Without the bikes opening the way following the cancellation of their stage in homage to Paulo Goncalves, the Portuguese rider killed on Sunday’s Stage 7, the usual leading lights in the Car category had a difficult time with navigation in today’s Wadi Al-Dawasir Stage 8. This allowed new names to come to the fore, notably rapid amateur Mathieu Serradori who shocked all the big names to win an especially tough Dakar Rally stage.
Serradori bounced back from a poor result in Sunday’s special, taking advantage of the tracks left by early leaders Carlos Sainz, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Stephane Peterhansel (who all lost time navigating) on route to victory, finishing 4 minutes ahead of a hard-charging Fernando Alonso.
Serradori is a company manager who spends his holidays on the Dakar, and he is the first amateur driver to beat the professionals in 32 years. The last competitor to achieve a similar feat was Belgian garage owner Guy Deladriere, who achieved the best time in Senegal on the penultimate special on the Dakar 1988.
“I’m absolutely delighted,” exclaimed Serradori. “It’s a wonderful story. Yesterday’s stage was very complicated – we made a mistake and paid a heavy price. This morning, we pulled our socks up and left everyone behind us.
“I’d like to dedicate this victory to Paulo (Goncalves) because I’m a former biker. It’s not easy to get motivated after a day like that and my co-pilot Fabien was there as well. But there are two fighters in this car and I’m very happy with this result”.
Second place, meanwhile, was Alonso’s best result so far, the two-time Formula 1 World Champion adapting quickly to his new discipline, much like he did in endurance racing. Rally-raids are, nevertheless, a completely different matter, though one increasingly more appreciated by the Spaniard, who may not have to wait too long before picking up his first Dakar stage win…
Mitchell Guthrie is also probably the future of the SSV discipline, but the 50-hour penalty applied for recovering the engine of Cyril Despres means that he was deprived of a second stage victory. Reinaldo Varela therefore won in Wadi Al-Dawasir, while Chaleco Lopez had plenty to cheer about in the general standings by making up half the time between himself and rally leader Casey Currie.
In the Truck race, the general standings are still dominated by Andrey Karginov, thanks to the third successive stage victory of the Kamaz driver who is head and shoulders above his rivals in Saudi Arabia.
Wadi, “valley” in Arabic, gave the crews little relief, apart from 60 miles on the Wajid plateau where several canyons provided variation from the “pleasure” of driving among the dunes. For most of the stage, all that changed was the shades of the sand for the Dakar competitors! Following a fast, straight portion over the first 30 miles, the drivers had to overcome a sequence of small chains of dunes before reaching the finishing line. In the opening miles, the usual specialists were not troubled, but navigating through the endless dunes in the closing miles caught out many.
Tomorrow’s Stage 9, Wadi Al Dawsir to Haradh, is long one — 550 miles — as the Dakar prepares to enter the “Empty Quarter”. Precision will be the main requirement over the mainly hard ground with a number of especially rough surfaces. On reaching Haradh, built around oil and agriculture, the rally leaves the sand dunes and enters a new phase.