Gordon could face disqualification at Dakar Rally
ARICA, Chile, Jan 11, 2012 (AFP) - American Robby Gordon's hopes of winning the Dakar Rally took a major hit on Wednesday when stewards ruled that he should be thrown out of the event because his Hummer's engine did not conform to race regulations.
The 43-year-old - who is pressing overall leader Stephane Peterhansel of France hard for the car title - appealed the decision and was allowed to continue competing in the 377km 10th stage from Iquique.
However, that didn't go well for the American as he probably saw his hopes of winning in any case dashed coming in well behind not only stage winner Spanish Mini-driving Nani Roma but also Peterhansel.
Gordon had been in tremendous form on Monday and Tuesday's stages and looked the danger man to Mini-driver Peterhansel but he lost nearly 15 minutes on him on Wednesday and even slipped to third behind Roma, who was winning his third stage of this year's renewal.
However, the combative American - a veteran of NASCAR racing in the United States - made no commentary about his run-in with the stewards and instead blamed Peterhansel for not having give him enough room at one point during the stage.
"I hit a rock with both right-side tyres and as you can see this wheel is way out, so we've got some broken parts," said Gordon.
"Do I think I can win again? Of course. I was passing him (Peterhansel), he didn't move over and I clobbered a rock and got two flat tyres at the same time. So, we've got our work cut out for us."
Gordon, though, insisted that Peterhansel - bidding for a 10th win in the testing race, six in the motorbikes and thrice in the cars - would have to fight every inch of the way to emerge victorious.
"We've got a damaged race car that we're going to have to work on and there's a lot of damage from what I can see. Now we'll push, push, push even harder."
Peterhansel disputed Gordon's account.
"We overtook him when he made a navigation mistake, but at the end he overtook me again," said Peterhansel.
"He was really fast on a very short corner to the left, very tight, and he went straight on and jumped off a small cliff.
"I was sure that he rolled, but when I saw again through the dust he was on his wheels. I think something happened with his car, I don't know exactly why or what - maybe the tyre? I don't know."
The ultimate decision over Gordon's fate rests with the French Automobile Sport Federation (FFSA), who must deliver their verdict within two months, though, the losing party could appeal that to motorsport's global governing body, the FIA.
Gordon - whose best finish so far in seven Dakar participations is third in the 2009 edition - had won the ninth stage on Tuesday to cut Peterhansel's overall lead to just over 5 minutes ahead of Sunday's finish in Lima.
It is believed that the stewards noticed the problem with his engine in checking it over after the stage - which had seen his Hummer team-mate and defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah forced to retire after another technical problem.
The stewards believe that Gordon's modifying of the ventilation system linked to his engine improved its performance level - he denies that his tinkering had an impact on improving its speed and is basing his appeal on that.
Earlier Spain's defending motorbike champion Marc Coma reduced the overall lead of bitter rival Cyril Despres to just 21 seconds.
Neither won the stage - that honour went to Coma's compatriot Joan Barreda Bort - but Coma came in second to make significant headway in his bid to deprive Despres of a fourth Dakar win.
Despres - whose relations with KTM team-mate Coma deteriorated after stewards' halved the Frenchman's huge deficit on Monday's stage - came in fourth.
Coma said that it was no surprise they were both still snapping at each other's heels.
"It's the tone that's been set for the rally and I think we'll keep on battling until the end.
"We keep trying to make the difference all the time and the entry into Peru will be decisive. The race will hinge on the smallest of margins.
"When the performance level is equivalent with the same team and the same bike, it's very difficult, both for him and for me. But when it comes to the crunch, it will be entirely to do with one rider or the other."
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