X-raid BMW's Guerlain Chicherit set the sixth fastest time on the eighth 294km special stage as he continued to fly the flag for a team still reeling from the disqualification of erstwhile Dakar Rally leader Nasser Al-Attiyah, and the Frenchman reckons he can now look to challenge the front-running VWs for pace.
After an early event error that damaged his X3 CC and left him well down the order, Chicherit has been steadily making his way back up the leaderboard and, without the pressure of trying to win the event, is now targeting stage successes instead. He was looking good for a possible top three finish on stage eight, running along Chile's Pacific Coast from Valparaiso to La Serena on Sunday, but dropped back after being hindered by dust kicked up by America's Robby Gordon for around 130km.
The French duo of Chicherit and Matthieu Baumel were quickly onto a competitive pace on the morning's stage, and were running third behind VW's Dieter Depping and Carlos Sainz at the 49km point, but eventually slipped to sixth through 180km and the first passage control.
“We caught Robby after 60km and stayed behind him for 130km,” co-driver Baumel sighed, “There were a lot of hairpins and we could not get past - but he knew we were there.... We were able to say 'hello' some times, but he never moved. Then Giniel [de Villiers] caught us after 150km and we both
stayed behind him. We could have been so much faster today. It is very unfair.”
Such was his delay in the opening stages of the event, Chicherit still only lies 15th, some eleven hours off leader Carlos Sainz, but he remains confident that he can take something positive from the Dakar's first visit to South America.
“For me, the second week of the rally opens up new opportunities to set some fast times,” he admitted, “I would dearly like to win two or three stages, and especially the long loop stage which everyone thinks will be the hardest of them all. But it was not possible today.”
The leading BMW runners now lie ninth and tenth overall, with Rene Kuipers a matter of minutes ahead of Orlando Terranova. Their positions changed on stage eight, as the Argentine lost over 70 minutes with a minor electrical sensor problem, while Kuipers brought his X3 CC to the finish in twelfth place, climbing to a superb ninth overall as a result.
“I am obviously surprised to be inside the top ten,” Kuipers said afterwards, “Maybe I have found a pace that suits my driving and means I don't take risks. It would not have been possible to get this far without this car or my co-driver - I would not know the way through the dunes and Filipe has been fantastic on the road book.
“This car is so strong as well. It gives me the confidence to drive to my level each day. If I tried to go quicker, however, I would be going too fast for my level and that would be a mistake.”