CHILECITO, ARGENTINA – Team Ford Racing enjoyed an encouraging performance in stage four of the 2014 Dakar Rally today when Argentines Lucio Alvarez and Ronnie Graue finished the gruelling test 16th in their Ranger.
The competitors faced the longest stage since 2005, covering a taxing total distance of 868 km from San Juan to Chilecito, including 501 km of special stage split into two sections.
Scorching heat, thick dust and the huge Sierra de la Punilla and Sierra de Famatina mountain ranges all played a major role in today’s stage.
The team worked through the night to ensure the suspension damaged yesterday was repaired, but unfortunately a minor electronic glitch temporarily prevented the Ranger from starting in the morning. The problem was traced to a faulty water temperature sensor that also cut out the accelerator.
Once it was fixed Alvarez and co-driver Graue (308) departed the San Juan bivouac 32 min late, thus incurring a full hour penalty added to the overall times.
On the stage Alvarez and Graue overcame the trials of the preceding days and finished 16th with a time of 6 hr 5 min 9 sec. This was 44 min 37 sec behind stage winners Carlos Sainz/Timo Gottschalk (SMG Buggy).
The intense dust of the opening competitive stage was exacerbated when the Argentine pair got stuck behind a couple of the race trucks on the road, severely curtailing visibility and overtaking opportunities.
Nevertheless they set a blistering pace in the second part of the special after the intermediate 157 km neutralisation. The times were extremely competitive and matched the pace of the front-runners, which was very encouraging for the crew and the team as a whole.
Alvarez and Graue are currently 57th overall, 10 hr 27 min 17 sec behind overall leaders Sainz/Gottschalk. They start tomorrow’s stage 22nd on the road.
Lucio Alvarez / Ronnie Graue (308):
“It was frustrating to have the electrical fault this morning, but other than that the car was really good the whole day.
“In the first part of the stage we were stuck behind the trucks, and we simply couldn’t pass which cost us at least 20 minutes.
“The second section was a lot better and we were able to go much faster, pushing the Ranger hard and passing several cars along the way. We hit some big jumps quite hard, and the car handled it very well.
“Considering we lost 32 min at the start I think we posted a really good time, and this allows us to start closer to the front tomorrow with the faster cars, so we should be able to go quicker.”
Neil Woolridge (Team Manager – Neil Woolridge Motorsport / Ford Racing):
“It has been a difficult couple of days for the team. Since we got to South America we’ve had nothing but problems. On the first day both cars had issues that we have never encountered before with the Ranger.
“We’ve only ever had one throttle body failure previously on the Ranger, and we’ve used the suspension component that broke on Lucio’s car yesterday for 10 years without incident. So all of these issues have been very frustrating.
“Chris and Japie’s big accident on day two was a big knock for them and the whole team. They have been racing with us for three years and have never crashed a car, so it was a big blow for everyone.
“Today was much better, and when you look at the stage times it’s clear that when Lucio and Ronnie had a clear run they were able to maintain the same pace as the front runners. So this is very encouraging for the team, and we will keep pushing.”
Day 5 of Dakar Rally 2014 will once again incorporate two special stage sections of 211 km and 205 km respectively, separated by a 111 km neutralisation. Combined with the 385 km liaison the competitors face an even more daunting 912 km route on Thursday 9 January.
Extremely high temperatures and high altitudes will set the tone for the day. The crews will make headway along off-piste sections on an extreme route dominated by sand.