– Daniel Mas Valdes retains 31st after solid drive in second Ford Ranger
– Frenchman Loeb retains lead; Peterhansel wins first half of Marathon stage
Ford Ranger driver Xavier ‘Xevi’ Pons emerged unscathed from the first half of the Dakar Rally’s Marathon stage around San Salvador de Jujuy in northwest Argentina on Wednesday.
With no technical assistance or service support available to competitors at the overnight halt, it was imperative that the Spaniard made no mistakes and stayed clear of trouble before the rally crosses the spine of the Andes mountain range into neighbouring Bolivia on Thursday.
Pons’s Ford Ranger is being run under a joint venture between DMAS South Racing and Esponsorama. The Spaniard began the day’s 429km special stage in 63rd overall and 18th on the road. After a liaison of 100km, the timed test was held over sandy and rocky terrain at an average altitude of around 3,500 metres in the foothills of the Andes.
It was a fitting warm-up for the high-altitude special stages that lie ahead later this week and Pons delivered a strong performance from the outset. He was lying in a trouble free 22nd overall through the opening passage control, before climbing to 21st as the stage progressed.
He and navigator Ricardo Torlaschi eventually reached the stage finish in a time of 4hrs 03min 13sec to record the 23rd quickest time and move 20 places up the leader board from 63rd to an unofficial 43rd overall.
Chilean Daniel Mas Valdes and co-driver Juan Pablo Latrach began the loop stage in 31st overall in a second Ford Ranger run by DMAS South Racing. From a starting position of 37 amongst the surviving 109 cars, the Chilean went on to record the 38th quickest time of 4hr 19min 36sec and retained 31st overall at the Jujuy bivouac.
Both Ford Rangers made it to the finish of the first part of the Marathon stage. This is critical, as the stage can decide the Dakar, DMAS South Racing’s team director Scott Abraham.
Tomorrow is still another long day before the team gets their hands on the Rangers to prepare them for the Bolivian stages and the rest of the race. It takes a complete team effort to keep the cars running well and, this year, the mechanics have had to work in some of the most treacherous conditions I have seen in all my years of racing.
Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel managed to fend off a challenge from fellow countryman Sébastien Loeb and Spaniard Carlos Sainz to claim his first stage win of the campaign. Loeb retains the outright rally lead by the margin of 4min 48sec.
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) the route of the Dakar crosses the Argentine frontier into neighbouring Bolivia, where competitors will tackle the second half of the Marathon stage and the first of three special stages at much higher altitude.
In a day’s route of 642km, 327km will be timed against the clock before teams arrive in Uyuni, the capital of the Antonio Ouijarri Province of Bolivia. The city is located in the mineral-rich Department of Potosi and close to the daunting salt flats that caused such carnage amongst the motorcycle front-runners in 2015.