Dakar: Robby Gordon hits Stage 5 podium; Russia’s Vasilyev takes narrow win (VIDEO)

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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

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).