Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel edged defending champion Nasser Al-Attiyah by just 15 seconds to win stage nine of the Dakar Rally on Tuesday as pressure mounted on overall leader Carlos Sainz.
Nicknamed ‘Mr. Dakar’ for his 13 previous Dakar victories (seven in a car and six on a bike), Mini driver Peterhansel clocked 3hr 08min 31sec on the 410km special of the mammoth 886km stage.
It was his third stage win of this Dakar, being held for the first time in Saudi Arabia.
“Today it was, again, a stage with full attack,” said Peterhansel. “We tried to push at full attack from the beginning, but never opening the gas too much.”
Local favourite Yasir Seaidan (Race) came in third while overall race leader Sainz finished fifth, 6min 31sec off the pace.
The veteran Spaniard, in his Mini, was off the leading duo’s pace all stage, and sees his lead cut to just 24sec over Toyota’s Al-Attiyah.
Peterhansel remains in third place in the general classification, 6:38 off the pace.
Al-Attiyah said he was content with a good day’s racing.
“We tried to do our best and today I think we did a really good stage,” said the driver who has represented Qatar in six Olympic Games, winning bronze in the men’s skeet event in London in 2012.
“I’m quite happy to close the gap with Carlos.
“I think tomorrow and after tomorrow will be very, very difficult for everybody. It’s good tomorrow that Stephane is opening on marathon day. We’ll see now about Carlos, but, okay, it looks like the three cars are very close together. For all three of us, it is possible that one can win the Dakar.”
Peterhansel added: “We’ll try to keep the pressure on the leader.”
In the motorbike category, resuming after stage eight was cancelled following the death of Portuguese rider Paulo Goncalves, Pablo Quintanilla notched up his first win.
The Chilean, on a Husqvarna, won the special with a lead of almost two minutes over Australia’s defending champion Toby Price.
As a result, he continues to put pressure on general standings leader Ricky Brabec, the American Honda rider nevertheless managing to limit the damage (+20:53) by finishing less than four minutes behind the day’s winner in fourth spot.
Wednesday’s stage 10 from Haradh to Shubaytah takes competitors into the infamous ‘Rub al-Khali’ or ‘Empty Quarter’, a huge sand desert that spreads from host country Saudi Arabia into neighbouring Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Vast off-road expanses feature, with the last 30 kilometres of the stage going right through the dunes in what promises to be a tough challenge.