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04 October 2023

Al Attiyah strikes back in Dakar second stage

Nasser Al Attiyah of Qatar jumps over a sand dune in his Hummer on stage two of the Dakar Rally from Santa Rosa to San Rafael on Monday in San Rafael, Argentina. (GETTY)


Qatar’s defending Dakar Rally car champion Nasser Al-Attiyah rebounded from losing 10 minutes on the first stage by taking Monday’s second stage here.

The 31-year-old - who had an engine problem with his Hummer in Sunday’s opener - beat Mini’s Stephane Peterhansel of France by 54 seconds in the 290km drive from Santa Rosa de la Pampa.

Peterhansel - a six-time Dakar motorcycling champion and three times in the car section - took the overall lead ahead of Al-Attiyah’s Hummer team-mate Robby Gordon of the United States.

Al Attiyah, who moved up to sixth, won despite his windscreen smashing and admitted that he needed to drive more carefully in the forthcoming stages.

“We broke the window, and it was very difficult because it took a lot of time to pass the other cars,” said the Qatari, who started in 38th position.

“I just said that we had to have a good strategy and show we were still in the race.

“However, we must be more clever.”

Peterhansel said that he had not found many opportunities to gain time on his rivals.

“The start of the special was fast, so it wasn’t possible to steal a march on any of the other drivers,” said the 46-year-old.

“We felt better at the end when it started to bump around a bit and get trickier around the dunes.”

Gordon cursed his luck at not taking the stage on what was his 43rd birthday.

“It was a good day for us, everything about the car was good,” said Gordon, whose best finish in the race was third in 2009.

“However, we hit a big rock and got a puncture and I reckon that, without that, we could have won the stage.”

Motorcycling champion Marc Coma had earlier won his 17th career stage in the race.

The Spaniard moved to the top of the standings after winning the 295km second stage which also saw him extend his lead over KTM team-mate and main rival Cyril Despres.

Despres finished second in the stage but was 1min 18sec in arrears of Coma.

First stage winner Francisco “Chaleco” Lopez of Chile was ahead at the first time marker but faded to finish fourth over two minutes behind Coma.

Coma said that he had enjoyed the initial tussle with Lopez.

“Chaleco and me were riding at top speed and let me tell you, the Aprilia is very, very quick,” said Coma.

“After that, we arrived at the second part of the special with sand and dunes. It was a lot more technical, with some navigation to do as well. I took the lead and kept riding at a good pace. I’m happy because I didn’t get lost. So, it’s been a good day for me!” added the 35-year-old.

Despres nevertheless experienced a better day than he had on Sunday - when he finished 13th - and the three-time champion is nearly three minutes adrift of Coma.

“The first special was a good warm-up and this second special has done my confidence good... It was a good day overall,” said the Frenchman.

One of Despres’ compatriots Bruno Da Costa was not so fortunate.

The 38-year-old Yamaha rider crashed into a cow - which was killed instantly - and was taken to hospital with what appeared to be a serious kidney injury.