Volkswagen teammates Giniel de Villiers and Mark Miller cruised through the penultimate stage together on Friday to guarantee they finish with the top two placings in the Dakar Rally.
De Villiers and Miller, the overall leaders, finished only 15 seconds apart in a fast 13th stage that wound across hills between La Rioja and Cordoba, part of the world rally championship.
Torrential rain made some of the initial route impassable and organizers slashed it by more than half from 545km to 220km.
Rattled by the crash and exit of rally and team leader Carlos Sainz on Thursday, de Villiers and Miller pulled over on team orders soon after the stage start to allow teammate Dieter Depping of Germany to join them in a convoy.
“I think we can call this a team stage,” de Villiers said. “The most important [point] is to reach the finish, particularly after losing a car yesterday. It’s important for Volkswagen to finish the Dakar in first and second places. We don’t want to take any chances anymore.”
South Africa’s de Villiers led Miller of the US by 2 minutes, 20 seconds overall. NASCAR star Robby Gordon of the US remained third, almost 90 minutes behind.
De Villiers or Miller will win his first Dakar when the rally ends where it began, in Buenos Aires.
De Villiers has had four top 10 finishes in the Dakar, including runner-up in 2006. He was leading in 2007 when his engine broke midway through the race. Miller, a former NASCAR truck driver, was fourth in 2007. Volkswagen hasn’t won the Dakar since 1980.
While the Volkswagens took a safety-first approach, Gordon took the stage lead then suffered mechanical problems. Guerlain Chicherit of France took over for a time, but Nani Roma of Spain won it in a Mitsubishi. Krzysztof Holowczyc of Poland was second, more than seven minutes back, and Chicherit third.
Depping was fourth, Miller seventh and de Villiers eighth.
Marc Coma of Spain was set to win his second motorbike title in three years, holding onto a lead of nearly 90 minutes on defending champion Cyril Despres of France.
Despres won successive stages and his fourth this year, but Coma was only 1 minute, 45 seconds behind. David Fretigne of France was third in the stage and overall.
“There was not a lot of grip, so we had to stand on the bike all the time,” Coma said. “It was very demanding physically, but very entertaining in the final part.”
He was slightly wary of the long final stage, 227km across the flat and wind-swept pampas.
“That’s a lot [of kilometers] and a lot can happen, too,” Coma said.
Meanwhile, doctors treating Spanish biker Cristobal Guerrero, who suffered serious injuries after a fall in the Atacama Desert in Chile on Tuesday, were waiting for final approval from rally officials to transfer him to Santiago for additional tests.
Doctor Oscar Lutz, the director of the Copiapo Regional Hospital, said Guerrero remained in serious condition in an induced coma, but that his vital signs were stable.