As a sixth title in the car category approaches, Stéphane Peterhansel did not take the slightest risk to reach Villa Carlos Paz. The race for stage victory was sumptuous, however, between the two Toyotas of Leeroy Poulter and Giniel De Villiers and the two Minis of Nasser Al Attiyah and Mikko Hirvonen. The latter picked up his first win on the Dakar in a tense finish. The scenario was similar in the bike category with the leader, Toby Price, focusing on control and Helder Rodrigues off the leash. The official Yamaha rider grabbed his first success of the 2016 vintage as well as fourth place in the overall ranking. As for Antoine Meo, third this morning, he was the day’s big loser. After a fall, 20 kilometres from the finishing line, he drops three places in the overall ranking.
What a race Leeroy Poulter, Giniel De Villiers, Nasser Al Attiyah and Mikko Hirvonen offered viewers and spectators today! The two Toyotas against the two Minis devoured the 481-kilometre special as if they were starving for victory. On a terrain that was more favourable to the qualities of their Toyota Hiluxes, the two South Africans did not need to be asked twice to step on the gas. Moving quickly into the lead, they then drove at a pace that only Nasser Al Attiyah was able to follow, at least to start with. The Qatari perhaps hoped to push De Villiers into making a mistake and as a result leave the way open for his team-mate Hirvonen, in fourth place, 5’23” behind the South African.
Although De Villiers slowed a little towards the end of the special to avoid falling into the Minis’ trap, there was still Leeroy Poulter to catch, who was driving like a bat out of hell on the road to victory. With Al Attiyah coming up just short, Hirvonen pulled out all the stops. Like in his pomp in the WRC, the Finn landed the knock-out blow in the last 20 kilometres to pick up his first rally-raid victory, ahead of his team-mate to give Mini a 1-2 finish. Nicely done!
The race was much less eventful for the leader of the overall ranking, Stéphane Peterhansel. His day, without belittling the Frenchman’s talent, was a stroll in the park. However, this is perfectly understandable less than 386 kilometres from a sixth triumph. Any other strategy would have been suicidal for his ambitions.
24 hours before the finish in Rosario “Mr. Dakar” and his Peugeot DKR 2008 now boast a lead of more than 40 minutes over Nasser Al Attiyah (Mini) and 1 hour and 7 minutes over Giniel De Villiers. Whilst the die seems to be cast for the title, Mikko Hirvonen, fourth and 4’27” from the podium, could have a chance of breaking into the top 3 over the 180 kilometres of the last rally. Keen gamblers will no doubt be already laying their bets…
In the bike category, there was no change in the race lead. Toby Price (KTM) enjoyed a trouble-free day on the way to Villa Carlos Paz. The stage victory went to Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha) who finally scored a success this year and climbs up to fourth place in the overall ranking. The prize for the worst luck went to Antoine Meo, who fell less than 20 kilometres from the finishing line. The Frenchman who had decided to sacrifice his third place in the general standings to escort Price, his team leader, lost more than 38 minutes and three places.
Helder Rodrigues (Yamaha), without a success to date, wanted to win and if possible take fifth place in the overall ranking from Kevin Benavides, who he trailed by only 5 minutes. On the attack from the start to the finish of the special, the official Yamaha rider perfectly achieved his goals. He was the clear winner, distancing the Honda rider by almost 8 minutes. He also took advantage of Antoine Meo’s mishaps and is now fourth, with a lead of 2’59” over Benavides.
Having ridden faultlessly until today, Antoine Meo came close to catastrophe on the special. Third this morning at the start, the Frenchman sacrificed his place on the podium in keeping with the team instructions to provide protection and assistance to Price. Unfortunately, he suffered a heavy fall less than 50 kilometres from the finishing line. With an injured hand, as well as other damage, he finished the stage slowly, 38 minutes behind the day’s winner.
In the overall ranking, Toby Price preserves his lead of more than 37 minutes over Stefan Svitko and 53 minutes over Pablo Quintanilla. If he wins tomorrow, Toby Price will be the first Australian rider to win the Dakar, and definitively enter into the rally’s history.