/ 8 January 2009

SA’s De Villiers takes stage win in Dakar rally

Qatari driver Nasser Al Attiyah took the overall lead in the Dakar Rally on Wednesday after South African Giniel de Villiers won the fifth stage, a 506km special from Neuquen.

Al Attiyah, winner of two stages already in this edition, took over from Spain’s two-time rally world champion Carlos Sainz, who finished more than 15 minutes behind De Villiers and 10 minutes in arrears of the Qatari after he lost his bonnet during the stage.

”I drove 200km without power steering,” said Sainz. ”Driving in these conditions is pretty hard at the best of times and when the dunes started, it was even harder and I ended up rolling the car.”

However, Mitsubishi’s nightmare race continued as defending champion Stephane Peterhansel suffered a broken radiator and untold damage to his engine after rolling over four times at the bottom of a sand dune.

De Villiers, who is now in second as Sainz dropped to third, led home Germany’s Dieter Depping by two minutes 18 seconds, while American Robby Gordon was third.

Quite apart from finishing seven minutes and 12 seconds behind De Villiers, Peterhansel, who is seeking his 10th win overall in the race and his fourth in the car section, could well have seen his challenge come to an end.

Peterhansel suffered the damage when his car rolled over several times after he failed to see some camel grass at the bottom of a dune.

Happily for him his car landed the right way up on its wheels.

Masatoshi Teshima, Mitsubishi’s press spokesperson, said that the stable’s engineers would assess the damage to the engine before taking a decision on whether he could continue.

If he were forced out it would be another grievous blow to the Japanese team as Japan’s Hiroshi Masuoka, the 2002 and 2003 champion, pulled out overnight on Saturday after experiencing engine problems.

However, Peterhansel didn’t see how he could go on.

”Unfortunately I’m afraid the rally is over for us.

”I was so keen to gain some speed and climb up a big sand dune. At the bottom we did not see that there was camel grass and it made us roll over. I think this is it [that the race is over] because we drove the last kilometres without a radiator and the engine overheated. It was agony towards the end,” said Peterhansel.

American rider Jonah Street won the fifth stage of the motorcycling discipline and closed the gap on Spanish overall leader Marc Coma.

The American, second overall overnight, beat home Dutchman Frans Verhoeven by five minutes and 53 seconds while Chilean Francisco Lopez was third, seven minutes and 34 seconds adrift.

Street made up more than 15 minutes on Coma, after the Spaniard had a puncture at the beginning of the special, though he still holds a lead of 27 minutes and 12 seconds.

”I worked a lot to get this,” commented Street. ”I had been dreaming of a stage victory for so long. It’s really special.

”I am not thinking of the overall standings, I just want to go on riding at my own pace so I can get to the finish.”

France’s two-time champion, Cyril Despres, finished nearly 15 minutes behind Street and is now one hour and 36 minutes adrift of Coma.

The stage had been overshadowed by the news earlier on Wednesday that French motorcyclist Pascal Terry, who had gone missing on Sunday’s second stage, had been found dead. — Sapa-AFP