cyril-despres-dakar Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Photofiles

After a well-earned rest day, the seventh timed special stage of the 2011 Dakar Rally packed the field off whence they had just come.

A pre-rest day monster special saw many competitors enjoying little or no time off, so the organisers decided to trim down stage seven to a more manageable 273km.

It was back onto the unforgiving dunes of the Atacama Desert for those lucky enough still to be standing as this year’s Dakar entered its second week.

Once again, it was the Volkswagen Race 3 Touaregs that dominated the day. Nasser Al-Attiyah won the stage from team-mate Carlos Sainz to trim the Spaniard’s lead down to a mere 1m 22s.

The third podium place was also claimed by the Volkswagen team with the steady form of 2009 winner Giniel De Villiers continuing.

While it’s all smiles in the Volkswagen corner of the bivouac, BMW team manager Sven Quandt is doing some serious head-scratching. On the rest day, he lost the Mini Countryman of Guerlain Chicherit in a freak accident and on stage seven the race also ended for Orlando Terranova in the BMW X3.

Although BMW’s flagship driver, Stephane Peterhansel, did managed to complete stage seven, his third place is coming increasingly under threat from the Volkswagen Touareg of De Villiers.

It was a first win on home soil of the 2011 Dakar for Chilean biker Chaleco Lopez on route from Arica to Antofagasta. The local lad clocked up his fifth career stage win of the Dakar in fine style as he went 3m 45s faster than race leader Marc Coma.

Marc also saw his closest rival Cyril Despres inch closer as the Frenchman’s time relegated the overall leader to third place on the stage. With thousands of kilometres still to race, Marc and Cyril are only separated by 7m 24s.

The stiff competition in the bike class is something we have come to expect, no biker has won the Dakar by a gap of over 10m since the desert classic came to South America.

After not losing a stage since midway through the 2009 edition of the race the tough times continue of Team Kamaz in the truck class. The all-powerful team of Russians have seen some of their invincible air washed away either side of the rest day with Ales Loprais gaining back-to-back stage wins.

Four-time Dakar champion Loprais now stands between Kamaz team-mates Firdaus Kabirov in first place and Vladimir Chagin in third position.

While the past champ is returning in the truck class, there is a new boy in town on the quads. After a stage to forget for previous race leader Alejandro Patronelli, fellow Argentinian Tomas Maffei took the chance to top the table as the 2011 Dakar Rally pulled into Antofagasta.

Spotlight on Red Bull riders

After managing to keep pace with overall race leader Carlos Sainz, the Fresh Prince of the Dakar Rally has vowed to go on the offensive from here on out.

Nasser Al-Attiyah finished last year 2m 30s behind Sainz and is adamant he will do all he can to avoid missing out again.

“Today we took 1m 20s back from Carlos and I am thrilled to be the winner of another special stage. From now on, though, I really have to attack.

“In order to avoid flat tyres, we have to avoid sliding sideways too much. Last year, I had six flat tyres. This year, I’m really focused on my driving to avoid flats and stay on course as much as possible. We also must remember to keep the pace up.”

Dakar’s Just Deserts

It was my pleasure to see Chaleco Lopez win his first stage of the 2011 Dakar Rally on home soil in the company of a real Familia Tuerca.

Tuerca, Spanish for ‘bolt’, is the name given for petrolheads in this part of the world, and there’s no doubt the term applies to the Palma clan from Chile’s capital city.

Brothers Mauricio and Rodrigo plus brother-in-law Luis and nephew Ignacio drove for 20 hours straight in their Kia Rio 5 to cover the 1,800km between Santiago de Chile and Huanillos Sur.

The Palmas have been tackling similar feats of endurance ever since the Dakar came to South America in order to glimpse a piece of the action.

When stage winner Chaleco Lopez handed me his roadbook after winning the stage, there was nobody more deserving I could think of to pass it on to.

Chi-Chi-Chi, Le, Le, Le – Viva Chile!

Word from the Waypoint

“I used my head more today than I have done in previous stages and I had a bit of luck as well. All I do is think about my own race and for the rest of it we will see.”
Quad class leader Tomas Maffei may stand on the brink of recording a famous victory in his first ever Dakar appearance, but is refusing to get carried away.

Today’s Dakar Lucky Number: 12,000

With the race currently exploring one of the driest places on earth, dehydration is an issue for everyone connected with the Dakar. At last count, 12,000 bottles of water are being guzzled everyday in the bivouac – not to mention a fair few cans of Red Bull as well.

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