Sainz tops Dakar Stage 11; Sunderland back on top in bikes

Kin Marcin/Red Bull Content Pool

Sainz tops Dakar Stage 11; Sunderland back on top in bikes

Off Road

Sainz tops Dakar Stage 11; Sunderland back on top in bikes

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They’re into the home stretch at the 44th Dakar Rally, with just one stage left to separate the victors from the vanquished in the world’s most grueling motorsports event.

In the car ranks, Carlos Sainz Sr. claimed his second stage win behind the wheel of his Audi RS Q e-tron (pictured above). It was the 41st time “El Matador” has led a stage at the Dakar and also Audi’s fourth victory this year, an impressive feat for the German constructor’s new hybrid vehicle.

“It was a really difficult stage and it had everything: camel grass, dunes, dunes, navigation, riverbeds and stones, so it was a really complete stage and quite difficult to open on,” related Sainz, who led home Overdrive Toyota’s Lucio Alvarez.

Overall, Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah continues to coast toward victory, taking seventh on the stage — one spot ahead of his nearest pursuer, Sebastien Loeb, after the French rally legend was docked 5m for speeding in the restricted speed zone. But even when he thought he had lopped 4m off the leader’s advantage, Loeb all but conceded the race ahead of tomorrow’s final stage, in which he will start 33m19s behind the Qatari.

“We’ve done good navigation all the time. For sure, we lost a lot of time on one of the first days when we broke the diff but since then we have been really chasing and achieving some good times, so it’s just how it is,” he reckoned. “Second at the moment isn’t so bad.”

Seth Quintero kept on rolling in lightweight prototypes with a lead of more than a quarter of an hour over Sebastian Eriksson, the young American’s  nearest pursuer today.

“We’ve done twelve stages now with 11 wins. Every day has just been an adventure in itself and I’ve just been trying to take it day-by-day — it’s just been quite the adventure,” declared Quintero.

However, he admitted to a little frustration that all those stage wins came after a long early delay due to an equipment failure that took him out of contention for the overall victory. Unless he breaks down tomorrow, “Chaleco” Lopez is heading for an easy Dakar victory.

“For sure, stage 2 definitely crosses my mind quite a bit, especially after a race, especially after a win,” Quintero said.

Mechanical issues cost fellow American Austin Jones the overall lead in SSV to Gerard Farres, forcing him to concede more than 15m30s to the Spaniard on Thursday. Marek Goczal won the stage for the sixth time this year, ahead of Farres and Rokas Baciuska. Farres now boasts a lead of 1m41s over Jones heading into tomorrow’s final stage.

“This day was definitely the hardest so far,” lamented Jones. “We lost the front diff with about a hundred kilometers to go, so we were on two-wheel drive and we had to get out and fix that and then we had to get through all those big dunes.

“Chasing definitely makes it a little bit harder. The Dakar is extremely cruel. Both of those sayings are correct. But we’ll chase him (Farres) tomorrow and we’ll see what happens. We have just got to stay positive. Anything can happen, so we’ll see.”

Sam Sunderland proved Jones’ point by rebounding from yesterday’s troubled stage to regain the overall lead in bikes. Kevin Benavides led the way today, 4m ahead of Sunderland, while previous leader Adrien Van Beveren was down in 12th place and dropped back to fourth overall. It’s now GasGas rider Sunderland in front by 6m52s over Honda’s Pablo Quintanilla and 7m15s over KTM’s Matthias Walkner ahead of the 164 km/102-mile dash to the finish line in Jeddah on Friday.

“Already, after 4 km there were lines everywhere. I think there were some guys who were confused there,” recounted Sunderland. “We had quite a lot of dust in the first few kilometers and then I really just tried to push all day to make some time up in the dunes. I’m feeling really good and looking forward to tomorrow. The race is not done until you pass that checkered flag on the last stage. As we know, the navigation on this race is really difficult. I’m just going to stay focused and keep doing my best.”

There will be a similar dash to glory in the truck class. Eduard Nikolaev won the day in trucks, his third stage victory this year, while Dmitry Sotnikov completed another Kamaz team 1-2-3, exactly two minutes behind his stage-winning teammate. In the general rankings, Sotnikov and Nikolaev are now only separated by eight minutes ahead of tomorrow’s final stage.

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