The Dakar 2009 held its first special inside Chile on Sunday, with a leg of 652 kilometres, of which 294km were timed 'special' and the remaining 358km liaisons. It was a sort of transition leg towards the north of the country, finishing close to the Atacama Desert.
There were no problems posed by the navigation, the special following tracks between small mountains and plateaus, with the average speed for motorbikes around 70km/h due to the constantly twisting route.
The stage was won by Cyril Despres, moving him up to third in the overall standings, with rally leader and fellow KTM rider Marc Coma 1 minute 49 seconds behind the Frenchman for second on the stage.
Coma, Despres and local rider Chaleco López, who was third at 2 minutes 56 seconds, rode practically the whole special together.
“The man who makes the modification to the road book, Jean-Pierre Fontenay said in his notes that today was more rally than rally-raid and he wasn't joking, we must have taken 2000 corners,” said Despres. “We were riding on something like a smooth white laterite piste and there wasn't much grip. I tried to stay standing up the whole time, shifting my weight back when braking and then moving it to the middle when accelerating. At refuelling I saw that I had come back on Marc and Lopez and that Fretigne and Street were losing time. Then just after the CP1 we had a tricky bit of off-piste. Towards the end Francisco really attacked and that suit me fine as I wanted to put as much time between me and the guys behind me. Moving up to third has really given me a boost.”
“It was technical today like an Enduro, there wasn't much grip and it was difficult to maintain a good pace without out-braking yourself,” agreed Coma. “Although it was challenging it was fun to ride. As was predicted I caught up Lopez and Cyril caught me and we crossed the line pretty much together.”
Yamaha's Davide Fretigne is now second in the overall standings, 1 hour 6 minutes behind Coma, whilst American Jonah Street, second at the start of the stage, slipped back to fourth in the overall after being penalised 18 minutes by the organisers for replacing his engine on the rest day and speeding.
Jordi Viladoms, who got a penalty after being caught in a speed trap - riding over the permitted speed at a control during the Mendoza-Valparaíso leg - set the fifth fastest time on stage eight, 13 minutes 12 seconds off Despres. However, the 20 minute penalty moved him down to sixth in the overall, 1 hour 55 minutes behind his team-mate Marc Coma.
On Monday riders will tackle a special of 449 km, over a total distance of 537 km, that takes them from La Serena to Copiapo during which they will encounter the notorious Atacama Desert, said to be the world's driest. This combination of dunes and rocks will be a test of the best during which it will be required for even the leaders to exercise their skills and conserve their energy to tackle long stretches of dunes at the conclusion of the ride.
Argentina-Chile Dakar 2009 - Positions on SS8:
1. Cyril Despres
KTM 4hrs 07m 39s
2. Marc Coma
KTM +0hrs 01m 49s
3. Francisco Lopez
KTM +0hrs 02m 56s
4. Alain Duclos
KTM +0hrs 12m 39s
5. Jordi Viladoms
KTM +0hrs 13m 12s
Argentina-Chile Dakar 2009 - Positions after SS8:
1. Marc Coma
KTM 30hrs 33m 15s
2. Davide Fretigne
Yamaha +1hrs 06m 28s
3. Cyril Despres
KTM +1hrs 33m 34s
4. Jonah Street
KTM +1hrs 39m 07s
5. Pal anders Ullevalseter
KTM +1hrs 42m 24s
6. Jordi Viladoms
KTM +1hrs 55m 42s