Photos by Willy Weyens
After three days of intense competition, the is shaping up into an epic duel between the five diminutive Monster Energy X-raid Mini All4 Racing entries and the two Speed Hummers.
Today, Tuesday, at the finish of the third stage it initially looked as if Robby Gordon in the Speed Energy Hummer had taken the overall lead as he finished four minutes ahead of Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel in a Mini, who had inherited the overall lead at the end of the previous day's stage. However, once all the fastest cars had crossed the finish line, Krzysztof Holowczyc from Poland, in another of the Minis had grabbed the top spot overall, just 54 second in front of Gordon. Spaniard Nina Roma, in yet another Mini, was fastest on today's stage.
On Sunday, Nasser Al-Attiyah in the Qatar Hummer and Gordon had set the initial pace on the first 36-mile long competitive stage in the sand dunes near the start in Mal del Plata, Argentina. Unfortunately, just a mile or so from the end of the stage Al-Attiyah's Hummer came to a halt and would not restart. Luckily Gordon arrived a few minutes later and immediately towed the dead Hummer to the finish. Despite this early mishap Gordon finished just 30 seconds behind the stage winner, Leonid Novitskiy from Russia in a Mini. Meanwhile Al-Attiyah was only 10 minutes off the pace – no big deal this early in the rally.
The disappointing first day for Gordon's small team didn't last long though, as the second day's 180-mile stage proved to be even more favorable to the large 2WD Hummers. It was a tough stage with many sand dunes and extremely rocky stretches that saw 23 of the initial 151 starters drop out. Despite starting in 38th position Al-Attiyah managed to claw his way past many slower cars to take the stage win. Gordon finished third, which moved him up to second place overall.
Of course it is far to early in the event to make any predictions as to the eventual outcome, but if the X-raid team of Minis and Gordon's Speed Hummers keep their vehicles in ship shape condition, the drivers don't drive too fast and their co-drivers don't make too many navigational errors, the race to the finish could continue right up until the end – just as it did last year when Al-Attiyah took the checkered flag just 49 seconds ahead of Giniel De Villiers after 45 hours of competitive driving during 13 days.
If you would like to keep track of this epic rally in real time, check out the . You can also see what's happening on the blog on or that of , his tire sponsor. A daily summary of the Dakar Rally will be shown at 1.30 am ET (or 10.30 pm PT) each night on NBC Sports Network.