Stages 12 and 13 and almost 700km of special are all that remain in the 2011 Dakar – the 33rd edition of the world’s toughest race – and Yamaha are on the edge of another top-of–the-leader-board finish thanks to the skills and exertions of Helder Rodrigues and his Yamaha Racing France Ipone team. During the eleven stages held so far the Portuguese has been almost ever-present in the top ten on his WR450F and has notched five top four finishes including victory on Stage 6.
Through more than 8000km of mountainous terrain, rocks, dust and of course the immense dunes of the Atacama, Yamaha has been among the protagonists of the class with Rodrigues frequently setting the pace alongside leaders Marc Coma and Cyril Despres but coming unstuck with navigation issues that have cost him further spoils. The 31 year old now has to reduce a margin of 46 minutes to climb over Francisco Lopez Contardo and enter the first three of the general standings of the bike category. At the same time he has a cushion of 1hr 7 minutes over the fifth-placed rider.
“This year’s edition of Dakar is already in the home straight,” he said. “Tomorrow I know that I will start the penultimate stage with one of my very last opportunities to try and break into the podium positions. I realise that I have my current standing consolidated but if anything the history of the Dakar shows us that it is never over until the end of the final kilometre!”
Rodrigues claimed Stage 6 but he wasn’t the only winner on the WR450F as Jonah Street aced the relatively short leg 9 to emerge victorious in what has been an inconsistent competition for the American so far. “We didn't have any bike problems, everything went really smooth so I'm happy,” he said after making the headlines. “It's awesome. You know what? We've been capable of this, it just hasn't fallen onto our plate.”
Elsewhere Jordi Viladoms is 11th overall and hopeful of a top ten finish as he lies 9 minutes from 9th. The Spaniard would be easily holding this rank if it were not for a fuel shortage on Stage 8 that cost his valuable time.
Yamaha has dominated the Quad category thanks to its YFM700R technology and the skills of Argentineans like Alejandro Patronelli (pictured), Sebastian Halpern and Tomas Maffei; first, second and eighth in the standings respectively and the trio have claimed nine stages between them with Yamaha owning ten of the eleven held (Czech Josef Machacek triumphed in the opening sprint but has since retired). Patronelli has not dropped out of the first two positions overall since the second leg and has been fronting the pack from Stage 8 onwards despite some adversity.
“I hurt my hand and I'm having difficulty flexing my wrist,” he told www.dakar.com “I struggled over the finishing line and I thank God that I was able to finish. I'm taking it easy now, riding almost gently. I'm trying to finish and avoid any errors. I'm just concentrating on preserving the quad and my physical health and getting to Buenos Aires.” YMF700R machinery also currently own fourth and fifth in the overall standings with Pole Lukasz Laskawiec and Pablo Sebastian Copetti from Argentina, both chasing the third step of podium.
Camelia Liparoti (shown here) is one of the few female competitors remaining in the rally and has risen to 9th overall from just 13 riders left on four wheels (originally 28 finished Stage 1). “It has been difficult and I never imagined I would find so many stones but I feel good with my Yamaha and everyday I have been taking more confidence,” she said. “The quad is extremely reliable, during our rest day we simply cleaned the air filter and that was all. I am pushing at about 70% because my main goal is to arrive back to Buenos Aires on Saturday. The number of people who have abandoned the race at this Dakar shows you how tough it is and I don’t want to add myself to that list! Now so close to the end I realise that making it through every day is a big part of it.”
Standings after Stage 11
Bike (with time difference to leader)
1. Marc Coma 19:14: 55
2. Cyril Despres 00:15:49
3. Francisco Lopez Contardo 00:49:24
4. Helder Rodrigues (Yam) 01:35:10
5. Juan Pedrero Garcia 02:42:55
11. Jordi Viladoms (Yam) 04:32:16
15. Jonah Street (Yam) 05:50:30
1. Alejandro Patronelli (Yam)
2. Sebastian Halpern (Yam)
3. Christophe Declerck (Pol)
4. Lukasz Lascawiec (Yam)
5. Pablo Copetti (Yam)
9. Camelia Liparoti (Yam)
Photos courtesy of Michel Maindru/Yamaha Motor France