The leader's curse affecting this year's Dakar rally struck again overnight with confirmation that BMW X-Raid's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah had been thrown out of the event for missing a series of hidden waypoints on stage six of the two-week event.
Having inherited the lead when VW's Carlos Sainz rolled on leg five, Al-Attiyah and Swedish co-driver Tina Thörner set the fastest time on the shortened 178km special stage from San Rafaël to Mendoza, but admitted to missing the checkpoints, which were hidden among sand dunes early in the stage, leaving the organisers with little option but to exclude them from the rally.
The Qatari had been easily amongst the fastest drivers on the South American event and had extended his overall lead to 7min 32secs before the penalty was handed out. X-Raid team director Sven Quandt revealed, however, that the issue had been caused by problems on leg five, rather than simply a mistake on Thursday's stage to Mendoza.
“The problem started [Wednesday] night when we found a lot of grass in the radiator and the car was getting very hot,” he reflected, “We did as much work on the car as we could last night, but we could not change everything.
“This morning, at the start of the sand dunes, the temperature began to climb immediately, and Nasser had to decide whether to go in the sand or drive around. He decided to go around and, in so doing, did not pass all the way-points. That meant that he was automatically vulnerable to a time penalty, but he missed too many way-points and the penalty in the rally regulations is exclusion from the race.”
Thursday's special stage was originally shortened from 394km to 232km, and then to 178km, because of the risk of standing water caused by recent rainstorms, but the X-Raid mechanics worked into the small hours of the morning to give Al-Attiyah's car a thorough check after the punishing section through the dunes the day before. The radiator was replaced and all aspects of the cooling system were given a detailed examination before the restart, but overheating still proved to be a problem, leading to his critical decision to avoid the dunes.