Friday, January 7, 2011

First Third of 2011 Dakar Race: The Atacama Desert Challenge

Today (Friday, Jan. 7th) the 33rd Dakar rally will reach its sixth stage of 14 and the crucial "rest day" before the punishing trek back into Argentina from Chile. The riders, who set out from Buenos Aires on New Year's Day have raced across several thousand kilometres of diverse terrain and the harsh demands of the Atacama Desert -- the driest place on the planet in the first week of the 16-day challenge.

Here's a video summary of the race at stage six with Marc Como, the Despres-Faria duo and Helder Rodrigues out front and within minutes of each other.

Designed to test both riders and machinery to the limits of endurance, the race loops through Argentina and Chile, covering 9,000 kilometers and a huge variety of terrain that also includes the Andes Mountains.

The 2011 Dakar Rally reached full registration in the bike and quad categories four months before the start of the race that includes bikes, quads, cars and trucks.

Several thousand kilometres of diverse terrain and the harsh demands of the Atacama Desert have been completed so far.

Helder Rodrigues is "aiming for the podium" and Yamaha can look towards a decent outing from the Yamaha Racing France Ipone team whose riders Helder Rodrigues and Jordi Viladoms fill two of three positions for WR450F and YZ450F technology in the top ten of the bike category.

Rodrigues suffered a tyre problem and a delay with assistance in the early phases of the rally (although he admirably completed the opening stage with used rubber) and has since been playing catch-up. The Portuguese – who was fourth overall in 2010 – currently lies fifth after consistent progress and is three positions in front of America’s Jonah Street (Team Jonah Street/JVO) with Viladoms in ninth. Sadly Frenchman Olivier Pain (team-mate of Rodrigues and Viladoms) had to withdraw from the race after a fall on Stage 4 led to a broken wrist. The experienced Enduro rider scored three top-five positions before getting ready for stage 5 and was aiming for a stage win yesterday. Passing Way Point 8 at 218km of the 423km long stint in first position, Olivier crashed at 231km of the stage and was forced to retire.

“I saw that the Pain had fallen and Marc Coma was already with him,” said Rodrigues after reaching the bivouac yesterday. “Even so I had to stop to make sure he was well because this is more important than anything else and fortunately his accident was not very grave. Afterwards I continued but I confess that it was hard to find my concentration again and get on the right trail. It could have been better but tomorrow we continue in the Atacama- my preferred terrain – so I hope I can fight for the lead and get near the podium.”

The Quad category has seen Yamaha YFM700R machinery dominant with seven of the first ten classified riders reaching the end of Stage 5. The listing is headed by Alejandro Patronelli. The Argentine is attempting his second Dakar after winning two stages and finishing second to his brother in 2010. Last year’s victor, Marcos, lost all hope of defending his title after receiving a six hour penalty after Stage 1 and had to retire in stage 4 after injuring his knee but Alejandro has been flying the flag admirably for the family name and hasn’t dropped out of the top two in the general standings for four of the five stages; arriving first in two. “I’m exhausted and it has been a hard race so far but this is the Dakar and I will keep on pushing with this rhythm,” he said. Countrymen Tomas Maffei and Sebastian Halpern are running second and third respectively. One of the few female entrants, Franco-Italian Camelia Liparoti (using a YFM700R), is presently fifteenth from twenty Quad riders still in the rally.

A special mention must go to former six-times Dakar winner with Yamaha Stephane Peterhansel who is second in the car division and has not dropped out of the top three for the entire contest.

450km of sand and further off-road tracks lie in wait for the special stage 6 until the break in the town of Arica, near the Peruvian border. The pause in the schedule will permit valuable rest and recuperation time as well as a chance for mechanical repair.

Photos courtesy of Michel Maindru/Yamaha Motor France/ASO. Map from

Here is a Yamaha's first week report at 1/3 of the race complete: