AFP Bisha, Saudi Arabia
Qatari driver Nasser al-Attiyah and British rider Sam Sunderland are just one safely-navigated stage away from celebrating victories in the Dakar Rally following Thursday's penultimate day of action. Three-time champion al-Attiyah holds a 33-minute advantage over France’s nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb ahead of today’s 164-kilometre special.
The rally leader since the opening stage, al-Attiyah had dropped over four minutes to his nearest rival, Loeb, but ended up 39 second ahead after Bahrain Raid Xtreme driver was penalised five minutes for speeding in a controlled zone. Yesterday’s 346km stage was won by Spanish veteran Carlos Sainz in his Audi hybrid. It was the 41st career Dakar stage success for the 59-year-old, who is also a three-time winner of the race.
Al-Attiyah — who also won a shooting bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics — said he would play it safe today. “To lose only four minutes or something to Seb, it’s nothing, you know?” he said. “We are in a good way. Tomorrow is a shorter stage. We just need to continue like this on the same pace. It is very important to win this race. To control the Dakar is not easy, but I think we have a lot of experience now and we just need to manage the situation and to finish.”
Al-Attiyah – alongside co-drover Mathieu Baumel – completed the stage with the eighth fastest time, 6 minute 42 seconds behind Sainz before getting promoted to seventh following Loeb’s punishment. Elsewhere in the overall classification, Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed al-Rajhi and Michael Orr are virtually assured of the final spot on the podium, 28 minutes ahead of Orlando Terranova and Dani Oliveras Carreras.
Sunderland is tantalisingly close to winning the bikes title for a second time. In 2017 he became the first Briton to win any category of the gruelling rally. The 32-year-old Dubai-based KTM rider holds a lead of almost seven minutes over Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla after he finished runner-up in yesterday’s stage behind 2021 champion Kevin Benavides of Argentina.
It is the sixth time that Sunderland has assumed the overall lead in this year’s event and he is experienced enough to not assume he already has the race won ahead of today’s final stage. The Briton only needs overnight leader Adrien van Beveren as a reference point of what can go wrong — the Frenchman got lost four kilometres into the stage and is now over 15 minutes off the pace.
“I’m feeling really good and looking forward to tomorrow,” said Sunderland. “The race is not done until you pass that chequered flag on the last stage. As we know, the navigation on this race is really difficult. It’s been really difficult this race because, as you saw, the times are so close every day. I’ll just try and have a clean stage tomorrow and hopefully we can get it done.”
Stage 11 Results
1. Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Audi) 3h29m32s
2. Lucio Alvarez/Armand Monleon (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +3m10s
3. Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist (Audi) +3m53s
4. Nani Roma/Alex Haro Bravo (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +4m10s
5. Giniel de Villiers/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) + 5m11s
6. Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (Audi) +5m54s
7. Nasser al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +6m42s
8. Sébastien Loeb/Fabian Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +7m21s
9. Orlando Terranova/Dani Oliveras Carreras (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +7m53s
10. Matthieu Serradori/Loïc Minaudier (SRT Racing Century) +10m38s
1. Nasser al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota) 36h49m51s
2. Loeb/Lurquin (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +33m19s
3. Yazeed al-Rajhi/Michael Orr (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +1h03m43s
4. Terranova/Oliveras Carreras (Bahrain Raid Xtreme) +1h31m29s
5. de Villiers/Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +1h44m11s
6. Kuba Przygónski/Timo Gottschalk (X-raid Mini JCW) +1h51m57s
7. Vladimir Vasilyev/Oleg Uperenko (VRT Team BMW) +1h59m49s
8. Serradori/Minaudier (SRT Racing Century) +2h34m19s
9. Ekström/Bergkvist (Audi) +2h39m57s
10. Sebastian Halpern/Bernardo Graue (X-raid Mini JCW) +2h40m00
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