Nasser Al-Attiyah made sure there were no surprises in the car category and took his third stage win in this year’s Dakar Rally. Helped in part by Stephane Peterhansel’s early exit and lengthy delays for Sebastien Loeb and Cyril Despres, the Qatari successfully navigated all the dangers of today’s stage and now just needs to wrap up in Lima tomorrow for his third Dakar Rally win, as he holds a 51-minute margin over Nani Roma.
“We saw Sébastien and I didn’t know about [Peterhansel], we just got the information on the finish line,” Al-Attiyah said. “I hope he’s okay. Today was very difficult, not easy, with a lot of soft sand, but we took it easy and did a good job. I’m quite happy.
“Until now everything has gone very well and tomorrow we just need to bring everything [together] in Lima. I’m quite happy. We always try to do our best because it’s not easy. The Dakar is really difficult. Every day we work very hard to be fast and not make mistakes. Me and Mathieu [Baumel], the team, work very hard every day to keep our car fit every day. The car is good, the buggy is a good car. We’ve followed our strategy from the beginning. We’ve been leading since stage 3 and building up the [gap] every day, we’re quite happy.”
Peterhansel, who was fourth overall after an unusual amount of errors that were only partly offset by two stage wins, still harbored hopes of finishing on the second step of the podium. In the end, his adventure came to an end on the dunes of Ica after co-driver David Castera hurt his back in a heavy landing on a sand dune.
“It was not an easy stage this morning,” Peterhansel admitted. “The first part was really fast and we overtook a few motorcycles, so we entered the dunes first. It was really complicated to do the navigation with no lines to follow at all. When we got stuck the first time we lost probably around ten minutes.
“After that, we continued to push a little bit, but I got stuck a second time and we lost ten minutes another time. It was not easy. The sand was really, really soft and with not too many lines left by motorcycles it’s not really easy to anticipate the good line or trajectory. It was not a good day for us.”
Sébastien Loeb also struggled after breaking two gimbals on his Peugeot right when it looked like the stage had his name written all over it. The man from Alsace lost an hour and will have to settle for third place in Lima, a step or two below his original aspirations.
“I think we were doing a really good stage, pushing hard from the start, but at kilometer 250 or something like this we had a broken transmission,” Loeb explained. “We had to change it, it’s quite tough to do, but we have a spare one, so we changed it. Maybe we made a little mistake, we lost a lot of time trying to put a clips. Finally, we decided to go like this and it broke again, so we had to wait for Pierre [Lachaume] to give us his spare transmission. We changed it again, [it took] a long time and now we’re here. That’s just the way it is.”
The favorites in the motorbike category let their next-to-last opportunity to finally break the deadlock in the race go to waste. The top riders started together, stayed together and crossed the finish line together, except for Yamaha’s Adrien Van Beveren, who saw his hopes of a podium place in Lima dashed by an engine failure with 10 miles to go. The outsiders in the second wave, on the other hand, jumped on the opportunity, with Michael Metge claiming victory ahead of Daniel Nosiglia.
KTM rider Toby Price overcame the pain in his right wrist to match his rivals will start the 70-mile closing stage with a razor-thin margin of 1m02s over Pablo Quintanilla.
“I’d like to finish on top,” Price said. “We’re so close, it’s so tight! We’re all still in with a shout. I know it’s going to be very hard tomorrow, and I’ll give it my best. I know I’m likely to be on the podium tomorrow, and it’s amazing, but I obviously want to win.”
Another cool-headed competitor, Nicolás Cavigliasso, stayed out of the fight for the stage win for only the second time in the rally, leaving rising star Manuel Andujar to take the spoils and making sure he just needs to finish tomorrow to win the quad race. “Chaleco” Lopez also consolidated his position ahead of the final S×S stage by finishing third today, 11 minutes behind Reinaldo Varela. It was the Brazilian’s first triumph since the inaugural stage, and he holds a lead of almost an hour over Gerard Farrés..
Eduard Nikolayev got his mojo back at the best possible moment and reclaimed the overall lead in the truck classification from his Kamaz teammate Dmitry Sotnikov.