South Racing’s Ford Ranger crew of Marco Bulacia and Claudio Bustos headed into the heart of Bolivia in excellent form and reached the town of Oruro in 23rd overall after a shortened fifth special stage of just 219km on Friday.
When time penalties were handed to his rivals on Thursday evening, Bulacia was moved up four places in the finishing order for the fourth stage given him 19th position on the special and pushed him up a place to 26th overall.
He was running a virtual 10th through the third of the day’s waypoint checks before reaching Uyuni in 2hr 53min 16sec and 16th place to continue his dogged climb up the leader board.
Friday’s route headed north from Tupiza and on to the Bolivian Altoplano, where competitors should have tackled a special stage of 447km and an additional 245km of liaison to the overnight halt in Oruro. The planned special was split into two sections by a neutralisation zone through the town of Uyuni, adjacent to the great salt flats, and finished south of the overnight halt. The entire stage took place at over 3,600 metres above sea level and rose to over 4,400 metres shortly after the start.
But race officials deemed the second section between Uyuni and Oruro to be unsafe for free passage because of recent inclement weather conditions and the special was stopped in Uyuni and teams then took a longer liaison to the overnight halt.
Bulacia’s latest generation South Racing Ford Ranger was prepared by Neil Woolridge Motorsport (NWM) with collaboration from South Racing. Bulacia has additional backing from YPFB, Vialco, Hard Rock Santa Cruz, BOA and Ende for his second Dakar with South Racing.
Tomorrow (Saturday), is the longest special stage of the entire event a tiring 527km monster of a stage at altitude between Oruro and La Paz. The special will feature dune crossings, energy-sapping tracks on the Altoplano, tricky navigation and spectacular views of Lake Titicaca, before a liaison takes teams into La Paz, the location for Sunday’s much needed rest day.