Dakar: Roma back on form with Stage 9 win; Al-Attiyah pushes overall lead to 24 minutes

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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

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”