Qatar’s Nasser al-Attiyah halved Volkswagen teammate Carlos Sainz’s overall Dakar Rally lead on Sunday with a seventh stage win to pave the way for a potential repeat of last year’s bad-tempered finale to the event.
Al-Attiyah finished the 273km special from Arica to Antofagasta in two hours, 40 minutes and 57seconds, with the Spaniard 1min 20sec behind in second place.
That left Sainz, a former double world rally champion, with a 1min 22sec overall lead as the gruelling race enters its second and final week.
Twelve months ago, Sainz and al-Attiyah had a spectacular fall-out when the Qatari, in a desperate, late push for victory, was accused of dangerous tactics by the Spaniard.
On Saturday’s rest day, Sainz had insisted the duo had put the past behind them.
“It’s like after a football match. All is forgotten,” said Sainz. “We are two men who like to win.
“In rallying, I was used to being with the quickest drivers like Didier Auriol, Juha Kankkunen, Colin McRae, Sebastien Loeb. Of course, Nasser will try to win. It’s an intense rivalry.”
Al-Attiyah admitted he still has to attack if he is to clinch the title next weekend.
“We took 1min 20sec back from Carlos and I am thrilled to be the winner of today’s [Sunday’s] special stage,” said the Qatari.
“From now on, I really have to attack. In order to avoid flat tyres, we have to avoid sliding sideways too much. Last year, I had six flat tyres. This year, I really focused on my driving to avoid flats and stay on course as much as possible.”
After finishing second on Sunday, Sainz said: “It was really hard. But in the end, I am happy. There was a very tricky sand dune section. It was a good day, I am sure. But a tough one.”
Chile’s Francisco Lopez, riding an Aprilia, took the motorcycle honours on Sunday with France’s defending champion, Cyril Despres, on a KTM in second.
Lopez came in after the 273km stage almost two-and-a-half minutes clear of Despres with Spanish rider Marc Coma in third.
“It was not easy. There was a lot of dust in the beginning. I went a little faster afterwards but I lost my exhaust at mid-stage more or less,” said Lopez.
“So after that, I was afraid my engine would break. Fortunately, it was the shortest special stage since the beginning of the race; if it had not been the engine would have been hit bad.” — AFP