Dakar: After challenging for Stage 6 win, Robby Gordon settles for fourth (VIDEO)

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As alluded to yesterday, if Robby Gordon’s bright-orange Gordini can hold up against the rigors of the Dakar Rally, its pace can put it amongst the leaders.

For a second consecutive stage, that was what happened. Starting third after their second podium of the 2015 Dakar on Thursday, Gordon and co-driver Johnny Campbell took the lead with less than 50 kilometers remaining in Friday’s run from Antofagasta to Iquique, Chile.

But Nasser Al-Attiyah, who has been the major player in the opening week of the event, would not be denied. Down 32 seconds to Gordon at the sixth waypoint, the Qatari flipped that to a one-second lead for himself at the seventh and final waypoint.

Gordon then lost more time in the final kilometers, falling to fourth at the finish behind winner Al-Attiyah (who claimed his third stage win of the event), runner-up Giniel de Villiers (+ :37), and third-place Nani Roma (+ 1:24). Gordon ended up an additional 21 ticks behind Roma, the 2014 Dakar champion.

The near-miss didn’t keep Gordon from putting on a bit of a show afterwards for fans in Iquique:

source: Getty Images
“Flight 308, you are now cleared for takeoff…” Photo: Getty Images.

But despite his valiant efforts, Mini remains perfect with six wins in six stages thanks to Al-Attiyah’s latest triumph.

“We did a good job and I’m quite happy to win the stage,” Al-Attiyah said. “It’s a good day for us again. We pushed a little bit in the dunes but we were really careful from the beginning because it was really not easy. The route today was just only really for buggies. Our time was really good and I’m quite happy.”

In the overall, Al-Attiyah has now pushed his lead over de Villiers to 11 minutes, 12 seconds. The South African remains searching for his first stage win but remains well within striking distance.

“For sure, we have to do our best every day,” de Villiers said. “We know Nasser is very, very quick, so it’s not easy to catch him, but we try our best and we try every day and there are still a few days to come. It’s OK.

“It would be better if we could take some time from him, but I’m quite happy. Obviously, he was going quite fast so it was not too bad to only lose 37 seconds.”

The battle for supremacy will hit new heights – literally – on Saturday in Stage 7 from Iquique to Uyuni, Bolivia, a route that will see competitors climbing well north of 3,500 meters high. Sunday’s Stage 8 will have the cars head back down to Iquique for the start of the second week.

Adding to the difficulty is that the next two days will comprise a “marathon” stage where drivers cannot call upon their assistance teams for help. The Dakar’s website explains further details:

“Split over two days, a marathon stage involves some of the competitors spending the night in an isolated bivouac. The vehicles are taken into a closed area, where only help between competitors is authorized. Despite the technical challenge which this constraint represents, the drivers also enjoy a different, highly convivial atmosphere. In Uyuni, it will be the car teams which will spend a night apart, followed by the motorcyclists and quad bikers the next day (Jan. 12). The truck category will have its own dedicated bivouac in the middle of the Atacama Desert.”

The cars and trucks have not done a marathon stage in the Dakar since 2005. Roma expects that it will provide a severe test.

“The marathon stage is a big, big challenge,” he said. It’s a new country. I think everybody in the rally will like to drive in a new country. It’s quite hard, but I’m more worried about the high altitude of 4,000 meters. It’s quite nice, but it makes my head so painful.

“It’s true, it’s a long time since I last did a marathon stage, without tires, without the team, without mechanics. It’s a big challenge and we’ll see tomorrow night, and in two days’ time in Iquique again.”

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 6 highlights on Saturday morning at 6 a.m. ET.

2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Cars
(After Stage 6 – Antofagasta to Iquique)

1. 301-Nasser Al-Attiyah (Mini), 19hrs, 30mins, 44secs
2. 303-Giniel de Villiers (Toyota), + 11mins, 12 secs
3. 325-Yazeed Alrajhi (Toyota), + 28mins, 44secs
4. 307-Krzysztof Holowczyc (Mini), + 1hr, 0mins, 53secs
5. 315-Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota), + 1hr, 4mins, 23secs
6. 314-Erik Van Loon (Mini), + 1hr, 6mins, 43secs
7. 309-Christian Lavieille (Toyota), + 1hr, 27mins, 22 secs
8. 306-Carlos Sousa (Mitsubishi), + 1hr, 42mins, 45secs
9. 320-Ronan Chabot (SMG), + 1hr, 49mins, 27secs
10. 302-Stephane Peterhansel (Peugeot), + 1hr, 49mins, 41secs

25. 308-Robby Gordon (Gordini), + 5hrs, 47mins, 31secs

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.