Defending Dakar champ Roma, Al-Attiyah lead march of the Minis

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Mini’s sweep of the Dakar Rally last season wasn’t a smooth one.

Late team orders issued to freeze drivers Nani Roma (pictured, right), Stephane Peterhansel, and Nasser Al-Attiyah (pictured, left) in their 1-2-3 position sparked controversy.

Roma himself called the decision “disrespectful” to 11-time Dakar champ Peterhansel, and Dakar race director Etienne Lavigne appeared to flat-out condemn it – declaring that “fighting without risk is triumph without glory.”

But the orders ultimately won out in the end, and Roma, Peterhansel, and Al-Attiyah finished the rally in that 1-2-3 order. For the 2015 Dakar, one-third of that podium is gone for Mini as Peterhansel has joined up with Peugeot in its return to the event after a 25-year absence.

However, Roma, a two-time champion of the Dakar, and Al-Attiyah, the 2011 victor, still remain. And they’re still threats to go to the top once again.

“The field for this edition has evolved a lot,” said Roma, who will drive the No. 300 Mini All4 Racing. “It is no doubt very competitive. I think that the Toyotas have improved and Giniel [De Villiers] will be very dangerous. It is very good that a brand with the notoriety of Peugeot has returned. It will be a very good battle. But I think that the real rival on the Dakar, above else, is oneself. You have to be calm when making choices, one after the other.”

As for Al-Attiyah, who’s also proven himself out of the car as a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist in skeet shooting, he’s hoping to go two spots better this time around.

“The 2014 Dakar remains, of course, a disappointment, but what can you do after receiving a one-hour penalty [in Stage 5],” he said. “Today, I am in a better position and the objective is to win. I am also thrilled to be with Mathieu Baumel, my new co-driver. We get on fabulously and he is top notch. Now, we have to win.”

Also being counted on to do well for Mini is Argentina’s Orlando Terranova, who should have a sizable local following behind him. He’ll be one of Roma’s teammates on the Monster Energy Rally Raid team (the other being Krzysztof Holowczyc of Poland), and he’s coming off back-to-back fifth-place efforts in the Dakar.

Terranova is aiming for the podium following Mini’s work on making its cars lighter and more reliable. He’ll also have a new co-driver on board with him as well in Ronnie Graue.

“The engineers and staff at Mini have worked a lot on the weight, the suspension and aerodynamics, by favoring the overall reliability of the car,” Terranova said. “There are not any major technical evolutions but certain details have been improved.

“I changed co-drivers because I was looking for someone who speaks Spanish. The tests with Ronnie were very conclusive. The objective will be to do better than last year. To finish on the podium will be a fantastic result.”

Keating stripped of Le Mans GTE-Am win; No. 68 Ganassi entry also disqualified

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FIA stewards announced Monday that two Ford GT entries have been disqualified from this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, including the GTE-Am class-winning No. 85 entry from privateer Keating Motorsports.

Also DQ’d was the factory No. 68 Chip Ganassi Racing entry of Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller and Sebastien Bourdais, which initially finished fourth in the GTE-Pro class.

Both entries were found in violation of fuel capacity regulations, with the No. 85 entry also failing to meet the minimum refueling time during pit stops.

The refueling system on the No. 85 entry, driven by Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Felipe Fraga, measured a time of 44.4 seconds during a stop, just shy of the minimum required time of 45 seconds.

As a result, the team was initially issued a 55.2-second post-race penalty by officials, which elevated the No. 56 Team Project 1 Porsche 911 RSR of Joerg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey, and Egidio Perfetti to the class win.

The time penalty was calculated by the difference in the refueling time (0.6 seconds) multiplied by the amount of pit stops made by the team (23), then multiplied by four.

The No. 85 entry was set to finish second in class, but then received an outright DQ after its fuel capacity was also revealed to be 0.1 liters above the maximum permitted capacity of 96 liters.

As for Ganassi’s No. 68 entry, it was found to have a fuel capacity of 97.83 liters, which is above the maximum allowed capacity of 97 liters for the GTE-Pro Fords.

The No. 67 Ford of Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell, and Jonathan Bomarito subsequently moves up to fourth, and the No. 69 Ford of Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook moves up to fifth.

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