CALAMA, Chile – A frustrated Lucio Alvarez and Ronnie Graue finished yesterday’s eighth stage of the Dakar Rally in 21st position after driving for almost the entire length of the 302km route trapped in dust kicked up by the car ahead.
The Team Ford Racing duo tried in vain to pass the slower driver but were unable to find a way through in their Ford Ranger and eventually finished the test 23min 01sec behind winners Nasser Al-Attiyah and Lucas Cruz. The Argentine duo remain 40th in the overall standings.
The rally bid farewell to Argentina yesterday morning as the surviving competitors departed Salta and crossed the Andes Mountains into Chile during a long liaison section before the stage.
The test crossed the Domeyko mountains before descending onto the fringes of the Atacama Desert to finish next to the Calama bivouac. The fast but enclosed tracks climbed to 3500m and overtaking opportunities were limited, as Alvarez found to his cost.
Alvarez and Graue activated the warning system to advise the crew of the car ahead that they were close behind and wished to overtake. However, the crew did not pull to one side to allow the Ford duo by, and the dust was so thick that the Ranger could not get close enough to find a way through.
As in yesterday’s stage around Salta, the high altitude meant cars struggled for power in the thin air. Normally aspirated cars, like the Ranger, suffer more in such conditions than the turbo diesel vehicles.
“It was hot and dry and there was dust throughout the stage which caused me a big problem,” said Alvarez. “After about 30km of the stage I had closed on the car ahead but the dust was too thick for me to get near enough to overtake.
“He did not move for us so there was nothing we could do. I drove for about 270km trapped in his dust. It’s so frustrating because that ruined the stage for me. Apart from that I had no other problems and the Ranger performed well.
“The test was quite similar to Sunday. It was at altitude, which made it tough for the car, but it was twistier. I could tell how the height affected the power, but it’s the same for everyone.”
Team manager Neil Woolridge said: “I feel for Lucio because he did nothing wrong and yet was disadvantaged by the dust created by the car ahead. Lucio and Ronnie did the right thing and pushed the in-car warning button to request that the car move over to let them by. But that didn’t happen.
“In a way I can understand the crew of the car ahead not stopping because they were racing Lucio. But there is a system in place to ensure fairness and the system didn’t work.
“It was our first taste of Chile after a stunning drive for all of us across the Andes from Argentina. Tuesday brings the Atacama sand and we’re looking forward to that. Lucio is regarded as an off-piste master and the stage should suit him.”
This year’s Dakar Rally will reach its northernmost point on today’s stage from Calama to Iquique, where competitors will greet the sea for the first time. The main feature is the sand of the Atacama Desert with around 150km of classic Dakar dunes lying in wait. The opening section covers run-of-the-mill dirt roads, but thrills will be guaranteed at the end of the stage at the famous descent into Iquique where there is a 30 per cent difference in height from start to finish in just 3km. It’s not for the faint-hearted!