Spanish driver Nani Roma survived a late puncture on his Mini to claim his third stage win of this year’s Dakar Rally on Thursday, while Stephane Peterhansel stayed comfortably on course for an 11th title.
Roma won the 319km timed section from Fiambala, Argentina, to the Chilean town of Copiapo in 3 hours, 36 minutes, 34 seconds, a lead of 4 minutes, 18 seconds over Robby Gordon of the US in a Hummer and a 4:25 advantage on South Africa’s Toyota driver Giniel de Villiers.
However, Peterhansel, who was fourth on the stage, six minutes behind Roma, stayed in overall charge with a 50:21 lead over De Villiers with two stages left.
Roma had a scare in the closing minutes with a worrying blowout, but it was not enough to derail him.
“To start there were some dunes, some very fast parts, but in the last dunes we got stuck and we lost around eight or 10 minutes, I don’t know exactly,” said Peterhansel, the defending champion.
“We got a bit stressed inside the car, but then it was OK. Yes, for sure we can smell victory, but I can remember two times when I have lost the Dakar just on the last day, so we know that anything can happen. I could make a mistake, we could have some technical problems. So there are still two days left,” he said.
In the motorcycling section, Dutch Yamaha rider Frans Verhoeven won his fourth career stage in 3.49:15, but defending champion Cyril Despres, on a KTM, stayed on course for a fifth title.
Despres leads the overall standings by 5:39 from Portuguese teammate Ruben Faria, who was second on Thursday.
“I didn’t want to open the track today, so I let them go. It was also important for me today to try and help Ruben,” said Despres, who was 14th on Thursday, more than nine minutes behind Verhoeven.
“He’s been helping me for the Dakar 2010, 2011, 2012 and also 2013, so today I decided to help him to try and stay in second place overall. I think he did well and I’m happy for us,” Despres added.
The 13th stage, the penultimate before the race concludes in Santiago today, was set to be the longest of the race, covering 735km in total, with 441km forming the timed run.