Saturday’s 64km timed special stage between Rio Cuarto and Buenos Aires concluded Dakar Rally 2017 and its 9,000km route through South America.
Stéphane Peterhansel edged Sebastien Loeb overall (+5’13) to take his Dakar victory No 13 with their Team Peugeot Total teammate Cyril Despres in third (+33’28). Three Frenchmen and three Peugeot 3008 DKRs occupy the podium*, with only Carlos Sainz missing after he crashed and was forced to retire during the first week of racing.
Loeb did win Saturday’s short stage 19 seconds ahead of the overall leader, with Giniel de Villiers, Toyota’s South African driver, in third place (+0’30).
“We were fighting with six or seven drivers at the beginning of the race and after a while, they were only four,” said Peterhansel at the finish line. “And during the last week, we were only two – just Seb and I. We fought really strongly and I am the winner in the end – but it’s a small detail. This is the victory of experience.”
Sam Sunderland made history by finishing the last special in sixth place to take the overall win. The first Briton to win the Dakar, he claims the rally ahead of KTM teammate Matthias Walkner (+32’00”) and Gerard Farrés (+35’40).
Both Sunderland and Walkner had never finished the infamous rally before. The duo made up for Tony Price’s abandon, their teammate and defending champion who retired after crashing and breaking his leg on Stage 4.
“It’s overwhelming,” admitted Sunderland. “When I crossed the line, the emotion really took over.
“It’s taken some time to change [from his motocross background], I’ve learned the hard way like everybody. I kept fighting and never gave up and I’m really grateful for all the people I have around me that have guided me. Everybody in the team has worked so hard, they all deserve this victory.”
Chilean rider Ignacio Casale claimed the closing stage, beating local boy Santiago Hansen by 52 seconds. This enables him to take second place in the final general classification (+1h14’51) behind Sergey Karyakin, the dominant winner of the race, with Pablo Copetti in third (+4h20’19).
Eduard Nikolaev was already assured of winning his second Dakar but the Kamaz driver confirmed his domination with another victory on Saturday. His teammate and fellow Russian Dmitry Sotnikov (+18’58)gives Kamaz the runner-up position in the general. Gerard de Rooy takes the third overall spot (+41’19).
* All results are subject to change until final technical verifications and podium in Buenos Aires.
Stéphane Peterhansel #300: “We were fighting with six or seven drivers at the beginning of the race and after a while, they were only four. And during the last week, we were only two – just Seb and I. We fought really strongly and I am the winner in the end – but it’s a small detail. I probably won the Dakar on Friday when Seb got a puncture. This is the victory of experience. Sometimes, I knew I wasn’t in a phase to follow Seb so I opened the way for him. The spirit inside the team was very good. There was no team order – it was just a fight between drivers who have the same car. A 14th victory? Why not!”
Sébastien Loeb #309: “Ninth place last year, second this time, it’s a great improvement. Plus we stayed on the piste this time [laughs]. We did a couple of navigation mistakes but considering how complex this Dakar was, we did well overall. We had a mechanical issue at the start and it delayed us. We tried to make up for it afterwards. We finish second overall with a small time gap… it is what it is. We were really fast on the piste; it was a bit trickier off-piste but we saw we have the potential. We need to do better next time! I don’t think I can do as much rally-raid as Peterhansel though, But yes, the objective is to win the Dakar one day. As for now, we’re going to enjoy this moment and this Peugeot podium.”
Cyril Despres #307: “A good feeling. I didn’t get on a Dakar podium for three years and when you like this race so much and train all year for that, it’s long. Obviously, they are two big competitors in front of me. Peterhansel and Loeb aren’t just a mountain, they are an Everest, an Himalaya in front of me! I will try to climb and train more.”
Sam Sunderland #14: “It’s overwhelming. When I crossed the line, the emotion really took over. It’s been difficult to stay calm, especially when making navigation mistakes… but we are here, we did it, and I couldn’t be any happier. Hopefully we can create some English interest now! I came from a motocross background and with the rally, it’s different, it’s a long time to stay focused. It’s taken some time to change, I’ve learned the hard way like everybody. I kept fighting and never gave up and I’m really grateful for all the people I have around me that have guided me. Everybody in the team has worked so hard, they all deserve this victory.”
Matthias Walkner #16: “Arriving on the podium is an amazing feeling. It’s a dream come true after a very, very rough past year – I had a bad injury and it took me almost half a year to get back on the bike. The harder was Stage 10 – I knew it was the last stage that could change things a lot. We arrived at the bivouac at 6pm and I studied the road book until midnight; I knew I had to stay strong for two more days and maybe, it would give me something back. It paid off and it’s so cool. This morning, I was racing, I was in a tunnel and I didn’t think. But now I’ve arrived at the finish and I’m starting to realise… maybe a little bit of crying. I hope this is the beginning.”
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