SAN JUAN, January 13- Qatar's Nasser Al-Attiyah virtually wrapped up the Dakar Rally on Thursday when he romped to victory in the 11th stage as defending champion Carlos Sainz saw his hopes ended by a broken suspension on his Volkswagen.Al-Attiyah, also in a Volkswagen, finished the 523km special stage between Chilecito and San Juan with a 1min 13sec advantage over France’s Stephane Peterhansel, in a BMW, and 4min 52sec ahead of South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, in another Volkswagen.
But Sainz, a former double world rally champion, saw his hopes shattered after spending over an hour repairing a broken front suspension which brought his car to a halt after 410km.
The Spanish veteran had wanted to push hard from the outset having started the day over 12 minutes behind the Qatari, a deficit caused by losing 10 minutes on Wednesday’s traumatic stage.
Sainz eventually finished Thursday’s action 1hr 14min behind Al-Attiyah to be 1hr 27min behind the Qatari in the overall standings.
"The car worked very well and there were no problems. There was a lot of dust on the stage, but the good thing is that we finished and we’ll see what we can do tomorrow," said Al-Attiyah, who now has an overall lead of over 51 minutes on second-placed de Villiers.
"I don’t know what happened to Carlos. I think he was pushing a lot. I did a very good job and so did my co-pilot and the team. I’m quite happy and I will do my best to reach Buenos Aires."
Barring a disaster on Friday’s penultimate stage – from San Juan to Cordoba – Al-Attiyah, the runner-up in 2010 after a bitter fall-out with teammate Sainz, will be crowned champion ahead of Saturday’s run to Buenos Aires, a virtual parade stage.
"I pushed as hard as I could and when I was in Nasser’s dust, I didn’t see a hole. I went straight into it and broke the suspension," explained Sainz.
"I tried everything I could to go on the attack, because I haven’t come here to finish second. For me it’s first or nothing, so finishing second or third is the same."
Defending motorcycle champion Cyril Despres, riding a KTM, clinched the moto honours, but overall leader Marc Coma remained comfortably on course for victory in the race.
Despres crossed the line 2min 11sec ahead of Spanish rider Coma, also on a KTM, who has an imposing 15min 59sec lead.
"Today was a great day. It was a hard day, though, and very long with a lot of rocks and dry river beds," said Coma.
"In the end, both parts were superb and we managed to ride at a good pace. There’s still tomorrow which will be a hard day, so anything is still possible."