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Sainz survives dunes to win Dakar Rally

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Peugeot’s Spanish driver Carlos Sainz (L) is congratulated by his temmate French driver Stephane Peterhansel, after winning the Dakar Rally 2018, at the end of the last stage in and around Cordoba province in Argentina on January 20, 2018 © AFP / FRANCK FIFE

CORDOBA, Argentina, Jan 20Spanish veteran Carlos Sainz clinched overall victory in the 2018 Dakar Rally on Saturday, finishing safely after the 14th and final stage around Cordoba in Argentina for his second win in the race.

The 55-year-old, the father of Renault Formula One driver Carlos Sainz Jr, ended atop the overall standings ahead of a pair of Toyota drivers — two-time winner Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and Giniel de Villiers in third.

South African De Villiers won the final stage to ensure he completed the podium ahead of defending champion Stephane Peterhansel, who had seen his top-three hopes all but ended when he hit a tree and lost 40 minutes on Saturday.

Finishing ninth on the day, Sainz retained a huge 43min 40sec advantage on arrival at the end of the 40th edition.

“That was the toughest of all the Dakar Rallies I have raced, but I put the foot down where I had to and maintained my concentration,” Sainz said.

Having only finished the rally once since his first win in 2010, Sainz put in a steady performance on the sand dunes, explaining “the strategy was to take it easy there” before powering into a clear lead on the high-speed stages.

“We worked very hard for this win, to make a car like that, the whole team pulling together,” he added.

The 1990 and 1992 world rally champion became the oldest winner in the history of the event after starting as an outsider, only to lead right through the second week of his 11th participation.

“I’ll go home and have a long think about it,” Sainz said when asked if he would race again.

It is also a third win in four races for Peugeot, who have said they will not race next year.

“Peugeot won twice with Stephane Peterhansel in (2016 and 2017) so I owed them this victory,” Sainz said.

– Walkner seals bikes title –

Peterhansel, meanwhile, cast doubt as to whether he would take part in the Dakar again after his rally was marred by mechanical problems.

Describing the 2018 event as a “Dakar to forget, quickly”, the 52-year-old Frenchman said: “There have been hellish moments where you ask yourself what you are doing here, as usual.

“I am really not sure if you will see me again,” said Peterhansel, the record 13-time race winner across car and motorbike categories.

Meanwhile, Austria’s Matthias Walkner wrapped up his maiden Dakar Rally bikes title by finishing safely in eighth place on the final day in Cordoba, as home favourite Kevin Benavides won stage 14.

Peugeot’s Spanish drivers Carlos Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz compete during Stage 13 of the 2018 Dakar Rally between San Juan and Cordoba, Argentina, on January 19, 2018 © AFP/File / FRANCK FIFE

KTM rider Walkner took a 20-minute lead into the last day in Argentina, and had little trouble in negotiating the 286-kilometre ride to go one better than when he finished second to team-mate Sam Sunderland 12 months ago.

Argentinian Benavides had to settle for second overall, 16min 53secs adrift.

Australian Toby Price, the 2016 winner, completed the final podium after following his penultimate-stage victory with a second-placed finish to Benavides.

Austrian team KTM have now won 17 consecutive Dakars, but Walkner is the first Austrian to win the race.

“It is a dream come true. I will need some time for it to sink in. It’s unreal,” Walkner said.

“This morning I was very nervous. Yesterday (Friday) was a very long day, and the guys behind me were pushing like never before.

“But everything went well in the end and it is an incredible feeling.”

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