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Dakar 2024: "Peter" hits the big Five-oooooooooh!

Dakar 2024: "Peter" hits the big Five-oooooooooh!

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The road to Al Duwadimi, which contained the first dune fields of this edition, set the riders and crews on a course to the geographical heart of Saudi Arabia. The dunes were not tough or numerous enough to shake up the standings; instead, the entrants had to put their navigational flair to good use to get out of one maze after another, in addition to marshalling their handling skills to overcome this 462 km long, globally fast special. Navigation happens to be the strong suit of Nacho Cornejo, who bagged his seventh career stage win, and Stéphane Peterhansel, who was once again off the charts with a performance that earned him his fiftieth car special!

OUTLINE

The tide of fate can turn in an instant in the Dakar, as we saw in stage 2. While Ross Branch managed to cling on to the overall lead, the other standout performer of yesterday's motorbike special will cry bitter tears tonight. Mason Klein running into mechanical trouble with his Kove seemed a matter of "when", not "if". Disaster struck at km 46, forcing the American to screech to a halt and spend two hours repairing his mount. His podium ambitions are dead and buried, but he remains in the race and could still pull a rabbit or two out of his hat on the road to Yanbu. Nacho Cornejo, no stranger to the places of honour, capitalised on his navigational acumen. Starting in third place, he soon linked up with Ricky Brabec and Ross Branch to form a well-oiled three-cog machine that crossed the finish line together and hoovered up the time bonuses at stake. The Chilean's seventh Dakar stage win propelled him to within 2′55″ of the Botswanan leader as the highest-ranked of the three Hondas near Branch. The tide went out even further in the car race, a day after many of the movers and shakers of the sport had a ghoulish experience in the first stage. Stéphane Peterhansel bounced back from his 32-minute loss yesterday to claim his fiftieth stage win (see "Performance of the day") and put himself back in contention. Meanwhile, Sébastien Loeb started the day 23 minutes behind Guillaume de Mevius, but his finish within 29 seconds of "Peter" catapulted him to 4′47″ from Carlos Sainz, the new sheriff in town. Experience carried the day, with Nasser Al Attiyah, also on the back foot yesterday, moving into more familiar reaches (seventh). The top 10 of the Ultimate class in Al Duwadimi features all the favourites, including the rising stars that shone yesterday, Seth Quintero (fourth) and Guillaume de Mevius (fifth).

The hierarchy is also starting to emerge in the Challenger class, where the Goczał family's three Taurus cars flexed their muscles. Eryk, still undefeated and still only 19, secured a new triumph and leads a Goczał whitewash on the provisional podium. Can-Am is back on top of the SSV race thanks to Gerard Farrés, who clinched the stage ahead of Xavier de Soultrait and is the new master of the overall, and the Portuguese João Ferreira, who came in third. Janus van Kasteren is still in control of the truck competition, but Aleš Loprais gave him a proper scare today by finishing within 6 seconds of the Dutchman.

PERFORMANCE OF THE DAY

The nickname "Monsieur Dakar" suits the multiple record holder to a T. Stéphane Peterhansel won 14 editions of the rally, sometimes on a motorbike and sometimes in a car, between 1991 and 2021, and today he added a new record to his collection with his fiftieth car special, on par with Ari Vatanen. Throughout his two ultra-prolific careers, the Frenchman has accumulated a total of 83 stage wins. He is also the joint record holder of the motorbike category together with Cyril Despres, with 33 apiece. The ultimate hunter is not one for statistics, but his performance today put smiles back on the faces of the Audi clan. Peterhansel, a fast, confident driver behind the wheel of the RS Q e-Tron, can go back on the offensive, not least because his teammate Carlos Sainz is perched at the top of the leader board and the third Audi driver is also firing on all cylinders (sixth overall). Everything seems to be falling into place for the German maker.

A CRUSHING BLOW

The motorbike title holder, Kevin Benavides, landed in the Start Camp at the end of a 2023 season that paled in comparison with his triumph last January. After the Dakar, a succession of three injuries kept him out of all the other rounds except the Sonora Rally, which turned into an excruciating ordeal. The two-time Dakar champion, who flew to Saudi Arabia a month after his latest fracture and with no recent competitive experience under his belt, stood eighth overall yesterday, over 15 minutes behind the leader. Today, the Albiceleste's repeated navigation errors relegated him to nineteenth place, almost 20 minutes back. Benavides now sits just outside the top 10, with a 23’50″ deficit to Ross Branch. The time lost during these two stages will be a heavy burden for the rest of his eighth Dakar.

Source: A.S.O. / Dakar Rally
Photo: A.S.O./Marcin Kin/DPPI

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