Nasser Al-Attiyah showed there is still life in his bid to record a fourth Dakar Rally victory after winning the penultimate stage to reduce Stéphane Peterhansel’s lead by almost two minutes.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver, alongside his co-driver Mathieu Baumel, still trails Peterhansel by just over 15 minutes heading into Friday’s final stage but his latest stage victory over his French rival keeps him within realistic contention for the win.
Peterhansel is still the favorite for the overall victory, which would be his record-extending 14th career triumph on the classic rally raid.
His X-raid Mini JCW team-mate Carlos Sainz dropped another half a minute, leaving the defending Dakar winner more than an hour adrift of the lead.
Both Al-Attiyah and Peterhansel punctured during the stage, with the latter’s second coming after hitting a stray rock in the dune section towards the end of the test.
Al-Attiyah had to stop midway through the stage but recovered the lost time to go fastest.
The 212-mile timed section from Al-Ula to Yanbu was supposed to be the longest of the rally but event organizers reduced the stage distance by around 62 miles due to adverse weather conditions in the region.
Despite this, the stage described by Dakar director David Castera as ‘the toughest of the entire rally’ provided more than enough challenges for the leading runners with varied surfaces and difficult navigation ready to cause problems.
Yazeed Al Rajhi (Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux) opened the road courtesy of winning stage 10 on Wednesday and immediately felt the impact of a lack of tracks in front of him as he shipped over a minute by the first waypoint after just 25.4 miles.
Peterhansel was the quickest out of the blocks from third on the road and built a 42-second margin over Al-Attiyah who started in front of him. Al-Attiyah then moved back in front of Peterhansel by the time he’d reached waypoint three before losing nearly three minutes at the 133-mile marker.
Indeed, Al-Attiyah had fallen to fourth quickest on the stage as the impressive Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot 3008DKR of Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi and Xavier Panseri hit the front.
The up-and-down nature of the stage was reflected in the split times as Peterhansel dropped nearly two minutes between the final waypoint and the finish, allowing Al-Attiyah to maintain a glimmer of hope ahead of Friday’s 12th and final stage of the event.
Former Citroën WRC works driver Al Qassimi led the stage at the seventh waypoint but lost over five minutes before the final split and hit more trouble by the finish, ending up 14 minutes adrift of Al-Attiyah.
In the overall, Peterhansel holds a margin of 15m05s over Al-Attiyah with just the final 139-mile Yanbu-Jeddah test to run.
Sainz is 1h04m14s behind Peterhansel and over two-and-a-half minutes clear of Overdrive’s Jakub Przygónski.
Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s Nani Roma, who finished 14th on stage 11, remains fifth overall but is now just 10 minutes ahead of Al Qassimi.
X-raid’s Vladimir Vasilyev and TGR’s Giniel de Villiers are up next while Orlen Team’s Martin Prokop and Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot’s Cyril Desprès complete the top 10.
Lopez Contardo almost home and dry in SSV
Francisco Lopez Contardo will take an 18-minute lead into the final stage at the top of the SSV category after finishing second on stage 11 to Seth Quintero’s T3.1 OT3.
Quintero was a staggering 12 minutes clear of Lopez Contardo arriving in Yanbu, with Lopez Contardo’s nearest overall rival Austin Jones dropped eight minutes and only managed the sixth fastest time in his Monster Energy Can-Am.
Kris Meeke had been in contention for the stage win but shipped over five minutes to Quintero after the fifth waypoint, eventually ending up fifth fastest.
Quintero leads the way in the overall Lightweight Prototype class, 25 minutes clear of Jean-Remy Bergounhe, with Lionel Baud third. Meeke is still set to finish his maiden Dakar, albeit a full 76 hours behind.
Competing in the Dakar Experience – reserved for amateurs and newcomers who were unable to make it back to the bivouac in time to remain in the overall race – Cristina Gutierrez again showed strong pace in her Red Bull Off-Road Junior OT3, setting the fourth fastest T3 time.
Stage 11 (Al-Ula – Yanbu) result
1 Nasser Al-Attiyah/Mathieu Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) 4h34m24s
2 Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (X-raid Mini JCW) +1m56s
3 Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (X-raid Mini JCW) +2m26s
4 Yazeed Al Rajhi/Dirk von Zitzewitz (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +4m02s
5 Cyril Desprès/Mike Horn (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) + 8m31s
6 Wei Han/Min Liao (Quzhou Motorsport City Team) +10m56s
7 Giniel de Villiers/Alex Haro Bravo (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +13m30s
8 Vladimir Vasilyev/DmitroTsyro (X-raid Mini JCW) +14m30s
9 Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi/Xavier Panseri (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) +15m33s
10 Martin Prokop/Viktor Chytka (Orlen Team Ford) +15m37s
Overall classification after Stage 11
1 Peterhansel/Boulanger (X-raid Mini JCW) 42h09m26s
2 Al-Attiyah/Baumel (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +15m05s
3 Sainz/Cruz (X-raid Mini JCW) +1h04m14s
4 Przygónski/Gottschalk (Overdrive Racing Toyota) +2h32m24s
5 Roma/Winocq (Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter) +3h15m54s
6 Al Qassimi/ Panseri (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) +3m25m48s
7 Vasilyev/Tsyro (X-raid Mini JCW) +3h26m58s
8 de Villiers/Haro (Toyota Gazoo Racing) +3h55m02s
9 Prokop/ Chytka (Orlen Benzina Team Ford) +3h59m23s
10 Desprès/Horn (Abu Dhabi Racing Peugeot) +4h49m05s