The US’ Robby Gordon’s hopes of winning the Dakar Rally took a major hit on Wednesday when stewards ruled that he should be thrown out of the event because his Hummer’s engine did not conform to race regulations.
The 43-year-old — who is pressing overall leader Stephane Peterhansel of France hard for the car title — appealed the decision and was allowed to continue competing in the 377km 10th stage from Iquique.
However, that did not go well for the American as he probably saw his hopes of winning in any case dashed, coming in well behind not only stage winner Spanish Mini-driving Nani Roma, but also Peterhansel.
Gordon had been in tremendous form on Monday and Tuesday’s stages and looked the danger man to Mini-driver Peterhansel, but he lost nearly 15 minutes on him on Wednesday and even slipped to third behind Roma, who was winning his third stage of this year’s renewal.
However, the combative American — a veteran of NASCAR racing in the US — made no commentary about his run-in with the stewards and instead blamed Peterhansel for not having given him enough room at one point during the stage.
“I hit a rock with both right-side tires and as you can see this wheel is way out, so we’ve got some broken parts,” Gordon said. “Do I think I can win again? Of course. I was passing him [Peterhansel], he didn’t move over and I clobbered a rock and got two flat tires at the same time. So, we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Gordon, though, insisted that Peterhansel — bidding for a 10th win in the testing race, six in the motorbikes and thrice in the cars — would have to fight every inch of the way to emerge victorious.
“We’ve got a damaged race car that we’re going to have to work on and there’s a lot of damage from what I can see. Now we’ll push, push, push even harder,” he said.
Peterhansel disputed Gordon’s account.
“We overtook him when he made a navigation mistake, but at the end he overtook me again,” Peterhansel said. “He was really fast on a very short corner to the left, very tight, and he went straight on and jumped off a small cliff. I was sure that he rolled, but when I saw again through the dust he was on his wheels. I think something happened with his car, I don’t know exactly why or what — maybe the tire? I don’t know.”
The ultimate decision over Gordon’s fate rests with the French Automobile Sport Federation (FFSA), who must deliver their verdict within two months, but the losing party could appeal that to motorsport’s global governing body, the FIA.
Gordon — whose best finish so far in seven Dakar participations is third in the 2009 edition — had won the ninth stage on Tuesday to cut Peterhansel’s overall lead to just over 5 minutes ahead of Sunday’s finish in Lima.
It is believed that the stewards noticed the problem with his engine while checking it over after the stage — which had seen his Hummer teammate and defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah forced to retire after another technical problem.
The stewards believe that Gordon’s modifying of the ventilation system linked to his engine improved its performance level — he denies that his tinkering had an impact on improving its speed and is basing his appeal on that.
Earlier, Spain’s defending motorbike champion, Marc Coma, reduced the overall lead of bitter rival Cyril Despres to just 21 seconds.