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:
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