For thousands of years, oases in desert valleys have lured with fertile soil and a large water reserves tired travelers, who have decided to travel through heavy sands and dunes of the Arabian Peninsula. The ancient city of Al-Ula has become such a place of attraction for the modern caravan of the Dakar Rally. Founded in the 6th century BC on the site of the biblical city of Dedan, it invited the race participants to set up their temporary camp on the sacred ground. For centuries, trade routes from the southern territories to Egypt ran through the city, and now Al-Ula is for a good reason called an open-air museum: the thousand-year history of mankind and ancient archaeological sites became a real center of international tourism in the north-west of Saudi Arabia.
In the meantime, Dakar-2021 attracts attention of millions of people around the planet. The eleventh special stage was supposed to become the longest in the 43rd edition of the race, but the weather conditions in the final segment area of the stage forced the organizers to make adjustments to the route: the 511-kilometer distance was reduced by 47 km and did not lead the rally caravan into solonchaks, washed out by rains, where was high probability of numerous sticking of crews. However, the racers had the opportunity to get at a standstill in a different place – on a 100-kilometer section with sand and dunes, including the second and third difficulty levels with soft sand, which the athletes had not seen for several days.
The closer the finish of the competition is, the more dramatic the events develop on the Dakar route. In the previous days some of the leaders in their categories had to withdraw from the marathon. It couldn’t do without the personal tragedy of the athletes today: Alexandre Giroud claimed to win in the quad category, but the broken engine left the Frenchman two steps away from the dream of winning the Golden Bedouin. The Spanish bike rider Joan Barreda also made a fatal mistake by skipping the refueling zone – the chances for the podium vanished, as did the gas in his tank.
The mixed start for the leaders in the truck classification after yesterday’s “tram” stage, when the crews literally hung on each other’s tail and in the thick dust did not have the opportunity to overtake, was held on Thursday in a more gentle mode. An interval of two and one minutes allowed them to drive at a high pace for a while, not thinking about poor visibility on the gravel road. The highlight of the sports day was the indirect hunt (10 minutes difference in the starting protocol) between Martin Macik and Ales Loprais for the fourth place in the general classification, which ended in favor of the first: Macik lost a few minutes on changing a wheel, while Loprais spent more than 20 minutes on solving technical problems.
The “conflict” of the Czech drivers did not affect other representatives of top 6 in the overall. Crews of KAMAZ-master team moved smoothly and reliably from the first to the last kilometer. Neither numerous river beds and twisted paths in mountain canyons, nor the heaviest sands in the dunes and sharp stones, hidden on steep slopes, became an obstacle.
The two-time winner of the rally-marathon Andrey Karginov at the start waited for Anton Shibalov and continued his way, insuring his teammate. The crew No 500 crossed the finish line with the fourth best time (later the judges issued a two-minute penalty and Karginov dropped to the sixth place). It seemed that the hard day was over and that the sportsmen had a well-deserved rest in the camp. But as at the first stages, the Dakar 2021 prepared a new challenge for the Russians: a stone destroyed the gearbox housing and oil began to leak out on Karginov‘s truck. Without any assistance KAMAZ could overcome 100 km of the liaison and get to the bivouac in one fourth gear. Fortunately, the breakdown had not occured at the special stage, where no one could have helped Karginov and his crew, and the stop could have become fatal.
Andrey Karginov, pilot of crew No 500: “Today it didn’t occur without adventures, thanks to our KAMAZ for bringing us to the finish line. There was an incredible amount of stones on the route, and one of them seemed to ricochet at us when we cut the track. If not to do so and drive in a rut, you may not look at the table at all, because you won’t achieve the result. During the special stage, nothing pointed at the problems, we finished well. And only on the liaison we felt that the truck did not accelerate. A stone destroyed the gearbox housing, oil began to leak out. We arrived at the bivouac with spit and baling wire, where we stood up: we pushed the truck into the camp by hand at the amazed glances of the Czechs. They probably looked and thought, what reliable vehicles KAMAZ-master had, that they were finishing with such problems. As tanks brought their crews in a war, so our KAMAZ brought us today. We will fix the truck, tomorrow it will be like new. Today KAMAZ was hit, but not broken. As for the special stage, it is a good day, the organizers do a great job that create such difficult routes, where vehicles and crews are checked. There was one very interesting place – either a river, or a solonchak. The road went to the left, and we cut off, climbing into the very mud. We were lucky that could get out of there on our own.”
The victory at the stage, second at the Dakar 2021, was won by the crew of Anton Shibalov – 4 hours 46 minutes 38 seconds.
Anton Shibalov, pilot of crew No 501: “Today there were a lot of different stones – large, sharp, hidden. It couldn’t do without a small trial. River channels complicated navigation. A long dune section was interesting. The dunes were sharp, with steep slopes. They were more difficult than at the beginning of the race. We passed the special stage at a good pace. At the beginning Andrey let us ahead, his task was to insure. In the sands we caught up with Aliaksei Vishneuski, overtook him. In some places the stage was similar to Kabardino-Balkaria: interesting places, beautiful landscapes, but we will fully admire them in videos and photographs.”
The second result at the finish line was shown by Airat Mardeev (+4 minutes 13 seconds). Aliaksei Vishneuski, who faced with a wheel puncture, became the third (+4 minutes 53 seconds).
Airat Mardeev, pilot of crew No 509: “A varied special stage with river beds, stones, tough impassibility. Interesting dunes, plump and clumsy in places. Today was the most difficult day of the Dakar. The speed was not so high, we were exhausted during the day. We tried to get the result, so a priority was a reliable driving and avoiding punctures. I would note difficult navigation, but the co-driver Dima Svistunov did a great job, found the right way. At the end of the stage, we saw Dima Sotnikov changing a wheel. Now we need to prepare the trucks carefully, because tomorrow we have a very important day, which we need to drive without problems.”
The leader of the overall standings, Dmitry Sotnikov, was going for the second best time of the day, but while descending on one of the dunes, he caught a stone and had to change the wheel 30 km before the finish. As a result, only the fourth position (+7 minutes 24 seconds).
Dmitry Sotnikov, driver of crew No 507: “One of the most difficult stages of this rally. The special stage was full of rocky river beds, we drove over stones for a long time and took care of the wheels. Macik was driving the fastest of all today, but after the transfer we saw him changing a wheel. We didn’t change our mode, continued to drive at our own pace. We met our guys on the second transfer and continued to move to the finish line. The last 100 km were sections with difficult dunes in rocky terrain. In some places stones on the descent were invisible, so we punctured a wheel. We tried to drive up to the finish, but 30 km before, the wheel stopped holding pressure and we had to change it. “
On Friday, the Dakar contestants are awaited by the final stage of the Dakar 2021 with a length of 447 km, 200 km of which will be a special stage. The race along the route Yanbu – Jeddah will finally put all the racers in their places.
Truck category. Rankings of the 11th stage. Top-10
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Truck category. General classification after the 11th stage. Top-10
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