The last long drive, the last sand dunes – and the last chance to make an impression at Dakar Rally 2017. Friday saw competitors cover 759 kilometres from San Juan to Rio Cuarto in Argentina.
With Saturday’s final stage only 64km long, there shouldn’t be much room for any major upset before the finish in Buenos Aires. But Sébastien Loeb sent a strong message to his French rival nonetheless…
Having won Thursday’s stage, Stéphane Peterhansel opened the road three minutes before Loeb. But the rally-like tracks of the Córdoba area seemed to suit Loeb, a man with nine WRC world titles, and he overtook his teammate early in the day to win in Rio Cuarto. Orly Terranova completed Friday’s podium (+6’37) with Toyota driver Giniel de Villiers in fourth (+7’01).
But Loeb’s 18-second lead is not enough to pass Peterhansel in the overall standings. “Mister Dakar” could very well win his 13th title on Saturday. And with Loeb currently second overall (+5’32) and Cyril Despres third (+32’54), a Team Peugeot Total podium is looking more and more likely.
“We won the stage but we wanted more,” said Loeb. “We gave everything we had and gained some time back during the first part. But we had a puncture at the beginning of the second one…
“It’s been a great battle, it was good to fight within seconds. We couldn’t have done more.”
Joan Barreda has now won Stage 11. The race organisers gave him three minutes back as he had been obstructed by spectators during the special. That’s his third consecutive stage win.
As a result, Portuguese rider Paulo Gonçalves took second and Adrien Van Beveren from France third.
Nothing that would bother Sam Sunderland though – having taken fifth this Friday, the British rider still leads overall. His first Dakar victory is closer than ever.
On Friday night, Sunderland is 33’09 ahead of his KTM teammate Matthias Walkner and 37’10 ahead of Van Beveren. Arrived 10th in Rio Cuarto, Walkner now needs to defend his second place in the general rankings. But he can count on Sunderland.
“During the second part, I knew Matthias was behind me and he is fighting for a second so I didn’t want to make dust for it and I cruised a bit and let him go by in the speed zone, just following him,” explained the race leader.
“There is still one stage to go though. I won’t let myself believe it until it’s done.”
Štefan Svitko had been taken to the hospital on Thursday after finishing the stage in a state of exhaustion, yet the Slovak rider showed up on the start line on Friday morning and finished in ninth place.
Russia’s Sergey Karyakin won his second consecutive stage more than 20 minutes before second-placed Daniel Domaszewski from Argentina, confirming his overall lead.
Overall leader Eduard Nikolaev from Kamaz Team won a second consecutive stage in Rio Cuarto, beating the Argentinean driver Federico Villagra by only 52 seconds.
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