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Gordon falls further behind, Sainz leads car category
Robby Gordon driving an American made Hummer (i.e. bucket of bolts) has no hope of catching race leader Carlos Sainz in the Volkswagen above
Robby Gordon finished 15th in the third stage of the 2011 Dakar Rally as he improved four spots to 17th overall but dropped to 92 minutes behind the leaders Tuesday.

Gordon, piloting a Robby Gordon Motorsports Hummer, lost another 25 minutes to leader Carlos Sainz in the 310-mile trek split into two timed sections from San Miguel de Tucuman to San Salvador de JuJuy in Argentina. Gordon clocked in at 4 hours, 7 minutes.

The 2011 route consists of 13 timed stages over 14 days. The route Wednesday crosses the Argentina-Chile border to Calama with the timed portion covering 128 miles.

In the duel already being fought by Marc Coma and Cyril Despres, the Catalan took a very slim advantage in the 4th stage of the Personal Dakar Argentina Chile, on a day on which the rally entered Chilean territory. Carlos Sainz today celebrated his 20th special stage victory on the event, but it is merely another episode in his confrontation with Al-Attiyah and Peterhansel.

Neither of them is particularly keen on suspense. Thus, there is nothing pre-meditated about the contest which Cyril Despres and Marc Coma have established since the grand start in Buenos Aires. This morning, after crossing the Andes, with a not inconsiderable altitude of 4,800 to climb, the Spaniard was the first at the starting line, the most delicate position on the Dakar, because by definition, the competitor opening the way has no tracks to follow. That said, Coma has already shown his expertise in navigation in addition to his skill behind the handlebars. Over 200 kilometers of the route, he started by distancing Despres (32” behind after 81 km), who then in turn made up for some of the time lost on the second part of the route. In Calama, Coma still managed to maintain an edge, with a time 16” quicker than his main rival. The provisional outcome shows the extent to which the two masters of the discipline can manage to neutralize each other. After 1,220 km of timed sections so far, Coma only holds first place by a slim gap of 2 seconds, whilst both men have 2 stage victories each.

Behind them, “Chaleco” Lopez would surely have liked to enter Chile as a winner, just like he did the first time the Dakar visited his country. However, his starting position (11th) made it a difficult task. In total, he still managed to grab the 3rd best time of the day on his Aprilia, trailing Coma by 2’05”. An increasingly regular performer at this level, Olivier Pain took 4th position, like yesterday, 6’20” behind the stage winner, but the 12 minute penalty given to the Yamaha rider on stage 2 pushes him back to 12th place in the general standings. For the moment, the fight for the third place on the podium, currently occupied by Lopez, is taking place 20 minutes behind Coma.

Though the Argentineans continue to dominate the quad category, the distribution of roles is changing. Marcos Patronelli has finally withdrawn from this third Dakar before leaving his country. He leaves his older brother to battle to try and succeed him in the race’s roll of honor. However, today it was a newcomer to the rally, Tomas Maffei, already winner of his first stage yesterday, who took the lead in the general standings. He sits atop a 100% Argentinean podium with a lead of 1’54” over Patronelli and 3’11” over Halpern.

The race is also looking very eventful in the car category, even if Carlos Sainz’s stock has risen slightly on arrival in Calama. For the moment, the battle for the title mainly concerns the Race Touareg of Nasser Al-Attiyah (yesterday’s winner) and Sainz, with the promise of seeing Stephane Peterhansel display his skills in sand as soon as the long stretches of dunes appear. The Frenchman even seemed to be getting a head-start, since the BMW X3 driver passed through the 81 km point with the best time: 15” better than Sainz. In the second part, the leader of the X-Raid team did not really make any mistakes, but a puncture held him up by 2 to 3 minutes, surely robbing him of the best time at the finishing line. As a result, “El Matador” Sainz grabbed his 20th stage victory on the Dakar, allowing him to close in on the 22 that Peterhansel has picked up in his career in a car.

In the general standings, the trio of Sainz, Al Attiyah and Peterhansel are within a range of 5’40”, whilst the VW of De Villiers is eying from a distance any places to be snatched on the podium - the South African is 4th, 19’14” behind. This is the place that Robby Gordon accomplished in 2009, but he will not be able to do so this year. Halted by a major mechanical problem after crossing the Paso de Jama pass, the Hummer was not able to start the day’s special. This is the first time since the 2006 edition that the American has been forced to withdraw. With more than an hour to be made up on Sainz, Mark Miller also has little hope of being concerned by the title, though he did put himself into 5th position today, with a lead of more than two minutes over Terranova and Chicherit. The Mini Countryman driver, sickened by his overheating problems on the first day, seems to be regaining some sort of stability.

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