Robby Gordon’s roller coaster of a 2015 Dakar Rally continued on Thursday.
This time, however, he and co-driver Johnny Campbell went way up.
Gordon, who opened the event with a second-place finish in Stage 1 but has since been bitten by mechanical issues, started Thursday’s Stage 5 from Copiapo to Antofagasta, Chile from the 18th position.
He quickly settled into a front-running pace and actually led the field early at the second way point. His No. 308 Gordini lost time going into the next way point, but Gordon would ultimately move back into podium position at the 10th and final way point before finishing third, 1 minute, 25 seconds behind winner Vladimir Vasilyev of Russia.
It’s a big result for the Gordon/Campbell duo after a tough ending to their Stage 4 on Wednesday. Gordon opened that stage (Chilecito, Argentina to Copiapo) strong with the second-fastest time through the first way point.
But a mechanical problem in the Gordini’s drivetrain forced the team to stop and make repairs. The issues led to the loss of almost an hour and a half on the clock and a dismal 47th-place finish.
Wednesday’s problems came two days after Gordon and Campbell lost more than four hours in Stage 2 because of overheating brakes and then a tow-in to the finish after an additional breakdown.
“With stage wins in previous Rally events and good runs like today, we prove that we can run with anyone,” Gordon said Thursday in a release. “None of our issues this week were really avoidable and they were freak incidents. We’re hopeful that these weird issues are behind us and our plan is to win multiple stages before the end of this year’s Dakar to make our presence known.”
Altogether, it’s been up and down for the former NASCAR and IndyCar driver so far. With two podiums in five stages, it appears the Gordini has a decent pace to work with as long as it can hold up and stay reliable.
But whether you’re a single-car privateer like Gordon or part of a multi-car squad from big boys Mini, Peugeot, or Toyota, attaining dependable reliability in the Dakar can be quite the struggle.
Up front, Mini driver Vasilyev and Toyota’s Yazeed Alrajhi swapped the lead in the final stretch before Vasilyev won the stage by a mere 20 seconds after having held a lead of six and a half minutes over the Saudi at the fifth way point.
Vasilyev keeps Mini a perfect 5-for-5 in the 2015 Dakar after holding off Alrajhi, who looks ready to score his first Dakar stage win very soon after two podiums in the last three days. Still, the rookie didn’t sound like he’s ready to raise his expectations too much.
“I think I can do better, but we’ll see what’s going on and when we can push more,” Alrajhi said. “I hope that I’m one of the main actors in the race and that we win the Dakar soon. Not this year – this year, I’ll take it easy and not take risks.
“After all, my fans would be angry saying, ‘Why on your first time did you fight to win and you’re out after 6 stages?’ There’s a long way to go but if this year, I finish, I hope, on the podium, then next year, there will be no excuses for me and I’ll have a good chance to win.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah was fourth-quickest on Thursday, down 3 minutes, 24 seconds to Vasilyev. But he was able to extend his overall lead to more than 10 minutes over Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers, who finished off the podium for the first time in the 2015 Dakar with a sixth-place showing. Peugeot’s Stephane Peterhansel was fifth.
NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues Friday at 4 p.m. ET.
2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Cars
(After Stage 5 – Copiapo to Antofagasta)
1. 301-Nasser Al-Attiyah (Mini), 16hrs, 53mins, 26secs
2. 303-Giniel de Villiers (Toyota), + 10mins, 35secs
3. 325-Yazeed Alrajhi (Toyota), + 20mins, 29secs
4. 307-Krzyzstof Holowczyc (Mini), + 48mins, 55secs
5. 314-Erik Van Loon (Mini), + 53mins, 25secs
6. 315-Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota), +56mins, 19secs
7. 310-Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini), + 1hr, 9mins, 52secs
8. 309-Christian Lavieille (Toyota), + 1hr, 13mins, 59secs
9. 302-Stephane Peterhansel (Peugeot), + 1hr, 19mins, 17secs
10. 329-Aidyn Rakhimbayev (Mini), + 1hr, 21mins, 32secs