After some minor mechanical setbacks, Team X-Raid, its Mini Countryman, and veteran driver Guerlain Chicherit fought hard to earn a very respectable 9th place ahead of last Saturday's official 2011 Dakar Rally rest day held before Stage 7. The team was confident it its chassis and the driving prowess of its French pilot, who before this year, had completed four of his last five Dakar Rallys. No one doubted the beefed-up, off-road ready, more powerful diesel Mini would cross the finish line in Buenos Aires on January 16th.
That is, until a freak accident during the evening's test session forced the Countryman's unfortunate withdrawal. As destiny would have it, X-Raid's newest vehicle would not leave Arica, Chile.
Here's how X-Raid described the turn of events:
Chicherit had been lying ninth in the general classification and had been checking the car with chief mechanic Frank Troebs after the scheduled rest day rebuild. On the return to the bivouac from the brief test -- where everything was shown to be working normally -- Chicherit clipped a ridge of ground and flipped the car into a series of three rolls, which badly damaged the body panels on the Mini. Team director Sven Quandt took the immediate decision not to rebuild the car overnight and Chicherit and the new Mini All4 Racing were withdrawn from the event.
Here's what team leader Quandt had to say:
"If this had happened during the race then it would have been more acceptable. But this accident happened on a roll-out test after the car had just been completely rebuilt. Everything was fine. Guerlain had just confirmed this to the mechanic who was in the car. Guerlain decided he wanted to do another 25km (15.5 miles), which is normally not necessary and then he came over a crest and we know what happened next.
There was a clear understanding between Guerlain and us that the car has to go to Buenos Aires [the rally's finish line], no matter what the position. Even if it was slow, I did not care. He knew that and we had a meeting again in Arica about this.
"The car is very strong. There is nothing integral on the body that is damaged, but this is a disappointing setback for what is a very exciting project. We knew the car was fast and reliable."
Coming into the rest day, driver Chicherit clearly understood that his primary goal was to finish the rally and even mentioned that he didn't want to take any unnecessary risks going forward. He had this to say before the race-ending test session:
"I feel great and hope that we can have a good second week. I would like to push a little harder, but the main goal is to reach the finish of the rally in Buenos Aires and that has to be the aim. For that reason, I will not take any risks. That means I will be competitive in the technical parts of the stages and slower in the fast parts where I slow down."