Mini driver Nani Roma in action during the ninth stage of the 2015 Dakar Rally yesterday. (AFP)
Defending champion Nani Roma led a Mini 1-2-3 in the Dakar Rally ninth stage yesterday as Qatari Nasser al-Attiyah increased his overall lead with four days action in South America to go.
Spain’s Roma — whose hopes of a second straight overall win evaporated on the first stage because of electrical failure — completed the 538 kilometre (450km timed) drive from the Chilean Pacific coastal city of Iquique to Calama in the Andes six-and-a-half minutes clear of al-Attiyah.
The 2011 Dakar winner’s bold showing bolstered his bid for a second title by more than quarter of an hour.
He now has a near 24-minute cushion over Toyota’s South African driver Giniel de Villiers, who took fourth.
In third, in the drivers’ standings, comes Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed al-Rajhi in another Toyota, 40 minutes behind al-Attiyah.
Mini’s domination of yesterday’s podium was completed by Russian Vladimir Vasilyev.
In the bikes section, Portugal’s Helder Rodrigues claimed his second stage win of the race as Marc Coma had his overall lead cut by three minutes.
Rodrigues crossed the finish line in the Andes almost four minutes clear of his teammate and fellow countryman Paul Goncalves.
In third came Coma, whose advantage over Goncalves in the riders’ title race is now only five-and-a half minutes.
In third in the overall standings is Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla — who won Monday’s marathon stage on home turf — almost half an hour adrift of the front pair.
Joan Barreda, who saw his Dakar rally dream go up in smoke with engine trouble in the eighth stage, lost a further 20 minutes overall.
For Rodrigues, this was a welcome change of fortune after the winner of the sixth stage lost more than three hours on a disastrous journey to Iquique 24 hours earlier which knocked him out of title contention.
“Yesterday (Monday) was very hard for us and today was just fun and the aim was to just get to the finish. The stage was very hard but compared to yesterday it was nothing,” he said.
As for Coma, victory in Buenos Aires on Saturday is still a long way away.
“At the moment, everything is still far off, so we’re looking at the next day only and we will see. There’s a long way still in front of us, so we’ll take it step by step,” said the Spaniard.
Goncalves was always playing a cautious game, commenting: “Now I’m second overall, but this is not really important because we have four days more in front of us to race. The strategy is to try and keep the bike safe, only that.”
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