BISHA: Reigning Dakar Rally champions suffered contrasting fortunes on Wednesday with French veteran Stephane Peterhansel winning the 10th stage in the car category while Argentine motorcycle rider Kevin Benavides suffered technical problems and retired.
The stage victory was a first on this year’s event for ‘Mr Dakar’ Peterhansel, a 14-times winner on two wheels and four and now driving an electric hybrid Audi, who dropped out of contention for the title in Saudi Arabia last week.
Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah retained a comfortable lead with two stages remaining before the finish in Jeddah on Friday, although closest rival Sebastien Loeb cut the gap to 32 minutes and 40 seconds.
Loeb, a nine-times world rally champion and driving for the Bahrain Raid Xtreme team, was fifth on the 375km stage from Wadi Ad Dawasir to Bisha with Peterhansel leading Audi team-mate Carlos Sainz.
Three-times Dakar winner Al Attiyah was seventh, five minutes and 50 seconds off the pace, and also collected a five minute penalty for a breach of the seat belt regulations.
But only a mechanical meltdown appears now to stand between Al Attiyah and the 2022 title.
“The gap is too big and the race is no longer in our hands, but we’re still hanging in there,” shrugged Loeb.
Benavides ended the defence of his title when his KTM motorcycle broke down 133km into the stage and he was unable to fix it.
He won last year on a Honda to become the first South American to win the event — now in it’s 44th edition — on a motorcycle.
The 33-year-old had been fifth overall, some 10 minutes behind his Austrian team-mate and overnight leader Matthias Walkner, who ended the day fourth with France’s Adrien Van Beveren taking over at the top.
Britain’s Sam Sunderland was second overall, nearly six minutes adrift, in a stage won by Australian Toby Price on a KTM.
Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2022