Nasser Al-Attiyah took over three minutes out of Stéphane Peterhansel’s Dakar Rally lead after claiming his fourth stage win on the 233-mile Sakaka-Neom test.
The closely fought eighth stage of the rally formed the second part of the Marathon Stage, in which competitors are not permitted any outside mechanical assistance. Having been held at a special parc fermé overnight, the cars were largely in the same condition as they finished Sunday’s seventh stage.
Al-Attiyah began the day trailing Peterhansel by almost eight minutes but dominated the stage in his Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux to cut the margin to 4m50s.
Peterhansel had extended his lead over Al-Attiyah in the first of the Marathon Stages on Sunday but admitted he was lucky to finish after breaking a rim against a rock which damaged his Mini JCW’s suspension.
Despite this, Peterhansel had been in contention for the stage win on the run to Neom and led Al-Attiyah at the midway point before dropping back.
Sandwiching the pair was Peterhansel’s X-raid team-mate and defending Dakar winner Carlos Sainz, 52 seconds adrift of Al-Attiyah.
Indeed, stage victory could have gone to any one of the leading contenders, with just 48s separating Al-Attiyah, Sainz and Peterhansel after 165 miles.
Sainz kept in touch with Al-Attiyah for the remaining 68 miles and himself brought the deficit to Peterhansel to under 40 minutes in the overall classification.
Stage seven winner Yazeed Al Rajhi endured a nightmare test after opening the road in his Overdrive Racing-run Toyota Hilux.
The Saudi driver, with Dirk von Zitzewitz by his side, was hampered by three punctures and came to a halt after the fifth waypoint, dropping nearly 50 minutes.
There was also yet more disappointment for Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena aboard the Prodrive-run Bahrain Raid Xtreme 4×4. Loeb, who after breaking a wheel bearing during Sunday’s seventh stage shipped nearly half an hour before the second waypoint of stage eight and reported that the BRX1 Hunter lost a brake calliper and was down to just one cylinder. The nine-time World Rally Champions have just one spare tire left as they bid to make it back to the bivouac.
The battle for fourth on the stage went down to the wire between Abu Dhabi Racing team-mates Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi and Cyril Desprès, with Al Qassimi coming out on top. Both had clean stages in their Peugeot 3008DKRs, with Desprès backing up his strong fifth fastest time on stage seven with another impressive performance.
Jakub Przygónski was sixth quickest behind the two Peugeots in his Overdrive-run Hilux and ahead of TGR’s Shameer Variawa who put in his best stage of the event so far in seventh.
Przygónski remains fourth overall, ahead of Nani Roma who lost his way at two waypoints and X-raid Team’s Vladimir Vasilyev who finished eighth quickest on the stage.
Austin Jones has taken the T4 class lead in the SSV category after mechanical dramas for Aron Domzala before the opening waypoint. The Pole dropped over 36 minutes to stage winner Francisco Lopez Contardo, who was declared the winner of stage seven despite losing 45 minutes. The stewards reinstated Lopez Contardo’s time as the South Racing Can-Am driver stopped to help a motorbike rider who had crashed on the stage.
Lopez Contardo is now 19 minutes adrift of Jones, who was fifth fastest on the Sakaka-Neom stage.
Seth Quintero was again the fastest in the T3 category and maintains a healthy lead in the overall class standings.
His Red Bull Off-Road Junior team-mate Cristina Gutierrez has been forced out of the event after suffering a gearbox failure while on the liaison route before the start of the stage. Quintero’s nearest T3 rival is Josef Machacek, over four hours behind.
Stage 8 (Sakaka – Neom) result
1 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) 2h56m56s
2 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (X-raid Mini JCW) +52s
3 Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (X-raid Mini JCW) +3m03s
4 Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi/Xavier Panseri (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) +12m44s
5 Cyril Despres/Mike Horn (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) +12m49s
6 Jakub Przygónski/Timo Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +18m23s
7 Shameer Variawa/Dennis Murphy (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +18m51s
8 Vladimir Vasilyev/Dmitro Tsyro (X-raid Mini JCW) +19m05s
9 Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Orlen Benzina Team Ford) +21m37s
10 Christian Lavieille/Jean-Pierre Garcin (MD Rally Sport Optimus) +22m06s
Overall classification after Stage 8
1 Peterhansel/Boulanger (X-raid Mini JCW) 29h36m49ss
2 Al-Attiyah/Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +4m50s
3 Sainz/Cruz (X-raid Mini JCW) +38m55s
4 Przygónski/Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +1h38m08s
5 Nani Roma/Alex Winocq (Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter) +2h30m29s
6 Vasilyev/Tsyro (X-raid Mini JCW) +2h42m00s
7 Al Qassimi/Panseri (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) +2h45m33s
8 Prokop/Chytka (Orlen Benzina Team Ford) +3h18m24s
9 Giniel de Villiers/Alex Haro (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +3h26m50s
10 Lavieille/Garcin (MD Rally Sport Optimus) +3h41m57s