JEDDAH: Nasser Al-Attiyah’s caution paid off on Monday when he gained on Dakar Rally leader Stephane Peterhansel by three minutes.
Al-Attiyah cracked the whip on the eighth stage from Sakaka to NEOM in northern Saudi Arabia, a day after a marathon stage. The Qatari won it, his fifth stage win of this Dakar.
Defending champion Carlos Sainz was second, and Peterhansel third after losing his way twice at the end of the 375-km (233-mile) special.
“It’s really complicated to do a full Dakar without a mistake,” Peterhansel said. “For the moment, it’s just a small one. I hope that it will be the only one until the end.”
Al-Attiyah has won a stage for 14 consecutive Dakars and reached 40 in his career, third in the race history only to Peterhansel (47) and Ari Vatanen (50).
Drama fell upon local hope Razeed Al-Rajhi, the Sunday stage winner who lost an hour to a mechanical problem, and former world rally champion Sebastien Loeb, who dropped out after two punctures in the first 80 kilometers. He had no more spares.
Overall, Peterhansel’s lead over Al-Attiyah was cut to 4 minutes, 50 seconds. Sainz was 39 minutes back in third and none of the other racers were within 1 1/2 hours of the lead.
In the motorbike race, Jose Ignacio Cornejo of Chile won the stage from Toby Price of Australia by a minute, and that’s how they stood overall, too.
Sam Sunderland, fourth on the stage, was third overall, six minutes behind. The top three had a good break on the rest, including Kevin Benavides, Joan Barreda, and defending champion Ricky Brabec, 18 minutes back.
Price and Barreda traded the lead throughout the stage, but Ignacio Cornejo prevailed right at the end. That’s where Xavier de Soultrait, who started the day fourth overall, suffered a nasty fall and had to be airlifted to a hospital.
“With four days to go the plan is the same as it is now: Try to ride as fast as we can, don’t get lost, don’t crash and take care of the bike,” Ignacio Cornejo said.
The rally ends on Friday.