Stephane Peterhansel was set to be crowned Dakar Rally champion for an 11th time yesterday, while French compatriot Cyril Despres should wrap up a fifth motorcycling crown on the day’s final stage.
Defending champion Peterhansel, a four-time auto winner and a six-time victor on two wheels, was to tackle yesterday’s short, 128km timed run into Santiago with a 44 minutes, 38 second lead over South Africa’s Toyota driver Giniel de Villiers.
On Friday’s penultimate 441km stage from Copiapo — the longest of the two-week, 8,000km event — Peterhansel finished ninth.
“We had to get through this stage without any problems, so there was a lot of stress in the car, first when we were crossing the first dunes,” Peterhansel said.
“We didn’t take any risks at all and we only lost a few minutes, but we managed to protect our lead this way. We know how it goes: Something could still happen right up until you cross the finishing line. Even if it’s a small special, we still have to get it over and done with,” he added.
The US’ NASCAR driver Robby Gordon claimed the stage honors in his Hummer, with his 3:40.53 time good enough for a 22 second advantage over France’s Guerlain Chicherit in an SMG. Chile’s Orlando Terranova, in a BMW, was third.
Despres virtually wrapped up a fifth motorcycling title when he finished second on the stage to open an overall lead of more than eight minutes.
The 38-year-old, the champion in 2005, 2007, 2010 and last year, was 5.25 minutes behind Chile’s Francisco Lopez, who has not given up hope of catching his rival on home turf.
With KTM teammate, and overnight title rival, Ruben Faria slipping into third in the standings, Despres was to go into yesterday’s final dash into the Chilean capital with an 8.15 minutes overall lead over Lopez.
“The bike race isn’t just about strategy. It’s also about rally-raid sport: We’ve just rode 440 km and I was feeling good on the first section,” Despres said.
“Afterwards, I saw that I’d got some time back on Francisco and that he wasn’t going to disappear into the distance over 140km. So I thought I had better be careful with the engine,” he added. “Since I ate quite a bit of dust in the morning, I preferred to make sure and take it easy.”
For Honda rider Lopez, it was a fourth stage win in this year’s race and 10th of his career.