CALAMA, Chile January 11 – Qatar’s Nasser al-Attiyah slashed 10-time champion Stephane Peterhansel’s Dakar Rally lead by over eight minutes on Thursday as the 2011 winner stormed to victory on the sixth stage.
Al-Attiyah started the day at 9min 54sec behind defending champion Peterhansel, but finished just 1min 18sec off the overall lead, winning his third stage of this year’s event, a 438km special from Arica to Calama.
The Qatari, in a Buggy, clocked 4hr 52min with Peterhansel, in a Mini, in second spot ahead of American NASCAR driver Robby Gordon, who was nearly 14 minutes behind al-Attiyah.
South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, driving a Toyota, was sixth to stay third overall, 42 minutes behind the leader.
“We did a good job and I’m quite happy to be here, without any mistakes, the car working very well, the tyres were really good,” said al-Attiyah.
“We’ll just try to keep going like this and we try to keep close to Peter because maybe tomorrow the stage might not be for us, but okay, if we lose, we lose just a few minutes.”
Al-Attiyah’s 17th career Dakar stage win was tempered, however, when it was revealed teammate Carlos Sainz, the 2010 champion, had been forced to retire.
The Spaniard, who won the first two stages before falling badly off the pace, was forced out when the engine in his Buggy failed at the 179km mark.
“I’ve had a lot of problems since the start of the rally, and today just took the biscuit,” said former world rally champion Sainz.
“Something must have broken in the engine. It just happened all of a sudden. There wasn’t any temperature warning or anything.
“Nasser is battling for victory. I hope the experience will be useful for the future even if I’m not sure whether I’ll come back.”
KTM rider Francisco Lopez celebrated the arrival of the race in his native Chile by clinching his third win on this year’s event in the motorcycling section.
Olivier Pain still leads the overall standings with a 2min 22sec lead over four-time winner and defending champion Cyril Despres with a third Frenchman, David Casteu, in third, 4min 48sec off the lead.
“The first part of the special went very well, but on the second section, the engine lost a fair bit of power and I started wondering whether it was a fuel problem or due to the altitude,” said Lopez.
Earlier in the day two people were killed and seven others were injured in a head-on collision between a Dakar Rally support vehicle and a taxi near Peru’s border with Chile, race organisers reported.
One of two taxis hit the support vehicle head-on while a second cab overturned as its driver tried to avoid the collision.
Two people in the first taxi, including the driver, were killed and seven people, four of them Peruvian, were injured.
Three of the injured, who were travelling in a Land Rover support vehicle, were British members of the Race2Recovery team which is made up of British and US servicemen who have been severely injured and lost limbs in foreign conflicts.
All three were flown by an Antonov aircraft to hospital in Lima where they were said to be “stable and conscious” with “non-life-threatening” injuries.