+ A
A -
Bisha (Saudi Arabia)
“We are looking at the finish line,” quipped Nasser Al Attiyah while making comments at the end of the 11th and penultimate stage of the Dakar Rally on Thursday.
The 51-year-old Qatari rally ace and British rider Sam Sunderland are just one safely-navigated stage away from celebrating victories in car and bike categories respectively.
Three-time Dakar winner Attiyah holds a 33-minute advantage over France’s nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb ahead of Friday’s final 164-kilometre special.
Having claimed a commanding lead right at the opening stage, Attiyah along with, his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel, has been controlling the rally. He also seems to have the rub of luck. On Thursday, Attiyah had dropped over four minutes to his nearest rival, Loeb, but ended up 39 second ahead after Bahrain Raid Xtreme driver was penalised five minutes for speeding in a controlled zone.
The 346km stage was won by Spanish veteran Carlos Sainz in his Audi hybrid.
It was the 41st career Dakar stage success for the 59-year-old, who is also a three-time winner of the race.
Attiyah, however, stressed that he would still prefer to play it safe on the final day. “To lose only four minutes or something to Seb, it’s nothing,” he said. “We are in a good way. Tomorrow is a shorter stage. We just need to continue like this on the same pace. It is very important to win this race. To control the Dakar is not easy, but I think we have a lot of experience now and we just need to manage the situation and to finish.”
Attiyah completed the stage with the eighth fastest time, 6 minute 42 seconds behind Sainz before getting promoted to seventh following Loeb’s punishment.
Elsewhere in the overall classification, Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al Rajhi and Michael Orr are virtually assured of the final spot on the podium, 28 minutes ahead of Orlando Terranova and Dani Oliveras Carreras.
Sunderland is tantalisingly close to winning the bikes title for a second time. In 2017 he became the first Briton to win any category of the gruelling rally.
The 32-year-old Dubai-based KTM rider holds a lead of almost seven minutes over Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla after he finished runner-up in Thursday’s stage behind 2021 champion Kevin Benavides of Argentina.
It is the sixth time that Sunderland has assumed the overall lead in this year’s event and he is experienced enough to not assume he already has the race won ahead of today’s final stage. The Briton only needs overnight leader Adrien van Beveren as a reference point of what can go wrong — the Frenchman got lost four kilometres into the stage and is now over 15 minutes off the pace.
“I’m feeling really good and looking forward to tomorrow,” said Sunderland. “The race is not done until you pass that chequered flag on the last stage. As we know, the navigation on this race is really difficult. It’s been really difficult this race because, as you saw, the times are so close every day. I’ll just try and have a clean stage tomorrow and hopefully we can get it done.”
copy short url   Copy