Dakar, Stage 11: Mini issues team orders in bid for 1-2-3 car finish

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Stephane Peterhansel may have to wait another year to claim his 12th Dakar Rally championship.

Going into today’s Stage 11 from Antofagasta to El Salvador, Chile, Peterhansel (pictured, No. 300) had charged to within two minutes and 15 seconds of fellow Mini driver and overall car class leader Nani Roma.

But today, it was revealed that Mini officials had chosen to have their drivers hold position in a bid to secure a overall podium sweep between Roma, Peterhansel and third-place Nasser Al-Attiyah.

“Yesterday, the boss asked us to take no risk at all to keep the three Minis on the final podium,” said Peterhansel. “So I reduced the speed and we started this morning not with the same spirit. It was a safer spirit for the car. For sure, in these conditions first of all, we don’t take any pleasure in driving and it’s a big frustration.”

Roma, who now leads Peterhansel by five minutes, 32 seconds after finishing second today to stage winner Orlando Terranova (another Mini driver), was reported to have said that there were no team orders in place according to the Dakar website’s daily list of driver quotes.

However, in comments to Agence France-Presse, Roma appeared to be just as stunned as Peterhansel.

“It’s disappointing for Stephane, it’s disrespectful,” he said according to AFP. “It’s a bad decision that has been taken.”

Naturally, the race’s organizers were appalled as well, with director Etienne Lavigne telling AFP that he hadn’t been informed of the decision by Mini.

“But we are disappointed, clearly, because it is not in the spirit of the competition,” Lavigne continued. “It’s a little shocking. It’s not fair. If I was being mean, I would say to Mini that they can collect the trophy immediately.

“Fighting without risk is triumph without glory.”

Al-Attiyah was fifth in today’s stage and remains P3 overall at 56 minutes, one second behind Roma, who now appears set to be crowned champion. But with two stages to go, anything can happen – especially in an event like the Dakar.

As for the bikes, Marc Coma remains on course to earn the overall title. Coma won today’s run to El Salvador, coming out ahead of the surging Cyril Despres by two minutes, 51 seconds.

Coma now holds a 52 minute, 36 second overall advantage on Joan Barreda, who battled to a fifth place finish today after falling halfway through the stage and damaging his navigation system in the process. That forced him to wait for other riders and rely on them in order to make it to the end.

Sergio Lafuente lost his engine at the 272 kilometer mark and was forced to retire from the Dakar, seemingly handing the quad class title to Ignacio Casale. The Chilean won today’s stage, beating countryman Victor Gallegos Lozic by five minutes, 12 seconds; with Lafuente out, Rafal Sonik is now the new overall runner-up at more than one hour behind.

And in the trucks, Andrey Karginov finally overtook Gerard de Rooy for the overall lead after earning the win by 14 minutes, 18 seconds over Kamaz teammate Eduard Nikolaev. de Rooy was third but almost 16 minutes back of Karginov, who now sits atop the standings by seven minutes, 56 seconds over the Dutchman.

Next up tomorrow is the penultimate Stage 12, a southern route from El Salvador to La Serena. From there, the final dash to the finish in Valparaiso awaits.

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

Photo: IndyCar
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After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

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