Argentina. Coupled with insipid and energy-sapping heat and treacherous navigation, it made the going tougher than even the hardest Dakar veterans could have imagined. But the Spaniard climbed three places on the overall leader board.
Pons and co-driver Ricardo Torlaschi are running their Ranger in a joint venture between DMAS South Racing and Esponsorama. Despite a faulty tracking system on the Ford Ranger for several days, Pons was delighted to discover at the overnight halt in Belén that he had recorded the 16th quickest time on arguably the most difficult special stage of the entire event on Tuesday.
His reward was promotion to 36th in the overall classification and a starting position of 20 for the stage to La Rioja. The start was delayed for a while because of overnight thunderstorms and the leading 10 bikes left at similar times to the front-running cars and trucks for the first time on this Dakar. Race officials later made the decision to end the special at the fifth passage control, at the 244.7km point, to avoid an impassable river crossing.
On a stage where even the most experienced drivers and riders hit a catalogue of problems, Pons reached the second passage control in 60th position and went on to complete the special in an impressive 34th position to move up three places on the leader board to 33rd overall.
“Two very tough days for everyone” said Pons. “Yesterday, the stage was very hard. In one place it was 48 degrees outside and, in the car, we were about 70 degrees! …very hot. It was crazy and, luckily, they shortened the stage, because I had drunk all my ‘camel bags’ in the first two sections and was almost dehydrated. Saying that, the experience in the dunes was nice.”
After the delays with the damaged clutch on stage nine, Chilean driver Mas Valdes and co-driver Juan Pablo Latrach were handed a starting position of 61 on the road for the stage in a second DMAS South Racing Ford Ranger and actually set out in 73rd. They finished the special stage in 54th place and now hold 45th in the general classification.
“Xevi got stuck for a short time in a dry river bed and lost some time this morning,” said DMAS South Racing’s team director Scott Abraham. “But he recovered well and the car ran great to the end of the stage. He and Ricardo are happy to be in La Rioja. Daniel was delayed in the dunes but he too finished well and it bodes well for bringing two cars to the finish of the rally on Saturday.”
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 (Thursday), teams head further south from La Rioja to the town of San Juan, via liaison sections of 431km and another demanding special stage of 281km that starts in the Talampaya National Park and meanders to a finish a short distance from the north of the town.
Large stretches of sand will feature, alongside choking fesh-fesh, testing navigation and other sections on faster gravel tracks.