Having stolen the lead of stage 13 of the Dakar Rally, Robby Gordon was cruelly deprived of it again when an errant rock left him with a damaged throttle – and a 20-minute delay.
Ahead of the stage start, the route was altered due to heavy rain that had made many areas along the course impassable through the La Rioja and Cordoba regions, cutting the distance from the scheduled 545km to just 220km.
At around kilometre four, NASCAR star and former Champ Car World Series front-runner Gordon passed Giniel De Villiers and Mark Miller for the race lead. However, he was not able to maintain his new advantage for very long.
Early on in the stage, the #309 Monster Energy Toyo Tires Hummer was forced to pull over due to a problem with the throttle. After thoroughly evaluating the issue, Gordon found that a small rock was the culprit of the hanging throttle.
Having conceded 20 minutes, the 40-year-old nonetheless succeeded in salvaging a 16th-place finish, ending the stage only 22 minutes and 49 seconds behind Nani Roma and retaining third spot overall, .just under an hour-and-a-half shy of leader De Villiers.
Team Dakar USA team-mate Eric Vigouroux, by contrast, enjoyed a flawless day, piloting his #324 Vanguard Hummer to a sixth place finish. When the stage concluded, he was only 13 minutes, 53 seconds behind, moving the Frenchman up to an impressive 14th outright.
“Obviously, I wish that the Hummer would have had a better outcome today,” mused Gordon. “Regardless of a pesky little rock getting in our way, I am still happy with where we stand going into the last stage. Even though we haven't won any specials yet this year, we are still here competing for the Dakar Rally title and that is what matters.
“This race is about survival and preparation, and Team Dakar USA has excelled at both. We have been able to address the problems, fix them and continue forward. Both cars are still in the race, and I couldn't be more proud of the Team Dakar USA programme.
“The #324 Vanguard Hummer had a great day. I want to congratulate Eric on his top ten finish. He did what we needed him to do, and I am proud that he is my team-mate. I am even more proud that the Vanguard Hummer is in the top 15. It speaks volumes about the programme that we have in place.”
The Dakar Rally will add another chapter to the record books at the weekend when it comes to an end. The final stage will be a 227km special from Cordoba to Buenos Aires, with Gordon and Team Dakar USA looking to make history by hoping that both Hummers finish inside the top 15 and that the Californian secures his highest finish in his five event starts into the bargain.