The second stage in Peru – hosting the rally for the first time this year – also took the Dakar participants through largely unknown terrain from Arequipa to Nazca on Friday. Everyone was well aware that today's winners and loses would be decided in a 20-kilometre dune field towards the end of the stage. And that proved to be the case: the fine sandy dunes were a worthy adversary and well and truly stopped almost every team in its tracks.
The X-raid team's Stéphane Peterhansel and Nani Roma were the first to make acquaintance with the soft ground: first and second places yesterday meant they were the first to break out towards the start of today's special stage. The two were soon forced to stop and carefully search for grip in the fine sand, costing them valuable time. Their team-mate Krzystof Holowczyc also got stuck. The only MINI ALL4 Racing driver who barely had to yield to the might of the dunes was Leonid Novitskiy, who ended the stage with the second fastest time of the day.
This is how Stéphane described his involuntary stop upon arriving at the finish: As soon as we crossed the first dunes, we went over a crest and behind it was a sink hole, immediately penalising us as we got stuck. Time passed and the minutes seemed long. We lost at least 20 minutes, which meant that we would also lose the lead in the general standings. We cleared some sand and moved the car forward centimetre by centimetre to get out of there. Afterwards, I have to admit I took risks to claw the time back. That was the 50 km where I've attacked the most during the whole rally.
Stéphane, who leads the car category, finished seventh today and had to concede 26:27 minutes to the man who had been his fiercest rival for overall victory at the Dakar, Robby Gordon. It is a good thing then that Stéphane had extended his advantage over Gordon in the overall rankings to over two hours over the previous few days. As such, Stéphane continues to top the standings with a lead of 20 minutes over Nani Roma. Third place is occupied by Giniel de Villiers, 1:06:40 hours back. Gordon is fourth, 1:44:04 hours behind Stéphane.
No sooner had the X-raid team members arrived at the bivouac than they were already looking ahead to the penultimate stage of the 2012 Dakar, which takes them 375 kilometres to Pisco on Saturday. 275 kilometres of the route are against the clock. The competitors are back in the dunes again, as the stage resembles the previous day's. At the start of the day, only 658 kilometres remain to the finish in Lima. However, the fight for the Dakar title is far from over.
For the fastest information on the five MINI ALL4 Racing vehicles of the X-raid team at the Dakar Rally, go to the MINI Motorsport Twitter channel.
The X-raid team is out to extend its winning run at the Baja Poland. Khalifa Al Mutaiwei is aiming to extend his lead in the World Cup. Krzysztof Holowczyc is confident ahead of his home event.
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The X-raid team is taking its next step towards the 2013 Rally Dakar at the Baja Spain. The event is also Stéphane Peterhansel's first start since his Dakar victory in January.
Ultimate cornering, breathtaking acceleration.
A good five weeks after the X-raid team's one-two at the Rally Dakar, the victorious MINI ALL4 Racing cars have finally returned to the team's headquarters. This is the signal for the big homecoming party to begin.
A car built for victory. The MINI John Cooper Works Challenge races across the track at 240 km/h.
Experience MINI John Cooper Works.