Dakar: Cornejo and De Villiers put down a marker at stage 9
Wadi Ad Dawasir-Jan 11, 5:42 PM
Designed to offer a bit of respite to the competitors after the long distances on stages 7 and 8, each comprising approximately 400 km of specials, stage 9 brought the bar down under 300 km for the section against the clock. The menu for the day was a loop around Wadi Ad-Dawasir towards the Province of Aseer and its tracks along the canyons running through the Wajid Plateau. The 287-km special climbed to altitudes of between 800 and 1,200 metres with more than half on sand and 14% on dunes for a taste of desert rallying. The pretenders for victory at the end of stage 12 already knew that this type of distance will also be on the programme tomorrow and the day after. Some of them hoped to take advantage of this stage to regroup before the two battles on stages 10 and 11, followed by a possible final sprint on Friday the 14th of January. However, there were no major navigation errors in the bike or car races and the caravan returned to the bivouac without any major changes.
They have not had their final word on the matter: among the day’s winners, “Nacho” Cornejo in the bike race and Giniel De Villiers in the car category have shared the experience of both enduring a tricky first week, to say the least, before fighting back to become protagonists in the rally who can lay a legitimate claim to a place in the top 10, which should not be forgotten with a view to 2023! The Chilean already triumphed two days ago and repeated the feat on the loop around Wadi Ad-Dawasir, with a time that saw him jump from 12th to 8th place in the general rankings. He is too far away to be battling like last year for the top 3, in which time calculations are now starting to be made. As the day’s opener, Sam Sunderland suffered slightly… sufficiently to concede the place of general rankings leader to Matthias Walkner by 2’12’’. Adrien Van Beveren kept hold of 3rd place, but now only possesses a cushion of 45’’ over Pablo Quintanilla, whilst Kevin Benavides does not seem resigned to accepting 5th place, 10 minutes behind the new leader. In the car category, the gaps give rise to much less uncertainty because Nasser Al-Attiyah has gained another minute over Sébastien Loeb (occupying 2nd place, 39’05’’ behind the Qatari), though he did not manage to grab victory on the day’s special, finishing behind his two South African Toyota team-mates, Giniel De Villiers and Henk Lategan (see Performance of the day). In the T3 class, where a somewhat topsy-turvy situation reigns, the race hierarchy paradoxically seems even more settled: South Racing’s team leader “Chaleco” López is trundling towards the title with a lead of 1 hour and 20 minutes over the Can-Am of team-mate Sebastian Eriksson, whilst stage success collector Seth Quintero is racing under the stress of failing, equalling or succeeding in beating the record of 10 victories on a same edition of the Dakar. Also with South Racing, Austin Jones can equally lay a claim to overall victory, but his lead of 13’47’’ over Gerard Farrés is not an entirely comfortable cushion. Third place is occupied by the younger of the Gozca? brothers, Micha?, who trails the leader by 16’27’’. There is no suspense regarding the colour of the truck that will climb onto the summit of the final podium: it will be blue. However, Eduard Nikolaev drove his Kamaz to within 8’51’’ of the one belonging to title holder Dmitry Sotnikov.
Performance of the day
The car category had not witnessed a podium decked out in the same livery on the first nine specials contested in 2022. However, today the Toyota Hiluxes achieved this feat, displaying, with their wealth of winners, the entire range of talents that the team can boast as a whole. Starting on the bottom step of the day’s podium, as three times winner of the Dakar and with 44 specials under his belt, Nasser Al-Attiyah no longer needs any introduction. As a result, he will have had no reason to be bitter at seeing South African Henk Lategan, triumphant on a special during the first week, finish more quickly than him and certainly would have not begrudged witnessing the victory of his old accomplice Giniel De Villiers, who began his career on the Dakar a year before him in January 2003.
Since then, De Villiers tasted overall victory on the first South American edition in 2009, but, equally impressively, has also participated in 18 consecutive Dakar rallies without a single premature exit from the race. Nonetheless, it all started badly this year for the South African, who was almost obliged to stay at home due to Covid-19 and then spent two days bowing under the weight of a 5-hour penalty, which was finally rescinded after an in-depth investigation. However, the “metronome” never loses his composure, was able to remain focused and won today by 9 seconds ahead of his protégé to pick up the 18th special of his career. At the same time, he also climbed into 5th place in the general rankings and can even start to have designs on 4th place occupied by “Orly” Terranova. Barring any unpleasant surprises, which is rather inconsistent with his temperament, De Villiers is about to complete the Dakar in the top 10 of the car category for the 18th time … Who can beat that? Nobody.
Though perhaps slightly more discreet than his team-mate Mason Klein since the beginning of this 44th Dakar, Bradley Cox had nonetheless carved out a respectable place for himself in the Rally 2 classification. His first adventure on the most demanding rally-raid in the world started spectacularly with victory in the category on the opening stage. However, since then, the son of South African legend Alfie Cox (who took part in the Dakar 13 times) has constantly lost time to Klein in the general rankings. Already in his wake on the Rallye du Maroc, this unfortunate trend continued. Before the day’s special, Cox lagged behind Klein by a little less than one hour, which was an impressive gap admittedly, but not insurmountable. Trailing the stage leader by 24’’ at the first time check point, he was even slightly ahead of Klein and suddenly life on the rally started looking rosy!
However, he soon plummeted back down the rankings, losing more than 1 hour and 10 minutes at the finishing line. The explanation to this downturn in his fortunes was a very close encounter with a rock after 92 km that punched a hole in his front fuel tank, which emptied as quickly as his hopes were shattered. As a result, he had to finish the special “on one leg”, crossing his fingers to avoid running out of fuel right in the middle of the Saudi desert. He eventually managed to reach the finish by handling the bike as best as possible, though the consequences in the general rankings were nothing short of painful. He is out of the reckoning for the provisional podium in the Rally 2class, which is now occupied by Klein, ahead of Camille Chapelière and Jan Brabec. It is a stroke of bad luck, but at the age of 23 years old and with a promising career ahead of him, he has plenty of time to learn from such mishaps.