/ 13 January 2010

Sainz maintains Dakar lead

Former world rally champion Carlos Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz, won their first stage on this year’s Dakar Rally when they took their diesel-engined Volkswagen Race Touareg to victory in special stage 10 on Tuesday.

Sainz, revelling in the world championship rally-type conditions of the 238-km stage between La Serena and Santiago in Chile, finished 28 seconds ahead of France’s Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret (BMW X3) and 1m 02s in front of VW teammates Mark Miller of America and South African Ralph Pitchford.

Sainz remains in the overall lead for the fifth day in a row, 10m 06s ahead of teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and 28m 19s quicker than Miller and Pitchford.

With just four of the rally’s 14 special stages remaining, all in Argentina, Volkswagen is looking good for an historic 1-2-3 finish.

Al-Attiyah was fourth on Tuesday’s stage, while defending Dakar champions Giniel de Villiers of South Africa and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz, were 11th after riding shotgun again for their front-running teammates. They remain seventh overall, 4h 46m 13s in arrears.

Only 206 of the original 362 crews started stage 10, with 94 of 151 bikes, 68 of 134 cars, 35 of 52 trucks and 14 of 25 quads left in the race.

Tuesday’s stage, the final one in Chile, saw the competitors bid farewell to the Atacama desert and undertake a more technical and undulating route on hard surfaces that wound through a landscape of mountains.

It was a tricky special stage, dotted with vegetation and cactuses.

“We were happy with third place today,” said Pitchford.

“Mark prefers the sandy desert stages to the world rally championship-type conditions we experienced today — fast, loose surfaces on hard roads with lots of corners and gear changes. We had no problems.”

De Villiers thoroughly enjoyed the stage: “It had with many gravel sections which were great fun to drive. It’s easy to explain
our loss of time.

“At the start of the stage we waited until our team mate Mark Miller had overtaken us to be able to help if something happened. That was the first four minutes.

“A puncture cost us another two minutes. Afterwards we were stuck in the dust cloud kicked up by Peterhansel’s BMW.”

Wednesday’s stage 11 from Santiago to San Juan in Argentina, will cover 434 km and will take competitors out of Chile through the Paso Libertadores in the Andes at an altitude of 3 500 metres.

The special stage section is 220 km in Argentina and the first 50 km will be the only portion of the rally contested at high altitude and in the snow line.

Racing high in the Andes, the highest mountain range outside Asia and the world’s longest continental mountain range (extending 7 000 km over seven countries), the surviving crews will catch a glimpse of its highest peak, Aconcagua, 6 859 metres above sea level. — Sapa