Peterhansel, Price and Patronelli protect leads on penultimate Dakar stage

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A mammoth penultimate day at the Dakar Rally forced the remaining competitors in the world’s toughest rally to cover a whopping 931km. Half of this distance was raced against the clock along perilous mountain tracks with the promise that one false move could undo a fortnight’s hard work.

 

Of the 110 cars that entered this attritional race only 69 were still in the running at the start of this morning’s stage. The quickest of those cars on the stage between San Juan and Villa Carlos Paz was Mikko Hirvonen with Nasser Al-Attiyah just nine seconds behind in second place. Al-Attiyah holds onto the overall runner-up spot while Giniel de Villiers stays third in the general classification after setting the fourth-fastest time of the day.

Overall race leader Stéphane Peterhansel knows exactly what it takes to win the Dakar and played it safe today to move one step closer to picking up his 12th title. Peterhansel progressed at a steady rhythm throughout the stage’s 450 timed kilometres with fellow Team Peugeot-Total drivers Sébastien Loeb and Cyril Despres in close attendance in case repairs were needed to their lead car. However, Peterhansel’s Peugeot 2008DKR16 completed the stage without problems to hold a lead of 40m59s over Al-Attiyah going into the final day.

Hélder Rodrigues was a man on a mission in the bike race today as he collected his first stage win of this Dakar. The result puts the Portuguese biker just 1m19s off the overall podium, so expect another all-out assault from the Yahama factory rider tomorrow.

Rodrigues climbed above Dakar debutant Antoine Méo in the general classification after the five-time World Enduro champion fell and damaged his hand shortly before finishing the stage. Up until his stoppage Méo had been supporting fellow Red Bull KTM Factory Team rider Toby Price as the Australian enjoyed a solid stage. Price was able to extend his overall lead in the bike category by 2m16s over second-placed Stefan Svitko. The total gap between Price and Svitko now stands at 37m39s with just 180km of the Dakar remaining.

It was a similar story on the quads as this morning’s leader Marcos Patronelli avoided unnecessary risks at the front of the race. Patronelli tucked in behind the front group for most of the day before finding a little bit extra in the tank to take the stage win. The result gives the Argentine a 4m23s cushion over his brother Alejandro in second place ahead of tomorrow’s conclusive stage.

The hopes of Ayrat Mardeev retaining his Dakar truck race title are getting more distant by the day. The Team Kamaz Master trucker holds onto second position overall, but slips to 1h13m10s behind race leader Gerard de Rooy.

So to the final day of the 2016 Dakar Rally, which brings with it 180km of timed racing: a stressful distance for the race leaders who will have to strike the balance between caution and speed. For those still chasing the podium, flat-out pace is the only tactic required.