Race leader Carlos Sainz crashed out of the Dakar Rally on Thursday when his Volkswagen tumbled into a ravine and rolled over, robbing the double world rally champion of victory.
The Spaniard had started the 12th stage with a 27-minute lead over his US Volkswagen teammate Mark Miller and was comfortably on course for a maiden win in the grueling event today. But that was before disaster struck after 79km of the 220km stage.
“We couldn’t see. Suddenly, a 4m deep hole appeared in front of us. We fell into it and landed on our roof. I braked, but I couldn’t stop,” Sainz said.
Sainz’s Volkswagen teammate Giniel De Villiers of South Africa won the stage from Miller and also inherited the overall lead. De Villiers now has a 2 minutes, 35 seconds advantage over the American.
“It was really a tough stage. In places we would go around in circles for 15 minutes to find the right trail,” the South African said. “It was very dangerous and the sand was really soft.”
Sainz’s co-driver Michel Perin suffered a broken shoulder and both men were airlifted back to the bivouac at the stage’s start in Fiambala.
“Luckily I wasn’t driving fast. If we were attacking then it would not have been very pleasant,” added Sainz, who had won six of the stages of this year’s event.
Perin was left ruing a missed turn and a road sign that was not as clear as he thought it should have been.
“We had made a small mistake in the first part,” Perin said. “We took the wrong direction at a Y crossing, but it was not too bad because we did end up on the right trail.”
“We were tailing Giniel De Villiers, who had started about 10 seconds after us, so it was still sort of okay. Then there was a hidden waypoint with a wadi indicated as ‘danger.’ But it should have been indicated as ‘extremely dangerous,’” Perin said. “By the way, the car behind us, Nani Roma’s [Mitsubishi] car, would have fallen in the same hole as we did if we had not been there already.”
At the start of the stage, Sainz had been 27 minutes, 31 seconds ahead of Miller with De Villiers almost 14 minutes further adrift.
Sainz, who was competing in his third Dakar, with his best showing a ninth-placed finish in 2007, was the latest in a long line of big names forced out of this year’s race. Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel and his Mitsubishi teammates, and fellow former winners Luc Alphand and Hiroshi Masuoka all pulled out in the first week.
Early leader Nasser al-Attiyah of Qatar, in a BMW, was disqualified.
Meanwhile, Frenchman Cyril Despres, riding a KTM, won the motorbike section of the stage. It was a third stage win for Despres, who claimed victory one minute, 23 seconds ahead of Spanish teammate Marc Coma, who remains atop the overall standings, one hour, 29:48 minutes ahead of the Frenchman.
Frenchman David Fretigne, riding a Yamaha, overcame a serious oil leak problem to remain third in the overall standings. With just two days of riding left, Fretigne’s lost 10 minutes, 28 seconds has left him one hour and 33:55 minutes behind Coma.