JCW X-Raid Mini buggy driver Carlos Sainz’s grip on the lead of the Dakar Rally tightened Wednesday with another stage win from Haradh to Shubaytah, shortened from its original length of 534km (332 miles) to 223 (139 miles) after organizers determined deteriorating weather conditions were posing too much risk to the competitors.
“It was a good day. The navigation is difficult but today we didn’t make any mistakes,” said Sainz, who won on a day in which principal pursuers Nasser Al-Attiyah (Toyota) and Stephane Peterhansel (Mini) both got lost and gave away considerable time to the leader, coming home 17th and 10th respectively. “Our speed was good and we were attacking. There were a lot of broken dunes which can be tricky. On one of them we landed heavily which damaged the car a bit, but in the end it was OK and we were able to finish.”
The Spaniard now enjoys a lead of 18m10s over Al-Attiyah and 18m26s over Peterhansel with two stages to go.
“I didn’t think the gap would be so big, but tomorrow it could be the opposite, so I’ll have to stay focused,” he cautioned. “I could get lost – it happened to the others today so it could happen to me tomorrow.”
Reigning champ Al-Attiyah admitted he was disappointed with his run, but isn’t ready to concede.
“We caught Stephane and then at one point we got a little bit lost for two or three minutes. Then we got to the way-point and then we took the wrong way. We did around twenty kilometers extra,” the Qatari driver explained. “We lost 18 or 19 minutes to Carlos, but that’s the race. Carlos will be opening and I’ll be starting in 17th position. It’s very difficult to put the pressure on but we need to do a good stage. Nothing is over yet. There is still a long way tomorrow with 80 km of sand dunes.”
It was also a troubled day for Fernando Alonso, who crashed early in the stage, losing an hour for repairs, and had to finish the rest of the stage without a windshield. But he persevered.
In the bikes, America’s Ricky Brabec came home second today to Monster Energy Honda teammate Joan Barreda, and still enjoys an overall lead of more than 26 minutes over Pablo Quintanilla.
“It’s another day closer to victory and the American dream. I’m excited to be here in one piece, for sure,” said Brabec. “The main target is to finish each day. I’m not going to feel like victory is coming until we’re there at the finish on the last special.
“My strategy today was to kind of take it easy. Others had difficulty finding a way point. They canceled the second part of the special, so I’m kind of bummed out a little bit, because I couldn’t really check the times and play around with the times. But, we didn’t win the day so that’s good – I won’t have to open tomorrow. I wouldn’t say I’m having good luck, I’m just trying to stay smart and be focused.”
Casey Currie is playing it similarly cool despite a seemingly insurmountable 45-minute lead in the SSV class. He cruised to seventh today as his fellow American teammates Mitchell Guthrie and Blade Hildebrand led the way.
“I’ve got two teammates who both finished ahead of me today, so we’ll figure out what we need to do to make sure that I’m safe in the middle,” said Currie. “People don’t understand that 12 days of racing is insanely hard, so we’re going to play it just as smart as we can. I feel like the pressure is worse than ever — 45 minutes is nothing. One problem with that Can-Am and it could take 45 minutes (to fix), so I don’t look at it like we’re anywhere near safe. We still have two more days of racing to get done.”