Qatari driver Nasser Al Attiyah took the overall race lead after winning the eighth stage of the Dakar Rally, a 508km special on a 776km run through the Atacama desert from Antofagasta to Copiapo in Chile on Monday.
The Volkswagen driver, runner-up last year, finished 6 minutes 36 seconds ahead of teammate and defending champion Carlos Sainz from whom he takes the overall race lead following a battle through the lunar landscape of one of the driest places on earth.
Al Attiyah - who also won Sunday’s stage - now leads the Spaniard by 5 minutes 14 seconds in the overall standings.
“I can control the race now,” warned the Qatari driver.
“It was a difficult stage because I was opening all the way, but the dunes are my favourite terrain and I was really pushing to the limit.
“In the last section of dunes we were pushing at a maximum because that was where we had to take the time from Sainz.”
France’s Stephane Peterhansel however lost all chance of winning a tenth Dakar title with his BMW overheating as he also suffered the eighth puncture of this year’s race leaving him nearly an hour off the pace.
In the motorcycle section, overall race leader Marc Coma of Spain rode to victory in the 508km special on a 776km run, finishing 1min 55sec ahead of French KTM teammate and defending champion Cyril Despres, who is second overall 9 minutes 19 seconds behind the Spaniard.
“It was a hard stage and very long with plenty of mileage and dunes,” said Coma after his third stage victory in this year’s race put him closer to a third Dakar title.
“I was happy about the pace today. It was a good stage after a complicated one yesterday. But in the end, everything turned out fine.”