One of the longest specials of this year's Dakar Rally gave competitors a healthy dose of dunes as they tackled the challenging Atacama Desert. American Mark Miller led most of the race in his Volkswagen, but encountered trouble late when he collided with a boulder and damaged his steering. That handed the stage win to Miller's teammate Carlos Sainz, who crossed the line 1 minute 47 seconds ahead of Miller. NASCAR star Robby Gordon piloted his Hummer to another third-place result, only 2:16 behind Sainz.
"This special was very hard, very, very hard," Sainz told dakar.com. "There were a lot of stones and difficult navigation. It was really complicated. Just finishing is already a triumph. Just finishing without problems is a triumph."
The car class has quickly become a show for the Volkswagen team as Sainz continues to maintain the overall lead, followed by Miller in second (19:52 back) and South African Giniel de Villiers now in third (22:58 back). The only two other drivers within reasonable striking distance of the VW squad are Mitsubishi driver Nani Roma of Spain in fourth (58:12 back) and Gordon, who is fifth but more than 1 hour, 30 minutes behind.
In motorbikes, American Jonah Street was forced to withdraw Monday after injuring his wrist. Street, who won the event's fifth stage, had climbed as high as second overall before falling to fourth after Sunday's Stage 8.
Dutchman Frans Verhoeven collected his second 2009 stage win despite starting from the 33rd position on Monday. Spain's Marc Coma, who finished fourth, still has a comfortable lead (1 hour, 4 minutes, 38 seconds) over Frenchman David Fretigne, who finished second Monday, only 3:09 back. With his fifth-place result, France's Cyril Despres didn't gain any ground on Coma.
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After a day of much-needed rest, the Dakar Rally competitors tackled their first full stage in Chile and Spaniard Carlos Sainz was again the fastest in the car class. The Volkswagen driver used his skills as a former World Rally Championship driver to negotiate the winding and sometimes slippery mountain roads to finish the special 4 minutes, 2 seconds ahead of his VW teammate Dieter Depping of Germany. American Mark Miller rounded out the VW podium sweep with a third-place result, 4:12 behind Sainz.
"There were a lot of chances to lose the rally today and no chances of making up any time, so it's not the kind of stage built for me," Miller said in a release at dakar.com. "It was perfect for Carlos (Sainz) and the guys that like the rally stuff. At every turn there was a chance to ruin your race. It was difficult for me, but I did better than I expected so it was a success for me."
NASCAR driver Robby Gordon lost another 23 minutes to Sainz in the overall car standing after finishing eighth in his Hummer. Gordon remains fifth in the overall standings, 1 hour, 32 minutes 1 second behind the leader. Giniel De Villiers, who finished fifth Sunday in his Volkwagen, remains second in the overall standings, followed by Miller in third, only 18:05 behind.
In motorbikes, defending Dakar champion Cyril Despres of France won his second stage of the event and gained a little ground on overall leader Marc Coma of Spain, who finished second, but only 1:49 behind. Despres, who had tire problems early in this event, almost met with more disaster late in Sunday's stage.
"Around fifteen kilometers from the finishing line, a donkey suddenly shot out from behind a bunch of cacti," Despres told dakar.com. "I think it was a lucky escape, for him and me."
Despres moved from fifth to third in the bike standings, leap-frogging American Jonah Street, who finds himself fourth overall after a 29th-place result Sunday. Coma's closest rival right now is Frenchman David Fretigne, who is 1 hour, 6 minutes, 28 seconds behind.
NASCAR star Robby Gordon, above, earned his best result of the 2009 Dakar Rally with a third-place finish in his Hummer on Friday, only 4 minutes, 13 seconds behind stage winner Carlos Sainz (Volkswagen). American Mark Miller finished second in his Volkswagen as event organizers shortened the stage from 260 miles to 151 miles after the drivers struggled with the sand dunes the day before. The competitors will rest Saturday as the rally arrived in Chile and marked its midpoint. With his third stage win of this rally, Sainz regained the overall lead in the car class, but by only 9 seconds over Volkswagen teammate Giniel De Villiers of South Africa. Miller is third overall, 13:35 behind Sainz. Gordon moved up to fifth overall -- 1 hour, 8 minutes, 21 seconds behind -- thanks in part to defending champion Stephane Peterhansel's mechanical problems. The Frenchman, who was fifth after Stage 6, had to put out a fire in the engine of his Mitsubishi early in Friday's stage. He briefly resumed the pursuit before his engine broke down again and he had to be towed home. The engine problems forced the nine-time Dakar champion to withdraw from the race. “For us, it was a pretty good special," Gordon said in a release at dakar.com. "There was a little bit of mud at the end. I have to say for the first section we were right in the fight for the lead, but the last section where there was mud, since we have a two-wheel drive I was very conservative and cautious. We gave up probably 5 or 6 minutes to Sainz just in the last 70 kilometers. My Hummer is still hanging in there. ... I’m happy to be half way there. We’ve come here for the win and we won’t stop until the finishing line, we’re pushing as hard as we can, but you’ve got to be smart: a lot of cars are starting to drop out of the rally." In bikes, Chile's Francisco Lopez edged overall leader Marc Coma by almost four minutes. Coma's event lead grew to more than 51 minutes over American Jonah Street, who finished eighth Friday, 14:50 back of Lopez.
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