Just 52 seconds separated Federico Villagra from victory in the eleventh stage of the Dakar Rally. The Argentinian driver of Petronas Team De Rooy Iveco had set his sights on this special stage, which he knows like the back of his hand, but an impenetrable cloud of dust thrown up by a much slower car thwarted his attack. Villagra was forced to settle for second place, 52 seconds behind the Russian Eduard Nikolaev.
The 300 kilometre race against the clock from San Juan to Rio Cuarto took place on Federico Villagra’s home ground. “I felt really good on these tracks,” the Argentinian said at the finish. “I’m always strong in this type of terrain, and I was confident I could win. It definitely wasn’t easy. The track had become very deeply rutted, with stones hidden at the side of the feshfesh all along the course.”
Villagra really let loose in the second part of the stage, after a connecting section of 370 kilometres over tarmac roads. He was catching Nikolaev quickly at the intermediate points, and at one timing point he was over a minute faster. “But then I got stuck in the dust of a car for 30 kilometres. I couldn’t get close enough to try to pass because of the dust. But, nothing I can do about it.”
Gerard de Rooy had also been frustrated by the dust. In the last 100 kilometres, he got stuck behind two cars he couldn’t get past. “There were trees to contend with as well as the dust. You just couldn’t pass there. In the second part of the stage, the risk of writing the truck off was just too great, and I didn’t want to do that. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get enough time back on the two Kamazes ahead of me in the standings. So I’m not going to risk losing even more time from a flat tyre or an accident. We also overshot two tight corners which weren’t clearly marked in the roadbook.”
De Rooy hadn’t had much fun in the first part of the stage either. On the choppy paths through the dunes, with rocks and other detritus everywhere, De Rooy’s bruised rib took as much of a beating as his Iveco Powerstar. “Not nice at all,” De Rooy judged, who latched on to Villagra and used his teammate to finish with the fifth best time of the day. That made him just a fraction faster than teammates Ton van Genugten (sixth) and Wuf van Ginkel (eighth).
There were no changes in the top four of the standings. De Rooy’s deficit to leader in the race Nikolaev grew a little to 38:58. “I’ve put any hope of a top two finish out of my mind, even though in the Dakar, nothing is certain until you cross the final finish line.” The gap behind him to Villagra in fourth place shrank a little, to some 20 minutes. “But I don’t expect Federico to attack me in the last 60 kilometres of the Dakar,” De Rooy grinned.