With the ninth stage of the Dakar Rally cancelled due to mudslides and weather conditions, Petronas Team De Rooy Iveco are preparing for the final push. The “Queen Stage” from Salta to Chilecito was meant to be the decisive stage of the race. With that stage cancelled, there are two serious opportunities to launch an attack. “Those are going to be two very tough special stages,” expects Federico Villagra, who took an important second place in the eight stage, and moved up to fourth in the overall standings.
The Argentinian praised the decision of the Dakar organisation to cancel the stage. “There are huge problems in this part of Argentina due to mudslides and avalanches,” Villagra said. “It’s a disaster for the people who live here. Whole villages are under water. The Dakar organisation made the right decision, even though it is a shame for the race that the stage can’t go ahead.”
Gerard de Rooy also understood the decision to cancel. “We saw the pictures. I’m really glad we left straight away for Salta via the alternative route through the mountains. The service crew left straight away as well. That meant we were all in Salta around midnight, and could service the trucks. But we were one of the first to arrive there. It wouldn’t have been possible to send so many teams out onto the toughest special stage of the race with no servicing and with no sleep.”
Because Team De Rooy had responded immediately and left for Salta, they could take the long connecting stage to Chilecito for the start of the tenth stage at their own pace. “Of course it’s a shame that the stage couldn’t go ahead,” said Gerard de Rooy, who had had lost the leadership in the race thanks to a flat tyre, and is now in third at 2 minutes and 20 seconds. “It was an important stage; this is the special stage where we could have made the difference. But it’s the same for everyone, and I’m still only two minutes behind. That’s far from hopeless.”
With the benefit of local knowledge, Federico Villagra believes there are still plenty of chances for De Rooy and himself. “The next two days are going to be really tough, with difficult terrain and waypoints that will be hard to find. You saw how much could change in the two specials in the marathon stage. Those were two serious tests, where we managed to take advantage. Starting in second in the tenth stage will be just as hard as it was in the Super Belèn stage.”