The Dakar is not yet over, but Stéphane Peterhansel used the penultimate day to extend his advantage at the top of the field and now enters the finishing straight with a comfortable lead.
The penultimate stage of the Dakar really put all the competitors through the mill again. Like the previous day, Saturday’s route took the drivers through tricky dune sections on the way to the stage finish in Pisco. Once again hardly any teams made it through these challenging sections without encountering problems.
The decisive point came in the final third of the 275-kilometre special stage, when many cars got stuck in fine sand, including the X-raid team’s Nani Roma and Krzystof Holowczyc. This was particularly sobering for Nani, who had started the day just 20 minutes behind his team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel and was initially just a few seconds behind Stéphane at the intermediate time checks. Nani then found himself stuck in the sand, however, losing a further 22 minutes to his team-mate.
Upon arriving at the critical point, which cost so many drivers time, Peterhansel opted for a slightly different route. He then drove excellently on his alternative route and secured the day’s victory. In doing so, the nine-time Dakar winner extended his lead over Nani to 42:57 minutes. Third place in the overall standings is occupied by Giniel de Villiers in a Toyota, who set the second fastest time on Saturday and lies 1:15:09 hours behind Stéphane. Like Stéphane, the X-raid team’s Leonid Novitskiy also produced a consistent drive on Saturday. He now lies fourth in the overall standings.
Robby Gordon, who yesterday announced his intention to win the final two stages of the Dakar in style and challenge Stéphane’s overall lead, experienced an eventful penultimate day. The Hummer driver first dropped seven minutes in the sand before rolling his car at the 202-kilometre mark. Gordon was able to continue at half throttle, but soon had to stop again to repair a puncture. He is now 2:20:05 hours behind Stéphane in fifth place overall.
“It was not a stage we were trying to win. We wanted to avoid falling into traps, especially after getting stuck in the sand yesterday,” said Stéphane upon arriving at the finish. “It was the toughest stage of the entire Dakar with regard to the dunes. We made a tactical choice to start with lower-than-normal tyre pressure, so we had to be very careful at certain points, but we did well on the dunes.”
Sunday’s final stage features the last 29 timed kilometres. After that, the results of the 2012 Dakar will be known. It may look like being a tenth Dakar victory for Stéphane at the moment, but he is typically refusing to get carried away in any premature celebrations. “Victories are earned day by day and I still feel like I am in the race,” said Stéphane. “There is still a 30-kilometre special to go and we could have a technical problem. I am still holding my breath this evening. I will breathe again once I am on the podium.”
One thing is certain: fans of the X-raid team and MINI would not have it any other way.
For the fastest information on the five MINI ALL4 Racing vehicles of the X-raid team at the Dakar Rally, go to the MINI Motorsport Twitter channel.
DAKAR STANDINGS 13th stage:
1. Peterhansel (MINI) 3:09:47
2. De Villiers (Toyota) 3:18:16
3. Novitskiy (MINI) 3:22:42
4. Sousa (Great Wall) 3:23:26
5. Alvarez (Toyota) 3:34:44
6. Dos Santos (MINI) 3:24:51
7. Roma (MINI) 3:32:44
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