Remaining Mitsubishi Racing Lancer leaps across giant dune in Chile.
Weather also caused cancellation of the second day's stage in the dunes, and the whole entourage of over 2000 people made its way across the Andes through Paso de San Francisco, a 15,600-foot-high pass that caused everyone to feel lightheaded. Oxygen was available in support vehicles and race cars in case anyone needed it. As it was not a competitive day, none of the racers suffered any problems, although at least one support crew had a blown turbo and other maladies from the altitude, which was far higher than anyone had ever experienced in a race.
Robby Gordon surprises every one with a strong third in his Hummer.
The next day was a game-changer. Carlos Sainz slid into an unmarked washout and ended upside-down in his Touareg. Although he was unhurt and the car was still driveable, his co-driver injured a shoulder and the official medical team deemed him unfit to continue. Dakar had struck back.
With Sainz out, Mark Miller was in the overall lead, although he did not know it, as he was unaware of Sainz's problem. Near the end of the stage, he got stuck and de Villiers ended up winning the stage and taking the overall lead, just two minutes ahead of Miller. "Today is one of those days where there's a lot to talk about" said Miller. "The special stage has definitely been the most difficult of this Dakar so far. We had to work hard, particularly in the sand. We got stuck several times and had to dig ourselves out."
Roma, in the sole remaining factory Mitsubishi, also got stuck in the sand dunes and had to be towed out taking a maximum penalty of 10 hours that dropped him to 10th place overall. This allowed Gordon to move up to third place behind Miller and de Villiers.
With just two days of racing left, on relatively smooth but fast tracks often used in Argentina's WRC round, VW team orders to de Villiers and Miller were to take it easy--they only had to finish. Gordon was over 90 minutes behind and would be unable to beat them as long as they made no mistakes.
It's difficult to force a racer to drive slowly, so it was no surprise to see de Villiers still win the last stage. He didn't get in trouble with his boss, though, as he had won the Dakar. It was de Villiers' sixth attempt; he became the first African to win the event, and it was the first time a diesel-powered car had won. VW's goal had finally been achieved.
It was also the first time the top three drivers were from English-speaking countries. Second and third places were taken by the only two Americans in the race. Gordon had beaten two factory teams and finished right behind the 80-strong VW factory team with his two Hummers, supported by just 22 people.