EL SALVADOR - Stephane Peterhansel's hopes of a 12th Dakar Rally title were crushed on Thursday when Mini instigated team orders to ensure a podium sweep, a decision which was blasted by organsiers as well as the champion-elect. Peterhansel, who has six motorcycle triumphs and five wins on four wheels in the race, finished the 11th stage from Antofagasta to El Salvador in Chile -- at an overall 605km, the longest of the event -- in fourth place, 14min 14sec behind stage winner Orlando Terranova.
But the Frenchman's Mini teammate, and overall leader, Nani Roma was second on the day, just over three minutes ahead of Peterhansel. Spanish driver Roma leads the race by 5min 32sec with just two stages to race. "The game is over. We've had a good laugh and enjoyed ourselves," said Peterhansel, who failed to disguise his frustration at Mini's decision.
"The team asked us to not take any more risks. It's a bit frustrating because we've done most of the hard work. But, if Mini wants to have three cars on the podium, at the speed at which we are driving out in front, it's easy to crash a car or even two in just one day. We know that this can happen, but I didn't think that they would do it."
Race organisers said they were "disappointed" and "a little shocked" by Mini's team orders which should see Roma, Peterhansel and Qatar's Nasser Al-Attiyah monopolise the top three places on the podium. "We haven't been informed of this decision by the team manager of Mini," said race director Etienne Lavigne.
"But we are disappointed, clearly, because it is not in the spirit of the competition. It's a little shocking. It's not fair. If I was being mean, I would say to Mini that they can collect the trophy immediately. Fighting without risk is triumph without glory." Even Roma, the champion-in-waiting, was embarrassed by Mini's stand.
"It's disappointing for Stephane, it's disrespectful. It's a bad decision that has been taken," he said.
In the motorcycling section, Spain's Marc Coma, on a KTM, won his third stage of the 2014 event and now leads Joan Barreda on a Honda by a comfortable 52min 36sec. Barreda was fifth on the stage but saw his campaign to hunt down Coma hindered by losing all of his navigational instruments. "It was a very long day. I had a little fall at the start, but it wasn't serious," said Coma. "After that, I tried to maintain a good pace. The important thing is still being here in the race and also to be careful, because there is still one tough day left."