Nasser Al-Attiyah led the way once again on Thursday’s 11th stage of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia, but the MINI buggy of Stephane Peterhansel was once again close on the Toyota pickup driver’s heels, and holds a commanding overall lead into tomorrow’s run to the finish.
🤘 A high-octane, rock n’ roll stage not short on drama!
— DAKAR RALLY (@dakar) January 14, 2021
Qatar’s Al-Attiyah won his sixth special (including the prologue) by just under two minutes over the Frenchman, but still remained frustrated with his second place in the general standings, 15m05s behind.
“It’s exactly like last year — we are really struggling with the tires,” he said. “I hope for next year there will be better rules for everybody. Sure, there’s still one day left, but this time we have really had a lot of punctures. I’ve had more than 16 tires punctured. I am sure that 16 tires times one minute and a half each change is a lot! But it’s good to make it to here on this Dakar and we are quite happy. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
The penultimate stage varied from desert plains to small rivers and mountain passes, with plenty of the navigational challenges that have proven daunting for many of the competitors this year. Slightly shortened due to rainfall rendering a 50-kilometer portion unusable, the run from Alula to Yanbu required careful focus on following the route in the opening portion and a vast zone of dunes on the last third. Peterhansel, too, had his share of punctures and other scares, but emerged looking likely to add to his record of 13 victories at Dakar.
“Today it was really complicated, like the organizers said beforehand, like we expected it to be, because the navigation was not easy,” said the X Raid MINI JCW driver. “We got two punctures, especially the last one that was in the dunes. They were really strange dunes — in the middle there were some rocks just after the crest of the dunes, so it was not easy to anticipate or to see. The last one was a very big impact and we had another puncture. We were afraid that also some part of the frame was broken, but at the end it was OK. We lost just a few minutes — it’s nothing. There’s only one day to go… it’s time to cross fingers and hope that we will be in first place at the end.”
The stage provided another shake-up in the bike category, with Red Bull KTM factory rider Sam Sunderland vaulting back into contention by taking victory and making up 6m24s on class leader Kevin Benavides. The Argentinean remains at the top of the general standings with a theoretically sufficient lead of 4m12s over Sunderland — all the more so given that tomorrow he will enjoy a more favorable place in the starting order to defend his position. However, the Monster Energy Honda rider had to make a serious effort in opening the way with teammate Ricky Brabec in order to withstand the attack of Sunderland.
The British rider’s show of force on the route of the special temporarily brought him within around 40s of his target, before he faltered slightly.
“I knew that today was one of my last chances to try to win and I gave my all, all day,” related Sunderland. “I didn’t quite manage to take enough time, but I’m happy with my effort. We still have one day to go and many things can happen on one stage.”
Reigning champ Brabec slipped to third overall after a sixth-place ranking today, 7m13s behind teammate Benavides.
In the quad race, Manuel Andujar finished second to his Chilean rival Giovanni Enrico by 1m25s, and the Argentinian holds a 25m52s lead into the last stage. In the lightweight vehicle category, “Chaleco” Lopez finished second on his Can-Am to American Seth Quintero, who proved won his second special of the marathon event. Fellow American Austin Jones, however, was a disappointing sixth and now trails Lopez by 18m24s. Similarly, Dmitry Sotnikov settled for a runner-up lace today in trucks behind Kamaz teammate Anton Shibalov, but is all but a lock for the win, with a lead of 39m58s over his fellow Russian heading into tomorrow’s final stage.