Defending champion Nasser AA Attiyah’s rollercoaster Dakar Rally took another twist on Saturday when he clinched the seventh stage, two days after a broken radiator dealt a potential hammer blow to his hopes.
The Qatari took his Hummer to a second stage win on this year’s gruelling event, crossing the line 7min 30sec ahead of American teammate Robby Gordon.
Al Attiyah had lost 20 minutes on Thursday when the spare wheel on his vehicle came loose, damaged the radiator and caused the engine to overheat.
On the first stage, Al Attiyah had lost almost 10 minutes because of mechanical trouble before bouncing back to claim the second stage.
Overall leader Stephane Peterhansel, a six-time winner in the motorcycle section and a triple champion on four wheels, finished third on Saturday in his Mini, 7min 53sec off the lead.
Fellow Mini driver Krzysztof Holowczyc of Poland was fourth, 14min 57sec behind al-Attiyah which allowed Peterhansel to extend his overall lead to 11min 22sec.
“The car worked perfectly well today and we attacked from the beginning to the end of the special,” said the Qatari, who began the day down in eighth place overall and more than 50 minutes behind Peterhansel.
“We took a lot of risks to set the best time. Our objective is to claw back seven or eight minutes every day. And today we did it perfectly. We will do our best to repeat this performance in all stages from Monday onwards, or even try to do better.
“At any rate, we have no other choice if we still want to win the Dakar.”
Spain’s Marc Coma, riding a KTM, won the seventh stage of the motorcycle event ahead of French teammate Cyril Despres who held onto the overall lead.
Coma covered the course in and around Copiapo in 3hr 51min 35sec, two minutes and three seconds ahead of Despres.
“It’s common knowledge that the stage before the rest day is always difficult, and today was not an exception, with stifling heat and very soft sand,” said Coma.
“Nevertheless, we rode very fast and I was able to attack. I gained two minutes on Cyril but that is obviously not enough.”
Despres was critical of his own performance.
“I was a bit lazy today, since Marc led the race from 200km onwards, the start of the second special, but I think that is also part of the race,” he said.
“I finished with my hands paralysed, but it was a really beautiful special with beautiful dunes.”
Portugal’s Paulo Goncalves, on a Husqvarna, completed the top three on the first Chilean stage of this year’s race, 2min 49sec off the pace.
Despres goes into Sunday’s rest day with a 7min 48sec lead over Coma in the overall motorcycling standings.
Chilean rider Francisco Lopez pulled out of the race on Saturday after falling off his Aprilia.
Lopez, who was in ninth place overall and had won the first stage, tore ligaments in his right knee in the incident which happened at the first checkpoint.
Despite the pain, the 36-year-old still managed to complete the stage.