With stage 6 of the Libya Rally – from Merzouga to Matarka – ticked off, there is only one chance left for changes in the standings. The tension is rising with the finish within reach.
Unfortunately for Dutch trucker Jos Smink the adventure is over two days too soon. The camshaft of the Ginaf broke already in the dunes at the beginning of the stage. ‘Just bad luck’, Smink stated. « And a real pity, because we were heading towards the podium. We haven’t had any technical problems yet this week, but this is a fatal one. »
With Smink out of the race it is between Belgian Igor Bouwens and the Dutch Martin van den Brink and Aart Schoones. The gap between Van den Brink in second and Bouwens in first reduced to only 22 minutes.
The three of them had enjoyed the stage. « I think we had an average of 120 km/h today, » Bouwens said in the bivouac in the middle of nowhere. « Still it is possible we lost some time on Martin. He was absolutely fast. I don’t want to take any risk. It’s my first rally with the truck. I used to be driving the assistance truck for my father Gregoor, but he fell ill and I took over the wheel of the race truck. I had never imagined we would be this high in the rankings. We thought that maybe, with some luck we could battle for the top 3, but this is beyond expectations. »
Van den Brink certainly put the pedal to the metal. « It was a fantastic day. The first part with the dunes was quite technical, but we flew through. The second special stage was like a WRC track. I loved it! I guess we did closed in on Igor, but I don’t know how much. For sure we arrived at the bivouac when only three bike riders had finished. »
Also Schoones had a great day. « For me this was the most beautiful day of all. Dunes and fast tracks: just great. I drove faster than I actually had in mind, but it went well. In the dunes we had already caught three others and I could see Igor driving ahead of me when we got out of the Erg Chebbi and we finished ahead of him in the bivouac. »
Top bike riders battered and bruised
Not only in the truck class there were ‘casualties’, also in the bikes category. From the top 3 only Belgian Gilles Vanderweyen reached the bivouac unharmed. Both Mirjam Pol and Max Hunt crashed. Pol had a painful shoulder, Hunt broke a finger.
« I went flat-out on a dune and at the descent I thought ‘I have got it. No, I don’t.’ I was too eager, it’s my own fault. I was paying too much attention to Max because I wanted to close in on him. I kept him in sight but when I got out of the dunes, there were no tracks. I asked at the CP and they confirmed I was the first. At the tankstop first Gilles came and 10 minutes later Max arrived. Only 10 kms to the finish Max caught up with me. »
Hunt crashed heavily and not only hurt his hand but his arm too. « But I’ll manage the final day. I’ll have my fingers taped together for support. Luckily it’s my left hand. If it would have been the right hand it would be worse. »
Vanderweyen just did his own thing. « Today was about speed, technical riding skills and navigation. My best skill is navigation, but I do like this terrain. Navigation is quite difficult in this rally and that is to my advantage, I think. I haven’t had any big problems. »
Pol is way ahead, but the difference between Vanderweyen in second and Hunt in third is only a few minutes.
A matter of minutes
The stage was a typical one for the SSV’s again. Michiel Becx and Edwin Kuijpers did well looking at the rankings. « We had a great day, »Becx said. « We had a few moments in the dunes, and could only just avoid a well when driving backwards off a dune, but sometimes you need just that bit of luck. »
First 4×4 car was Jacky Loomans, but he is out of competition as far as the podium concerns. It looks as if the battle will be between the Belgian duo Vincent Thijs and Serge Bruynkens and the French Jerome Renaud and Gabriel Péméant. « We’ve been stuck in the dunes a few minutes and we had another moment of little doubt for a waypoint, but that was no more than 2 minutes, » Bruynkens tells. « We had a pretty good day and our chances of winning the Libya Rally are realistic, although the ranking is not clear yet. We just can’t afford any mistakes on the final day. »