Dakar: Orlando Terranova continues Mini’s dominance; Robby Gordon finishes 15th

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Even without Nani Roma in contention, the Minis are still coming up big early on in the 2015 Dakar Rally.

Roma’s chances of defending his Dakar title were finished in Sunday’s opening stage, but fellow Mini drivers Nasser Al-Attiyah and Orlando Terranova have stepped up to keep the marque up front.

In Tuesday’s Stage 3 from San Juan to Chilecito, Argentina, Terranova made up for his Monday crash that cost him a possible win by taking the top spot at 1 minute, 54 seconds quicker than Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers.

“…We can’t think about strategy in a situation like this, but just have to push,” Terranova said in a release afterwards.

The stage win also propels Terranova from 10th to third in the overall standings, which are still being led by Al-Attiyah.

The Qatari followed up his Monday win with a fifth-place performance on Tuesday, and his overall edge over de Villiers currently sits at 5 minutes, 18 seconds.

“To open the stage is not easy because we needed to be careful with the navigation and because there were no bikes opening the stage,” Al-Attiyah said. “In some places, there was no road, but [co-driver] Matthieu [Baumel] did a really good job. We didn’t take any risks.

“Our plan was to lose a little bit for tomorrow because tomorrow, it is very important to start in at least the Top-5 and to push like [Monday], when we achieved a very good time.”

As for de Villiers, he overcame a tire puncture that occurred when his Toyota Hilux hit a rock while running in a river bed.

“I was a little bit annoyed with myself that I hit the rock, but anyway we had to push again,” he said. “There were one or two places that were quite tricky with the navigation, but [co-driver] Dirk [von Zitzewitz] did a good job.

“Then it was very bumpy for the second part of the stage. It was really bumpy and at quite high speed, so you really had to concentrate a lot to avoid making a mistake, because you could easily make a big mistake there.”

Toyota’s Yazeed Alrajhi came home third on Tuesday, followed by Carlos Sainz of Peugeot, who moved up to fourth in the overall with, what else, a fourth-place finish. Roma, despite his crippling setback last weekend, also appears to have found his rhythm again with a sixth-place run.

Also bouncing back somewhat was Robby Gordon. Mechanical problems on Monday cost him and co-driver Johnny Campbell more than four hours overall, but the No. 308 Gordini responded Tuesday with a solid 15th-place showing at almost 22 minutes behind Terranova.

The duo had to work hard for the result following an early tire puncture that forced them to re-pass several cars they had gotten by at the start of the stage.

However, Gordon and Campbell lost a bit of time in the overall standings to the leader as well. They now sit 40th on the big board at four hours, 24 minutes, 18 seconds off the pace.

Monday’s Stage 2, the longest of the rally, has appeared to take a serious toll. More than 30 cars failed to take the start for Tuesday; among those unable to continue was the lone all-female driving team in the Dakar, Catherine Houles and Sandrine Ridet, in their No. 422 Isuzu.

Coverage of Stage 2 of the 2015 Dakar Rally airs today at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. For a full Dakar TV schedule, CLICK HERE.

2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Cars
(After Stage 3 – San Juan to Chilecito)

1. 301-Nasser Al-Attiyah (Mini), 9hrs, 21mins, 26secs
2. 303-Giniel de Villiers (Toyota), + 5mins, 18secs
3. 305-Orlando Terranova (Mini), + 18mins, 5secs
4. 304-Carlos Sainz (Peugeot), + 19mins, 32secs
5. 325-Yazeed Alrajhi (Toyota), + 20mins, 8secs
6. 307-Krzysztof Holowczyc (Mini), + 25mins, 24secs
7. 314-Erik Van Loon (Mini), +27mins, 43secs
8. 315-Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota), + 36mins, 22secs
9. 306-Carlos Sousa (Mitsubishi), + 41mins, 52secs
10. 309-Christian Lavieille (Toyota), +43mins, 38secs

F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images
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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
MORE: Sergio Perez fastest early on Day 2 of F1 Practice

The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.