Late drama shakes up Dakar leaderboards as we head into the final stage

Would stage 13 at the Dakar Rally prove to be unlucky for some? You can bet it would be as the convoy took on over 350 kilometres of racing between San Juan and Córdoba. With the penultimate stage representing the last chance to claw back significant time on opponents we saw some real make or break performances today.

Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) started the day in third overall and the first car on the stage as a result of setting yesterday’s fastest time. The Qatari soon found himself in trouble on stage 13 and lost over 10 minutes due to mechanical difficulties. However, he was able to get himself on the move again and set about protecting his podium position. It would come as a surprise to Al-Attiyah that by the end of the stage he had actually risen one place in the general classification.

“Today was very, very tough. It was easy to make a mistake or to crash, because it was really sandy with a lot of big trees. It wasn’t easy, but OK… this is the Dakar.”Nasser Al Attiyah

With one stage left to run Al-Attiyah is the car race’s runner-up, 46 minutes behind frontrunner Carlos Sainz (ESP). This change in the leaderboard is partly due to the misfortune suffered by 13-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA). Peterhansel’s Peugeot clipped a tree 78km into the special stage and was only able to resume racing after assistance arrived in the form of team-mate Cyril Despres (FRA).

“Since the start, there has been a lot of drama in this race and it’s not over until we’ve crossed the finishing line.”Carlos Sainz

Despres helped prepare an improvised splint for Peterhansel’s sprained thumb and the broken steering rod was fixed by mechanics at the neutralisation section of the stage. The entire episode ended up costing Peterhansel over an hour.

Peterhansel’s problems and the retirement of Bernhard Ten Brinke (NLD) also saw promotion up the rankings for Giniel De Villiers (ZAF). De Villiers is now third overall and on course to secure a 12th Top 5 finish of his Dakar career. Meanwhile, Kuba Przygonski (POL) is fifth overall and if the Pole can hold that position tomorrow it will be his best ever finish from his previous efforts in both the car and bike race.

“Physically, mentally and even for the car, it was an unbelievable stage. I haven’t seen a Dakar this crazy for a long time. It’s certainly one of the hardest since we have been in South America.”Giniel De Villiers

Could Toby Price (AUS) replicate the result of Al-Attiyah and make a late grab for second spot in the bike race? Price started the day seven minutes behind Kevin Benavides (ARG). Benavides in turn sat 32 minutes back from bike race leader Matthias Walkner (AUT).

“The whole idea today was just to not make anything crazy. I knew it was going to be a really, really long day. The guys behind would really be pushing today, but I had my own job to do so I just focused on that.”Matthias Walkner

Price, the 2016 Dakar champion, opened the stage and continued to lead from the front from start to finish. Eventually he took two minutes out of Benavides and will be back to chase down the remaining five minutes tomorrow.

“I made a little bit of time in the last bit and also went off track and made a few small mistakes. I was trying to do a bit of both today, bag a stage win and also move closer to second overall.”Toby Price

As for Walkner, he was able to ride a shrewd stage and the performance has left him with a lead of over 22 minutes from Benavides in second. Walkner and Price’s KTM team-mates Antoine Méo (FRA) and Laia Sanz (ESP) were also able to gain places on this Dakar’s second to last stage. Méo is now fourth overall while Sanz is 11th in the general classification. Just one place and two minutes separate Sanz and Daniel Nosiglia (BOL) who is one place behind the Spanish biker.

“It’s a great feeling to be coming to the end of another Dakar. This one has been so tough and it’s a relief to now be just one more stage away from the finishing line.”Laia Sanz

Also still battling their way towards the finish line are Ivan Cervantes (ESP), Mohammed Balooshi (UAE) and CS Santosh (IND).

The trucks set off from San Juan with just a mere second separating leader Eduard Nikolaev (RUS) and runner-up Federico Villagra (ARG). With both truckers having traversed nearly 8,000 kilometres and raced for over 47 hours since leaving Lima it really was astonishing to be practically neck-and-neck.

Early on stage 13 Villagra recouped that one second and went ahead by a full minute. However, the Iveco driver came to a halt later on in the special stage and handed the advantage back to Nikolaev of Team Kamaz Master. Nikolaev was able to end the day with a lead of over three hours from Siarhei Viazovich (BLR) who now holds second after Villagra was eventually forced to retire on stage 13.

There were no late nerves for quad race leader Ignacio Casale (CHI) as he drove another measured stage. Casale’s overall lead now stands at 1h37m16s over Nicolás Cavigliasso (ARG) who remains in second spot.

“I’m so close to celebrating another triumph on the Dakar. This race has been perfect, even if it is the hardest of all the Dakar rallies that I have ridden.”Ignacio Casale

So will Sainz, Walkner, Nikolaev and Casale all be able to hang onto their healthy leads on the final day of racing? On the menu is 120km of racing around the region of Argentina which the World Rally Championship comes to visit annually. When that chequered flag falls expect one big motorsport party to break out in Córdoba.

Press release Red Bull

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