Fabrizio Meoni was punished because he left the allowed space (which runs along both sides of the route) on the first part of the marathon stage on Thursday. “I am really mad. I left the given path alongside the track and therefore missed two of the so-called waypoints—virtual GPS points. I was punished with a 10 min penalty, five minutes for each waypoint.” Fabrizio now lost his lead in the overall standings.Alfie Cox described this new rule as out-of-touch. According to it, competitors are only allowed on a 3.3 km wide path. “Yesterday I wanted to ride on a route which seemed promising to me. It was Fabrizio who held me back and told me that I would be leaving the allowed path by doing so. That’s when I said to myself, “That’s nonsense! If I can’t decide which route I want to take, it’s no longer a race.”In the bivouac in Atar, arguments erupted between the team managers and the A.S.O. Claudia Patuzzi, manager for the teams KTM Gauloises:
“Okay, Fabrizio had left the allowed path, but it would only be fair if the GPS equipment of all the riders are checked. Further, I think, it isn’t right if competitors like Fabrizio get themselves lost, due to a mistake they make, loose time and then get an additional time penalty for it. A regulation where everyone has to ride on the very same track from A to B surely isn’t what the Dakar is all about. The great challenge to find the optimal route by precise navigation is totally annulled by that.”
The A.S.O. insists on the regalement, but has changed the penalties. Instead of punishing the offender with five minutes for each left-out waypoint it is now one minute. With that Fabrizio Meoni regained the overall leadership. He has a one minute margin on Cyril Despres and about three minutes on Marc Coma.Andy Caldecott dropped from 3rd to 8th place. He was punished for excessive speeding. “Four days ago I must have been speeding on a liaison. It was five in the morning and the vision was terrible when I headed towards a village. I knew there must be a speed trap, but it wasn’t located within the village. It was set up right in front of it. When I passed it I was still a bit over the speed limit. Now, with a 17 min penalty, I have lost my tight grip on the top riders. That’s bitter.”Some facts about life in the bivouac: Mechanics have a field day today. They take the bikes carefully apart, check each individual part and prepare them for the second part of the rally. For Team KTM Repsol Red Bull, all engines are changed. “The complete team made the decision; it wasn’t for the mechanics to decide this,” explains Manel Salinas, mechanic for Marc Coma, “Safety is most important. Otherwise we also change wearing parts, like the chain, the air and oil filters as well as prepare an oil change.”Service for Team KTM Gauloises works totally different. Marc Weber, mechanic for Jean Brucy, states, “I’m not going to change the engine. It runs flawlessly. We’ve engaged a pressure-loss check, changed the sparks and checked the carburetor. I’ll probably also renew the clutch.”Fabrizio Meoni is going to take off with a new engine tomorrow. His mechanic Romeo Feliciani explains, “I’d rather change the engine. If there is a break down, I will be the one to blame. You never know exactly where—or why—parts might be worn or cracked.”Team manager Hans Trunkenpolz claims, “Each team works autonomously from one another. It’s what we’ve wanted them to do. That is a very positive development in my eyes. We feel there’s a healthy distance between Team Gauloises and Team Repsol-Red Bull.”All riders are healthy. “All riders are offered a massage to loosen their muscles,” explains physiotherapist Ralph Pariasek, “Fabrizio always demands a special massage for his back. Alfie’s shoulder has to be bandaged again; it helps to stabilize it. All truck drivers are treated for sore backs.”The crews of the T4 trucks from KTM have done a fantastic job thus far.Silent heroes
They sit in their MAN trucks and race across the track: two trucks, which carry spare parts on board. In in event, they can provide fast assistance. Peter Reif, Gunter Pichlbauer and Stefan Huber make up the crew for the race truck with the starting number 543. Stefan Huber, in charge of the motorcycle repair, talks about his effort: “It is the first time I’m part of a truck crew and I think it’s great. Both of the others are old hands and know exactly what they’re doing. Peter chases the truck across the tracks, just as others run a car. And Gunter is an excellent navigator.”So far the crew’s help during the race (luckily) hasn’t been needed much. Nevertheless the specials weren’t easy. “Oftentimes we are on the road until late at night,” claims experienced Dakar member Peter Reif, “Sometimes you don’t know what is going on just a few meters in front of you—what obstacles are hidden.” The guys were lucky with their fuel on the marathon stage. While others run out of fuel on the way to Tichit, their MAN truck made it, but barely. Peter Reif remembers, “I looked at my fuel gauge and it was almost empty. I was driving almost at a walking pace, but luckily we made it.”The same is true for the second KTM race truck as well. It is driven by Karl Sadlauer, navigated by Franz Maier, with Martin Mayer as the third member aboard. They chase after the motorcycle riders and provide help especially for the KTM amateurs. The private rider’s angles were a blessing for anyone being stranded in the desert on the 7th stage. But the crew (starting number 542) has more to offer than just gasoline. “The guys out there sometimes just need someone to talk to,” explains Karl Sadlauer, “I guess one could call us psychological aid on four wheels.”Everyone on the trucks, accomplishes great things day after day. When they aren’t racing, they help where they can. And when they don’t help they are racing. It is certainly true that the spare part supply trucks should be up front as well. Because the faster they are the less time the motorcycle riders lose in the event of a breakdown. The motorcyclists are full of gratitude—the only payoff for the undergone drudgery.Tomorrow the competitors have to challenge a 483 km, extremely tough special. It loops around the bivouac in Atar. Organizers call it the most difficult dunes of the rally. They are located in the Erg El Beyyed. Before they are reached the participants will have to climb the Thanga crossing. The weather in Mauritania makes the stage even more difficult. There is still a strong wind blowing and visibility is extremely low. This afternoon the desert faced another phenomenon: It started to rain!