/ 12 January 2009

Sainz keeps Volkswagen on track in Dakar Rally

Spain’s Carlos Sainz edged closer to winning the Dakar rally on Sunday when he captured the eighth stage, keeping Volkswagen on course for a clean sweep.

Sainz, a former double world rally champion, beat home teammate Dieter Depping of Germany by four minutes and two seconds on the 294km special from
Valparaiso with another Volkswagen driver Mark Miller, 4:12 off the pace.

It was Sainz’s fourth stage win in this year’s race and gave him a 10:57 lead in the overall standings over South Africa’s Giniel De Villiers, also in a Volkswagen and who was fifth on the day.

Miller is third overall, 18:5 behind Sainz while Nani Roma, Mitsubishi’s only top driver left, is fourth, 33:31 behind after finishing fourth on the stage.

”As long as the rally isn’t over, then nothing is certain,” insisted Sainz. ”Today was the first time we have driven on tracks. In fact, this stage was very much like a traditional rally stage. Up until now, those are the first real tracks that I’ve seen.

”But it was very nice, very slippery and sometimes quite tricky. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and I hope that we’ll carry on being as successful as we have been today.”

Roma, who is Mitsubishi’s last hope of victory following the retirements of previous winners Stephane Peterhansel, Luc Alphand and Hiroshi Masuoka, suffered a series of problems on the stage.

”After 50km we had a double puncture. We changed a front wheel and re-inflated a rear tyre, so we lost quite a bit of time,” said the former motorcycle champion.

”As regards the gap at the end, after what happened on the stage, it’s not bad at all.

”It was a really nice stage in driving terms, but also the type of stage on which Carlos is very good. But he’s also good at off-track racing. Anyway, in rally-raids there are always surprises.

”Now we’re going to be faced with two or three very difficult days. Everything can change, and we won’t not let anything go. Just wait and see.”

France’s Cyril Despres, on a KTM, won the motorcycle section of the eighth stage, but had to take evasive action to avoid a donkey which had strayed on to the track.

Marc Coma of Spain, who finished second, 1:49 behind, kept the overall lead in the standings.

It was Despres’s second stage win on this year’s race which allowed the 2005 and 2007 champion to move into third spot in the standings, 1:33,34 behind Coma.

But his win came in dramatic circumstances. ”Around 15km from the finishing line, a donkey suddenly shot out from behind a bunch of cacti,” said a stunned Despres.

”I think it was a lucky escape, for both him and me. The tracks were quite slippery and that’s why you need technical skill to be quick on them and strength too, to keep control of the bike.” – AFP