|Team Manager Darren Skilton and the crew relax a bit on the rest day in Arica, Chile. (From right: Troy Johnson, Sue Mead, Dan Moore)|
Submitted by Team Manager Chris Collard
The sun’s first rays spread across the protected harbor of Antofagasta, Chile, this morning as competitors prepared for the eighth leg of the 2011 Dakar Rally. After the rest day between stages six and seven, the field had been trimmed by more than twenty-five percent. With each leg of the race, a few more vehicles crash or break, a few more motorcycle riders go down with injuries, and another massive T4 truck is eliminated.
Leg seven, from Arica to Antofagasta, teams got back to the business of racing in heart of one of the harshest deserts on the planet, the Atacama. At 819 kilometers, this was the longest Stage of the race. But after loosing so many vehicles in leg six, organizers trimmed the Special Stage, or dirt section, by 250 kilometers. This reduction in the daily abuse was a welcome reprieve and most teams had completed the stage by 2200hrs. When the dust settled, Spanish driver Carlos Sainz remained overall leader, followed by Al-Attiyah of Quate and Stephan Peterhansel of France.
The big news on the American front is that of the eight U.S. teams, or riders, who rolled off the podium in Buenos Aires seven days ago, four are still in the competition. Mark Miller lost some ground today but remains in sixth place overall, in the automotive class two hours and thirteen minutes behind the leader. Motorcycle riders Quinn Cody and Jonah Street held on to 11th and 14th positions in the Moto Class.
Sue Mead and Darren Skilton, piloting the FabSchool-General Tire Ford Raptor, have been working their way up from a low of 126th position. Over the course of the past seven days of racing and 5300 kilometers, the duo has cut that number in half, starting in 51st position in the automotive class, and 1st in their specific vehicle class. The two have been sharing driving duties, swapping driving/navigator on alternate days. For Stage 7, the traded positions mid-day. Mead said, “ I felt really bad because I got us stuck on a sand ridge and it cost us time. Darren though, is such an amazing coach and teammate. He keeps his cool no matter what seems to be happening. His navigation is perfect, and as a driving, Darren has a constant awareness of his surroundings, knows how far he can push the car, and us. We got hi-centered again latter when Darren was driving. He didn’t get upset or frustrated, he just got out and dealt with it. When it comes to racing, he is a true professional.
The two arrived at the bivouac around 2100hrs last night and were strapping into the Raptor at 0630 this morning. Today’s Stage will take the duo inland, back through the Atacama, and 776 kilometer to the south. When the sun sets on the Pacific the team will hopefully be at the nightly bivouac in the Chilean town of Copiapo. You can view real time Iritrack position updates at Dakar.com and follow the team at Facebook under Dakar Ford Raptor. Or, stay tuned here.