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

Graham Rahal’s “Weighty Issue”

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses laser to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around, there was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“I’ve done one treatment,” Rahal said. “It takes a long time, I think. It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car and that can determine. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter weight drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is, so on…”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy…

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (bleep), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”