SAN JUAN (ARGENTINA): Argentina’s Sebastien Halpern and Australian-based Czech driver Peter Jerie secured a stunning 1-2 finish for South Racing in the gruelling five-day YPF Desafio Ruta 40 across some of the most demanding gravel tracks and sand dunes in north-western Argentina.
Mendoza-based Halpern and navigator Eduardo Pulenta were the class of the field in their South Racing-run Toyota Hilux and dominated one of the toughest events of its kind ever staged. They led from the opening Prologue stage at San Miguel de Tucumán to the finish in San Juan.
Jerie and French navigator Laurent Lichtleuchter shadowed their team-mates to the finish in the second of the South Racing Toyota Hiluxes, with the former winner of Paraguay’s Desafio Guarani finishing 3hrs 29min 47sec behind, albeit nearly two hours clear of third-placed Argentinean driver Juan-Manuel Silva.
Action got underway with a 6.35km Prologue stage in San Miguel de Tucumán before the first selective section to Belén. Halpern beat Paraguayan driver Blas Zapag by 0.28 seconds to claim the early bragging rights. Jerie was third.
The first off-road stage proper through the Catamarca province ran for 286.51km and included a run along the Santa Maria River and a section of dunes and vegetation near Pie de Médano. Halpern claimed the stage win to take a commanding lead over Jerie into the night halt.
Stage two headed on to Tinogasta and Halpern conserved his lead over a treacherous terrain that saw the win fall to Pedro Uzandizaga in his T3 Polaris after the leader was delayed en route. Jerie and Sebastien Guayasamin followed the Argentine to the stage finish.
The third special of 258.78km looped around Tinogasta and included a passage through the notorious sand dunes at Fiambalá that have claimed so many casualties on previous Dakar rallies since 2009. Tricky navigation added to the difficulty, although the stage was shortened. Halpern showed his expertise in the dunes and completed the 210km section in a time of 3hrs 52min 56sec to claim the stage win from Jerie and Guayasamin.
“It was a marvellous stage,” said Halpern. “I enjoyed Fiambalá more than ever. We had fun. The dunes were a little soft but we were able to get a good pace and never got stuck. Edu (Pulenta) was perfect in navigation since after 141km we had to open the road.”
Stage four pressed on from Tinogasta to Villa Unión and Halpern set about defending a lead of 2hrs 32min 24sec over Jerie. The Argentine extended his lead by a further 29min 22sec, although he admitted the first 120km were particularly difficult because of a large number of rocks on the track.
The final stage of 200.48km ran to San Juan and Halpern set out to defend a lead of 3hrs 01min 41sec. The competitive section included mountain trails, sandy river beds, salt flats and high-speed navigation. Halpern claimed the stage win and confirmed a comfortable victory, with Jerie finishing second to give South Racing a memorable 1-2 finish.
2018 YPF Desafio Ruta 40 – final results
1. Sebastien Halpern (ARG)/Eduardo Pulenta (ARG) South Racing Toyota Hilux 22hrs 32min 05sec
2. Peter Jerie (CZE)/Laurent Lichtleuchter (FRA) South Racing Toyota Hilux 26hrs 01min 52sec
3. Juan-Manuel Silva (ARG) Can-Am Maverick X3 27hrs 34min 11sec
4. Nicolas Zingoni (ARG)/Javier Dobalo (ARG) Polaris RZR 1000 30hrs 34min 43sec
5. Javier Velez (COL)/Mateo Moreno (COL) Can-Am 35hrs 50min 07sec
6. Pedro Usandizaga (ARG) Polaris RZR 1000 40hrs 32min 54sec
7. Andre Lafarja Bittar (PRY)/Pose Romero (ARG) Toyota Hilux 42hrs 14min 38sec
8. Sebastien Guayasamin (ECU)/Mauro Lipez (ARG) Chevrolet Colorado 54hrs 43min 38sec