Summarize

Some say Dakar needs a magic compass…

With all the talk around Dakar’s navigational issues this year and the apparent need for a magic compass, Motorsport media surveyed the top car and bike competitors in an effort to monitor the affect of navigational dramas on the 2017 results so far.

Almost all the top drivers and riders have been lost along the way this year. Dakar has always seen some competitors get lost some days, but this year almost everyone has been lost and several teams have gone awry every day, which is starting to see questions asked whether Dakar is indeed the greatest race of all, or if it is more a boy scout compass test set to ensure failure…

Looking at the top car and bike competitors in some detail, it is clear the results are changing far more day-to-day than has always been the Dakar norm.

Among the cars, Giniel de Villiers appears to have been the unluckiest of all over the first week — getting lost and losing time daily since Wednesday to now languishing an hour off the pace. But judging by among his rivals’ compass catastrophes, should the Stellenbosch Dakar expert have a clean run through the first few days of next week and those rivals for once face lose their way as significantly as Giniel and Dirk van Zitzewitz did this week, it is not impossible that come Thursday, they may well be right back in the mix…

Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But certainly not impossible considering the events of the past week…

Mikko Hirvonen was looking very good with a clean run through to Thursday to sit a very strong third. But spending 40 minutes off the beaten track on Friday did him no good at all as the Mini lost two positions and ta scary amount of time against leader Peterhansel.

The Peugeots have all suffered navigational challenges too albeit that they have en main been luckier and lost less time, but Carols Sainz was pushing to make up for time lost when he so spectacularly rolled into retirement. Sebastien Loeb lost his way Thursday and Friday before fighting back and Stephane Peterhansel notably raced back from losing 15 minutes once and ten minutes on another occasion.

Toyota’s Nani Roma is perhaps the driver to be least lost this week and with the exception of a short stint off-piste Wednesday, the Spaniard has done well to find his way and he finds himself in a fighting fourth as a result. Perhaps Giniel can borrow Nani’s magic compass for a stage or two, then…

No different on 2 wheels
The situation is no different in the bikes and with the exception of current leaders, KTM’s overall leader Sam Sunderland and Chilean Husqvarna rider Pablo Quintanilla, most of the motorcycle top ten have shifted around like jacks in boxes through the week. Viscount Xavier de Soultrait and his Yamaha won day 1, although he was later penalized for speeding and rode form 10th to 6th on day 1, but he got lost on day 3 to drop to 13th before bouncing back to sixth when most of his rivals were lost.

Matthias Walkner has had a yo-yo of a Dakar, ending sixth on the opening stage before two torrid days that saw him detained in 11th, but he had a clean day to win on Thursday and bounced back to second. Yesterday was another bad day for the Austrian and his KTM — they got lost again to drop back to fifth as he lost 25 minutes wandering around in the Andes trying to find the route. 

KTM rider Stefan Svitko also suffered not owning a magic compass — he ran seventh on Tuesday but was lost on Wednesday to drop to tenth. A clean run Thursday saw him jump to third, but he was lost for three-quarters of an hour and slumped to seventh again in Friday’s shortened special.

Erstwhile leaders Joan Barreda Bort and the now retired Toby Price are other riders to have suffered from poor navigation as both of them went from hero to zero and back as they led, got lost and then came right while the other erred as the general leaderboard jumped about wildly in reaction to riders getting lost every day.

There are exceptions to the rule - French Yamaha rider Adrien van Beveren has enjoyed a clean run — he is either an exceptional navigator or extremely lucky as he has risen from 11th to third through the week off a consistent run while many of his rivals have milled about trying to find their way…

The quads have seen even more radical swings and roundabouts as riders struggled to find their way — there is no semblance of a pecking order from quickest to slowest there, with unknown riders who found their way better winning Friday’s stage and leading overall, while the favourites have struggled to keep on the apparently prescribed route…

Dakar promised ‘more challenging navigation’ this year, but route director Marc Coma seems to have gone out of his way to trick his old rivals, not unlike an old army corporal pulling rang on his erstwhile peers. But Dakar is too valuable an asset to risk on overly clever route setting.

Car and bike makers, drivers, riders and teams who spend millions to race tis epic would far rather see the endurance and speed of their machines tested, than their crews forced to suffer what is clearly inadequate route planning. Maybe its time for a rethink before among the world’s greatest sporting challenges is spoiled by placing too much emphasis being placed on an important, but a less significant competitive aspect…