Dakar: Coma and Roma beat the heat in Stage 5 (VIDEO, UPDATED)

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Extremely hot temperatures curtailed Stage 5 of the Dakar Rally for the bikes and quads, but that proved especially beneficial for the new leader in the former category, Marc Coma.

Coma (pictured) was leading the stage after the first section of the run from Chilecito to Tucuman, Argentina. But shortly into the second section, he suffered a fuel leak on his KTM.

With the help of his water carrier, Jorge Viladoms, he was able to fix the problem. Then, shortly after that, Dakar officials opted to cancel the second part of the stage and that gave Coma the win.

The stage win propelled Coma into the overall lead in bikes as well, as previous leader Joan Barreda suffered from fuel system and navigational problems en route to a 13th place finish. Barreda slipped just one spot to second in the overall, but now is 41:10 behind Coma.

“It was another tough day,” Coma said. “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. To get to the end of the stage, I rode for 10 [kilometers] 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.”

As for the quads, the top three competitors overall – Sergio Lafuente, Ignacio Casale, and Rafal Sonik – all sustained one hour penalties. With that taken into account, Lafuente is now listed as the overall leader by 16:52 over Casale after his stage win today. Sonik lies in third, 23:12 back of Lafuente.

In the cars, Nani Roma regained the overall lead today with a stage win. Roma finished 4:20 ahead of Giniel de Villiers. American driver Robby Gordon appeared to pull off a third-place finish at 20:12 behind, but was later penalized for missing a waypoint on the course and fell to 19th in the stage.

Stage 4 winner Carlos Sainz followed up with a tough 26th-place result today after several navigational errors and an electrical problem on his SMG buggy.

With a one hour penalty compounding matters, Sainz fell from first all the way to eighth in the overall standings. Nasser Al-Attiyah had elevated to second there behind leader Roma but he too incurred a penalty and is now fifth; as a result, Orlando Terranova is now closest to Roma at 31:46 off the pace.

Dmitry Sotnikov won in the trucks to make a 1-2 finish for the Kamaz team, as teammate Andrey Karginov finished second. But those two, along with everyone else, are still chasing Gerard de Rooy in the category. He sits 32 minutes ahead of Karginov in the overall, with Eduard Nikolaev in third.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”