Spanish driver Nani Roma reclaimed the Dakar Rally lead on Thursday as compatriot Marc Coma soared to the top of the motorcycling standings after a brutal fifth stage which saw temperatures nudge the 40?C mark.
Roma, behind the wheel of a Mini, had led after three stages and he reasserted his authority on the grueling 912km run from Chilecito to San Miguel de Tucuman, Argentina.
Roma clocked 4 hours, 27 minutes, 1 second on the 527km timed section of the stage, with South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, in a Toyota, in second spot and Robby Gordon of the US, driving a Hummer, in third place.
In the overall standings, Roma now has a lead of 26 minutes, 28 seconds on 2011 champion, and Mini teammate, Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar.
“I’m happy with the day, but it was hard, probably one of the hardest stages that I’ve ever driven,” Roma said. “We tried to do our best and to just get through it. We got stuck in the sand a bit, but only lost 10 minutes. The others had bigger problems.”
Carlos Sainz, the 2010 champion who had led overnight, slumped to sixth overall, almost an hour behind Roma, after a nightmare day where the Spanish veteran endured a number of navigational errors.
“First of all we had a problem to find the way point. We couldn’t find it. We need to check now what has happened because I think we have been passing really, really close,” the Spaniard said. “Then as we were going up and down trying to find it at one moment we had a problem with the car. We had to stop and one of the electrical connections was coming out.”
“From the navigation side of things it was very tough. What can we do?” al-Attiyah said. “We lost a lot of minutes, but we are here and we still have 10 days left. We’ll try to do our best. We must really push a lot now. We’ll see.”
The motorcycling section of the race was shortened as the heat was deemed to be close to danger levels for the riders.
Former champion Coma, on a KTM, was declared the stage winner in a time of 3:02.08, with fellow Spaniard Jordi Viladoms in second spot and Kuba Przygonski of Poland taking third.
“It was another tough day. It was really hot out there. It’s also difficult in terms of navigation as well because of the rain last week, which makes it difficult to see anything,” Coma said. “To get to the end of the stage, I rode for 10km lost in a river bed. In general, it’s tough for everyone. For the race lead, you can lose lots of time at any moment. When you open the way, it’s a bit like playing Russian roulette.”
In the overall standings, Coma has a 41:10 lead on Honda’s Joan Barreda, the previous leader.