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.

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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