January 10, 2014
The Dakar has thrown another curve ball at the SPEED Energy Team. After initially being credited with third on yesterday’s special, the team could only shake their heads as their podium position was snatched away with the addition of a one hour time penalty. Although Gordon himself spoke about the possibility of a penalty when being interviewed after completing the stage, it is still a bitter blow after a stunning performance.
The Dakar is not just about driving fast over difficult terrain. For the cars, the extra weight in the passenger seat isnt just to help dig you out if you get stuck. Navigation is a vitally important part of the package and no one ever won a Dakar stage without this. Gordon of course has a very good navigator in Kellon Walch but there is an issue with the waypoints which has affected the Dakar previously.
The cars have to pass within a few hundred metres of the waypoint for it to electronically register in their car. They can then move on to the next waypoint. In the past, these electronic waypoints have occassionally malfunctioned and drivers have gone backwards and forwards over the same ground to try to trigger the waypoint signal. Eventually, having lost a lot of time, drivers have moved on to the next waypoint only to discover they wasted their time trying to find the ‘missed’ waypoint because it was faulty.
This means a certain amount of decision making and risk as you dont want to waste time looking for a waypoint that isnt there but you dont want to miss a live waypoint. Because of this, each driver and navigator team has to decide when to abandon a waypoint and move on to the next one to avoid wasting too much time.
As an example of how hard this is, overall race leader at the start of the stage, Carlos Sainz admitted he did not pass one waypoint today but he was not given a penalty. The inference from this is that he drove close enough so that it should have registered but the waypoint malfunctioned. Whatever the reason, having driven up and doewn, Sainz eventally abandoned trying to trip the waypoint and moved on, just as Robby did. Unfortunately for Gordon, the outcome was a bit different in his case.
We should also remember that the organisers also set deliberate ‘traps’ when laying the course to tempt the racers off the correct route.
Stage 5 saw several high profile drivers fall victim to missed waypoints. Former Dakar winners, Stephane Peterhansel and Nasser al-Attiyah both missed a waypoint on the stage and were also handed 1 hour time penalties. It’s cold comfort for the team, but when experienced crews, who have won the Dakar, are missing waypoints, you know you are in good company.
Starting from 19th on stage 6, Gordon will be pushing hard to plant a race boot on the podium. Having spent a lot of time there in previous Dakars, including nine appearances on the top step, the podium is his natural home. Todays course moves from sand and dunes to rocks and earth tracks. Gordon’s Open Country M/T-R tires may give him an advantage in these conditions since they have proved almost bulletproof. If he can drive by a few teams having to change tires, the top step of the podium may be in his sights.