Qatari driver Nasser al-Attiyah took the overall race lead after winning the eighth stage of the Dakar Rally, a 508km special on a 776km run through the Atacama desert from Antofagasta to Copiapo, Chile, on Monday.
The Volkswagen driver, runner-up last year, finished 6 minutes, 36 seconds ahead of teammate and defending champion Carlos Sainz from whom he takes the overall race lead following a battle through the lunar landscape of one of the driest places on earth.
Al-Attiyah — who also won Sunday’s stage — now leads the Spaniard by 5 minutes, 14 seconds in the overall standings.
“I can control the race now,” the Qatari driver warned. “It was a difficult stage because I was opening all the way, but the dunes are my favorite terrain and I was really pushing to the limit. In the last section of dunes we were pushing at a maximum because that was where we had to take the time from Sainz.”
France’s Stephane Peterhansel, however, lost all chance of winning a 10th Dakar title with his BMW overheating as he also suffered the eighth puncture of this year’s race leaving him nearly an hour off the pace.
In the motorcycle section, overall race leader Marc Coma of Spain rode to victory in the 508km special on a 776km run, finishing 1 minute, 55 seconds ahead of French KTM teammate and defending champion Cyril Despres, who is second overall 9 minutes, 19 seconds behind the Spaniard.
“It was a hard stage and very long with plenty of mileage and dunes,” Coma said after his third stage victory in this year’s race put him closer to a third Dakar title. “I was happy about the pace today. It was a good stage after a complicated one yesterday. But in the end, everything turned out fine.”
Meanwhile, the metal capsule which lifted 33 Chilean miners to safety in a spectacular rescue operation late last year, known as “Phoenix,” made an appearance at the rally on Monday.
Participants in the race stopped to pose for photographs with the capsule at the entrance to a base camp for competitors in the same Chilean desert region from which the miners were rescued.
“The capsule is a landmark of our region and we wanted to show it to the world at this Dakar [rally],” regional director Juan Noemi said.
The narrow capsule lifted 33 miners in October more than 600m out of a copper mine where they had been trapped for 69 days, under the glare of the world’s media.
The rally originally took place from Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal, but has changed its course over the years. The race is in South America for a third consecutive year this year and ends on Sunday.
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