Lopez delights home crowd in Dakar rally

Chilean motorcyclist Francisco Lopez delighted his huge home support when he won his second stage of this year’s Dakar Rally here on Sunday taking the eighth leg of the race, a 472 kilometres special from Antofagasta.

Frenchman Cyril Despres was fifth in the stage but retained the overall lead.

Another Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel put aside the disappointment at being out of contention for the overall victory in the car section to take the eighth stage.

Spain’s two-time world rally champion Carlos Sainz was second on the stage and retained the overall lead.

Lopez was delighted with his performance as it elevated him into the top three overall.

“I rode fast as the seventh stage had finished on a sour note,” said Lopez, who also won the fifth stage.

“I wanted to put in a good finish for all those people waiting for me. Today (Sunday) there was a bit of everything: stones, navigation and dunes. I am pleased because it all went well and the bike responded well.”

Despres for his part said he had had a tough day and had been saved by one of his team-mates.

“I was battling against myself more than anything else!” exclaimed Despres.

“I hit two stones, one at the front and one at the rear. It was only when I got to the 245 kilometres mark that I noticed what a state my wheels were in.

“They were split in two! Luckily my Red Bull team-mate Ruben Faris turned up at that moment. We swapped our front rims since I didn’t think the back one needed to be changed.

“Once I set off again I made sure I was careful in the stones to look after the back wheel. I am really lucky to have finished. Anything can happen in the Dakar.”

Peterhansel, who lost all real chance of winning the overall title last Wednesday when he lost over two hours because of serious mechanical problems, was happy at least to have regained some face at winning the stage even if as he admitted barring a catastrophe for either Sainz or the Spaniard’s Volkswagen team-mate Nasser Al-Attiyah he was not in contention.

“We know that the Volkswagens are the quickest,” he admitted.

“Between Nasser and Carlos its a real battle for first place. We can’t have a say in that battle because we are still too far behind.

“But we keep picking up specials and trying our best.”

Sainz confessed to having not had a perfect day.

“I had a few scares today (Sunday),” he said.

“I had two punctures, so afterwards I had no spare tyre and still with 180km to go. It was a good stage because I increased my lead over Nasser a bit. Having said that he will start behind me on Monday and I am sure he will catch me up.

“That said I’m very pleased because the hardest stages are behind us.”

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