Things are finally normal again for Nani Roma.
The reigning Dakar Rally champion had his title defense effectively end on the first stage after mechanical problems cost him almost seven and a half hours.
A 34th-place finish in Stage 2 followed, but since then, the Spaniard and co-driver Michel Perin have gotten back to business with podium finishes in Stage 4 and Stage 6.
But they had not yet gotten back to the top step. Until Tuesday.
Roma pulled away from fellow Mini driver and current overall leader Nasser Al-Attiyah late in the 450km run from Iquique to Calama, Chile, and secured his first stage win of the 2015 Dakar by six minutes, 27 seconds over the Qatari.
“This win is for my guys and the team,” Roma said in a Mini release afterwards. “They did a great job. Today, we finally experienced a trouble-free day and didn’t encounter the slightest problem. And Michel once again delivered in sensational style.”
Al-Attiyah isn’t likely brooding over his Tuesday loss to Roma, however. That’s because his main rival for this year’s Dakar title, Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers, was victimized by a navigational error that cost him a precious 15 minutes.
The South African still maintains second in the overall standings, but what had been an eight and a half minute lead deficit to Al-Attiyah has now ballooned to just under 24 minutes because of the mistake.
Afterwards, de Villiers said that barring a mistake from Al-Attiyah, his bid to win the Dakar had been scuttled.
” Obviously, that’s cost us the race, so we’re sure now that we can only try to consolidate something on the podium,” he said. “But the race is over for us, so, you know, sometimes it goes like this in the Dakar and there’s nothing you can do about it.
“There was one place where we were really struggling to find the way point. I mean, obviously it was an off-road area, the wind was from behind and there was so much fesh-fesh and dust. We just kept turning around. We spent I don’t know how long there, but it felt like forever to find the way point.
“It’s not impossible for Nasser to make a mistake but with the lead he has now, he can take it really easy…It was our mistake and we have to pay.”
Finishing third on Tuesday was Russia’s Vladimir Vasilyev (+ 15:52) in a nice follow-up to his surprise win in Stage 5. de Villiers was a highly disappointed fourth (+ 21:58), and Stage 8 winner Yazeed Alrajhi finished fifth (+ 27:16) despite losing his brakes at the 200 kilometer mark and having to obviously go slower as a result of that.
Alrajhi, the Saudi rookie, still holds third place overall but lost more than 20 minutes to Al-Attiyah. He’s now 39 minutes, 29 seconds behind him.
As for American driver Robby Gordon, he took his Gordini to an eighth-place finish (+ 35:59). He and co-driver Johnny Campbell have now cracked the Top 20 overall, a nice recovery from being just inside the Top 50 after their ill-fated Stage 2.
NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 9 highlights tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. ET.
2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Cars
(After Stage 9 – Iquique to Calama)
1. 301-Nasser Al-Attiyah (Mini), 31hrs, 29mins, 38secs
2. 303-Giniel de Villiers (Toyota), + 23mins, 58secs
3. 325-Yazeed Alrajhi (Toyota), + 39mins, 29secs
4. 307-Krzysztof Holowczyc (Mini), + 1hr, 17mins, 41secs
5. 314-Erik Van Loon (Mini), + 2hrs, 41mins, 46secs (40mins penalty in Stage 9)
6. 309-Christian Lavieille (Toyota), + 2hrs, 51mins, 39secs
7. 310-Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini), + 3hrs, 2mins, 41secs
8. 306-Carlos Sousa (Mitsubishi), + 3hrs, 33mins, 35secs (40mins penalty in Stage 9)
9. 315-Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota), + 3hrs, 34mins, 7secs
10. 329-Aidyn Rakhimbayev (Mini), + 3hrs, 41mins, 24secs
20. 308-Robby Gordon (Gordini), + 7hrs, 22mins, 53secs