Mechanical issue knocks Gordon out of Dakar (UPDATED)

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UPDATE (6:27 p.m. ET): Robby Gordon’s camp has revealed that a compromised air filtration system on the No. 305 Gordini was the culprit that put the former NASCAR and IndyCar driver, along with navigator Kellon Welch, out of the 2014 Dakar Rally.

Initial reports of fuel contamination have been denied by Gordon and the team says that he indicated the only problem was the air intake issue on the Gordini’s engine. Gordon and Welch realized the problem less than 20 kilometers into yesterday’s Stage 11.

The team worked until midnight local time Friday to repair the Gordini as they sought to drive it and support vehicles through the night in order to start today’s Stage 12 within an hour after the last car began that run. Unfortunately for them, they ran out of time.

“We gave it our best and didn’t quit until the clock wouldn’t allow us to continue,” Gordon said in a release. “Without the vapor lock issues at the beginning of the Rally and a few other minor issues, the new HST Gordini ran really well and I was pleased with its performance.

“We will work on it for the next year and have a much better understanding of the car for next year’s Rally. I am very proud of the way everyone worked on Team Speed, and I appreciate the dedication and effort that everyone puts into everything we do.”

Gordon now joins fellow American driver B.J. Baldwin on the sidelines. The Chevy driver did not start Stage 10 on Wednesday, with Baldwin later confirming on Instagram that his truck’s fuel cell had a massive hole in it.

“We don’t know why the [fuel cell] mounts broke and logic would tell me that if they could break once they could easily break again and rupture the already weakened fuel cell,” his post said. “The exhaust system on this vehicle is close to the fuel leak in the cell. A fuel leak could easily ignite and cause the car to burst into flames.

“Driving this truck in it’s current condition is much too dangerous. With my family in mind this was an easy decision for me to discontinue the #Rally. No reason to put myself in an extremely dangerous situation just to finish the rally.”

F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.