SANTIAGO, Chile – Defending motorbike champion Marc Coma was considering withdrawing from the Dakar Rally after being hit with a six-hour penalty for illegally changing a tire during Friday's stage.
Meanwhile, quad leader Marcos Patronelli and his second-placed brother Alejandro Patronelli both withdrew on Saturday, incensed that Marcos was penalized three hours for changing a tire on Friday, which he denied. The Argentine brothers led the quads by more than three hours.
Coma, the winner in 2006 and 2009, was punished by race stewards for changing to a new tire before the start of the second half of the 370-mile seventh stage through the Atacama Desert, from Iquique back to Antofagasta.
The Spaniard finished second in the Dakar's longest stage to race leader Cyril Despres of France, and improved to second overall, more than 1 hour behind Despres. But the penalty relegated Coma to 24th overall.
The incident occurred during a neutral part of the stage, and rally rules say assistance between competitors was allowed only during racing.
Other riders warned the stewards about Coma's new wheel, and the officials made their decision after watching evidence from French TV video.
"I believe this is an injustice," Coma told Chile's Radio Cooperativa on Saturday. "At no point was it possible to show that I changed wheels.''
Helder Rodrigues of Portugal moved into second place, 1:20:08 behind Despres, who looked set to win his third Dakar following the demotion of Coma.