AFP/Shubaytah, Saudi Arabia
Spanish veteran Carlos Sainz stretched his lead atop the overall Dakar Rally standings by winning the 10th stage through the dunes of Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter yesterday.
The 57-year-old Mini driver clocked 2hr 03min 43sec on a stage shortened by high winds to a 233km special between Haradh and Shubaytah, finishing ahead of Poland’s Jakub Przygonski (mini) and South African Giniel de Villier (Toyota).
Sainz took full advantage of navigational problems by closest rivals Nasser al-Attiyah, the defending champion, and France’s ‘Mr. Dakar’, Stephane Peterhansel.
“It was a good day. The navigation is difficult since the start of the rally, but today we didn’t make any mistakes. Our speed was good and we were attacking,” said Sainz.
“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.
“I didn’t think the gap would be so big, but tomorrow it could be the opposite, so I’ll have to stay focused. I could get lost – it happened to the others today so it could happen to me tomorrow”. Peterhansel, who has won the Dakar 13 times (seven times in a car and six times on a bike), finished 11min 48sec off Sainz’s pace, while Qatar’s al-Attiyah was further back, at 17:46.
The result means Sainz, with two stages to go, now sits 18:10 ahead of al-Attiyah and 18:26 in front of Peterhansel.
“It was really going very well with no problems. We caught Stéphane 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,” said al-Attiyah.
“We did around twenty kilometres extra. But we came back again and we finished. We lost more than 18 or 19 minutes to Carlos, but that’s the race and it’s still a long day tomorrow.”
Al-Attiyah added that he’lll have to have a good day today.
“Carlos will be opening and I’ll be starting in 17th position, but tomorrow we need to drive a good stage.
“It’s very difficult to put the pressure on but we need to do a good stage first of all. Nothing is over yet. There is still a long way tomorrow with 80km of sand dunes.
“Things will be difficult for everybody. Carlos will be opening and it won’t be easy. But today, I’m a little bit disappointed”.
Meanwhile, Peterhansel said the dunes made it difficult.
“It was a dangerous stage with lots of difficult dunes,” Peterhansel said.
“Several kilometres before the neutralised section, we got completely lost with Nasser and other drivers. Some drivers got there at the right time, when we eventually found the right way and gained a lot of time.
“In the end, it’s a good stage for my teammate Carlos who has opened up a gap on Nasser, whilst we have got a bit closer to Nasser even if we are still in third position.”
Dakar debutant Fernando Alonso, the two-time former Formula One champion, lost more than an hour after double rolling his Toyota, an accident that saw the Spaniard carry on driving with no windscreen.
American Ricky Brabec increased his lead in the general standings of the motorbike category with a second-placed finish.
The HRC rider now leads Chilean Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna) by 25 minutes and stage winner Joan Barreda of Spain by 27 minutes.
Thursday’s penultimate stage 11 sees competitors negotiate 744km, featuring a 379km special, from Shubaytah back to Haradh.
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