LEG 9 : Thursday 5th of January 2012Akjoujt / Akjoujt ( MAURITANIA )Special Stage : 236 km
TERRIBLE MAURITANIAN DESERTAfter a crazy day for competitors trapped in an Erg of Mauritania on Wednesday, the caravan of the event was somewhat depleted yesterday morning. But the race still goes on and the remaining motorbikes, cars and trucks started off for the loop around Akjoujt. However, the two days turned out to be somewhat alike and part of the stage was so compliatced that the organisers decided to shorten it.
"The route of the day will include some parts of fairly easy off-piste driving. But there will be 45 km of really hard going," Rene Metge already knew that competitors would curse him. "A part is a mixture of dunes and camel grass where you have to be patient and careful not to get stuck. After this comes the most difficult test..." Such was the description of the route yesterday, between Boulanouar Akjoujt. Competitors of this fourth edition of the Sonagol Africa Eco Race were therefore warned of what awaited them. However, with the wind blowing hard now making conditions even harder two thirds of the rally ended up trapped in the 45 km long Erg of Akchar. A few competitors managed to emerge from the stage, but others were stuck there for the whole night. Participants who made it back to camp are permitted by the rules to continue, albeit with a penalty.
The 7th stage, a 412 km loop around Akjoujt started Thursday morning with teh remaining 8 motorcycles and 29 cars. It wasn't suposed to be a particularly difficult day, but unfortunately the strong wind made it hard straight away. On one had the wind cleared the clouds of dust from the driver in front, but on the other it blew the sand over the dunes making it very hard to judge them correctly and this led to a directional error by competitors who found themselves in dunes that were extremely hard to pass. In response, the race director decided to shorten the stage and fix the results as they were at CP2... and this changed the outlook of the leaderboard completely as the best time at that point was held by Elisabete Jacinto in her MAN truck, which is only the 2nd time in the history of the race that a truck has beaten the cars. Second place is also a surprise with Michel Barrere Turon and Didier Haquette in their CRD Buggy, especially as they only got back to te camp at midnight last night. They were 10 minutes ahead of the Tatra of Tomas Tomecek who suddenly, after clutch problems for the Pick Up of Jacky Loomans, now occupies second place overall.
Still the leader even after problems looking for the right track is Jean Louis Schlesser. Always the gentleman he congratulated the performance of Elisabete and also that of GillesCotel and Hervé Florin, fifth in their Cotel Buggy and that of Joël Olivan et Patrick Colleie, 6th in their Toyota. It was a bad day for the Tunisians Salim Kamoun and Sofiane Driss who lost over an hour. For their victory in the class for vehicles with two solid axles they won a set of Cooper tires and retain fifth place overall.
The motorcycle category also had its share of surprisesand also the overall ranking is completely rearranged. Oscar Polli who was in a racing mood this morning, but lost a lot of time looking for the right track near CP2... whereas Norbert Dubois immediately found the right way with the result that the Frenchman takes 55 minutes from the Italian and now has nearly 8 minutes of a lead... so anything can happen in the last three stages... Behind, the exploits of Thierry Hervé riding his Yamaha 450 WRF continue to impress his peers with 2nd on the stage, ahead of Xavier Moreau, Oscar Polli in 4th, while Christophe Conreaux and Bertrand Besse finished the stage in fifth and sixth position.
Today, because of the weather forecast that predicts strong winds the 8th stage between Akjoujt and Tenadi will be reduced to a link road between the two cities in Mauritania.