The longest single stage of Dakar 2015 – 518 km of rocks, sand and dust. That’s what the crews faced on the leg from the riverside town of Villa Carlos Paz to the arid San Juan, near the foothills of the Andes.
And for a period shortly after the start of the stage, it was the name of Leeroy Poulter that was on everybody’s lips, as he went fastest of all at one checkpoint after the other. Together with navigator Rob Howie, the Toyota Imperial Hilux driver looked like a strong contender to win the stage, but in the end had to settle for 11th position on the day.
“We started the stage at a fast pace,” said Poulter from the bivouac at San Juan. “and the car felt fantastic. But towards the end of the stage we caught up to the crews ahead of us, and that put a stop to our progress. Overall it was a good day for us, though we would have liked to have finished as strong as we started this morning.”
During most of the morning it had appeared as if Poulter/Howie (#327) were setting the pace, but in reality it was Nasser Al-Attiyah (MINI) who had been going fastest. Al-Attiyah’s car had suffered a transponder problem, and as a result his times were not showing on the Dakar’s system until he exited the mammoth stage.
Stage 2 started with Orlando Terranova (MINI) in the lead of the race, after early leader Al-Attiyah was penalised for speeding in a controlled zone on Day 1. This moved the MINI driver down to seventh, and promoted Toyota Imperial driver Giniel de Villiers and navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz to third overall – with the American showman Robbie Gordon in between. But Gordon had trouble early in Stage 2, leaving De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz to duke it out with the Argentine MINI driver Terranova ahead of them.
“We had another solid day today, and conquering this long stage is a relief,” said De Villiers after arriving in San Juan. “Terranova and Nasser both drove well today, but we are happy to be in second place at this stage.”
Terranova demonstrated just how easy it is to lose time on the Dakar, when he went off piste after leading the rally for most of Stage 2. The incident cost him twenty minutes just kilometers from the end of the stage, losing the lead of the rally and missing out on the stage win in the process.
Today’s stage is 284 km in length, and starts just 26 km from the bivouac at San Juan. The route meanders through some of the most spectacular scenery in Argentina, with towering red peaks and stunning sandy gullies, before ending some 232 km from the town of Chilecito, where the next bivouac is located.
“We had hoped to be in the lead at this point of the race,” said Team Principal Glyn Hall after Stage 2. “Building a buffer early on is imperative for us, as the race moves to higher altitudes tomorrow. Peaking at 3,000 m Stage 3 may not be the highest point on the 2015 Dakar, but it certainly won’t help our cause. With that said, we can’t be disappointed, with Giniel and Dirk in second, and Leeroy now in 11th. And there’s still a lot of racing to come.”
In the mean time, Dutch driver Bernhard ten Brinke and Belgian navigator Tom Colsoul in a Toyota Hilux posted the third-fastest time on Stage 2, and moved up to third overall as a result. This means that two Toyota Hilux race vehicles are now in the top three of Dakar 2015.