Dakar leader penalised for ‘dangerous’ incident
MOTORSPORT: Dakar Rally car category leader Carlos Sainz has been penalised 10 minutes for allegedly making contact with a quad bike competitor.
Dutch rider Kees Koolen accused the leading Peugeot of hitting him and knocking him off his machine at around the 184km mark of Stage 7, the first half of the marathon stage from La Paz to Uyuni.
Koolen, the reigning cross-country rally world champion in the quad class and former CEO and chairman of Booking.com, formally complained about the incident, with rules dictating that competitors must stop to render assistance if there is an accident during a stage.
Sainz appeared before the stewards in the bivouac at Salta in Argentina and strongly denied that any contact had been made.
The stewards ruled that Sainz' conduct had been "potentially dangerous" and imposed a 10-minute time penalty.
"I'm very upset by this decision," Sainz said.
"The version of events described by the quad bike rider doesn't match up to the reality. In fact, my actions meant that we avoided an accident.
"I'm sorry for what happened to him, but what occurred was that I came up to him and set off the Sentinel.
"He pulled over to one side and looked at me. There was plenty of space, although the road was very muddy. He then lost control and came back onto the line. I swerved to avoid him, and although it was close, there was no contact between us.
"If we had hit each other, of course I would have stopped. I absolutely don't agree with this decision."
The penalty reduces Sainz's overall lead to just under an hour over Toyota's Nasser Al-Attiyah.
Koolen went on to finish the stage in 12th place and moved up to seventh place overall in the quad class by dint of retirements by other riders, before registering 10th on the second part of the marathon test, Stage 8.
The 53-year-old lashed out after the penalty was handed down, furious that it wasn't more severe.
"I was launched. He did not even stop to see if I was okay," Koolen told Rallymaniacs.com.
"The damage to my quad is such that everyone can see that this is due to a collision.
"The part of the quad that took the blow was my salvation. If it had been 15cm different, I would not be here anymore.
"If there had been a reasonable sentence, I would have left it, but this is a joke."
As part of the team's report to the stewards, it also suggested that Koolen's was the quad bike that Sainz's teammate Stephane Peterhansel was avoiding when he struck a rock, causing damage to the left-rear suspension that would cost him almost two hours.
"The team representative, Bruno Famin states that in this place and 30 seconds later, their car No. 300 has (sic) a big accident to avoid the quad who was in the middle of the road," the stewards report read.
Peugeot team management will appeal Sainz's penalty which, depending on his final position at the end of the rally, could mean we might not definitively know the winner of the car category when the rally ends on Saturday.
"The decision is incomprehensible," Bruno Famin, Peugeot Sport director, said.
"There's nothing concrete in the folder, and it's just somebody's word against another. As far as we're concerned, it's quite clear that there was no contact between the quad and the car.
"If it had really happened as the quad rider claims, unfortunately he may not have been around anymore to talk about it, given the speed of the car.
"All our data backs up Carlos's version of events, who has always behaved impeccably. The rider who claims his quad was damaged finished 12th on the stage and then 10th on the next one, which was the second half of the marathon stage.
"This 10-minute penalty is completely arbitrary. The stewards are punishing Carlos for not having stopped, yet there was no impact.
"Furthermore, even if Carlos's behaviour was deserving of punishment, this should have come in the form of a fine rather than a time penalty - arrived at in an arbitrary fashion - which affects the running of the race.
"So, of course, we've notified our intention to appeal. As a result, it's likely that we won't know who the winner of the 2018 Dakar is on Saturday in Cordoba.
"Leaving aside the whole principle of the matter, leading by 1h06m is a very different proposition to leading by 56 minutes, given the challenging nature of the stages to come over the next few days."
UPDATED OVERALL CAR STANDINGS after Stage 9
1. (303) Sainz/Cruz (Peugeot) 27h14m00s
2. (301) Al-Attiyah/Baumel (Toyota) +56m37s
3. (300) Peterhansel/Cottret (Peugeot) +1h03m42s
4. (309) Ten Brinke/Perin (Toyota) +1h13m00s
5. (304) De Villiers/Von Zitzewitz (Toyota) +1h27m09s
6. (312) Przygonski/Colsoul (Mini) +2h18m36s
7. (311) Prokop/Tomanek (Ford) +2h33m30s
8. (319) Al Qassimi/Panseri (Peugeot) +2h45m42s
9. (334) Van Merksteijn/Marton (Toyota) +4h49m41s
10. (313) Fuchs/Mussano (Borgward) +6h24m09s