Marco Bulacia and Claudio Bustos overcame one of the trickiest stages of this year’s Dakar Rally to remain firmly on course for a second successive finish with South Racing and a first in a South African-built Ford Ranger.
The Bolivian and his Argentinean navigator set the 16th quickest time on the 449km special stage between Chilecito and San Juan in north-western Argentina and should have headed into the final two days of what has been a gruelling edition of the world’s most famous cross-country rally in an unofficial 18th overall.
But the team incurred a one-hour time penalty after the special for missing a waypoint and that put them down to 25th on the day and 20th overall.
When all the crews had reached Salta on Tuesday evening and the results were updated before the liaison section to bypass the cancelled stage into Chilecito, Eric Bernard was put back into the rankings after his indiscretion on the stage and that meant Bulacia moved back to 21st overall at the start of the stage into San Juan that was split into two sections of very differing character by a neutralised liaison.
Several of the leading motorcyclists lost their way on the early kilometres of the special and that was a warning of what the 63 remaining car crews could expect in terms of difficult navigation. Bulacia reached the end of the first section in an excellent 15th position, as both Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen and Poland’s Jakub Przygonski had their fair share of problems.
The Bolivian continued in his consistent pace through the second section and headed to the heat of the San Juan sunshine after setting a stage time of 5hr 50min 12sec before the penalty was imposed. Hirvonen was still making his way through the stage and would potentially knock Bulacia down a place to 21st without any further technical issues.
Well, we have arrived at the penultimate bivouac of the Dakar in San Juan. It certainly has been a Dakar of extremes from navigation to accidents to the weather, said South Racing’s managing director Scott Abraham. We came from sub-zero temperatures in Bolivia to 42°C today in San Juan.
Marco had a very solid stage today. Like a lot of the competitors, he had issues with the navigation at the start and, once he had picked up the waypoints, he was running inside the top 10. Now we can look forward to the stage tomorrow.
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 (Friday), is the penultimate day of this year’s Dakar and features a stage of 292km in a route of 759km between San Juan and R