Al-Attiyah on the attack, Despres on track in Dakar

With the ninth stage of the 2010 Dakar Rally now on the books and five stages remaining, there is a new threat to Carlos Sainz at the front of the field: no longer Stephane Peterhansel, but Sainz's Volkswagen Motorsport teammate, the 2008 FIA ...

With the ninth stage of the 2010 Dakar Rally now on the books and five stages remaining, there is a new threat to Carlos Sainz at the front of the field: no longer Stephane Peterhansel, but Sainz's Volkswagen Motorsport teammate, the 2008 FIA Cross-Country Rally champion, Nasser Al-Attiyah.

The Qatari rally specialist picked up his third stage win of 2010, and the sixth of his career, and more importantly made up nearly six minutes of his deficit to Sainz. Remarkably, Al-Attiyah's 5:59 margin of victory is the largest so far on this year's event, even though today's stage was shortened to 170 km, the shortest of the event.

"That was my stage," Al-Attiyah smiled. "Before the start we decided to attack. Loads of sand, several dune fields, some with camel grass -- I was able to make up a lot of time here. Now I trail my teammate Carlos Sainz by a good eight minutes after clawing back six. Because the forthcoming stages should also suit me I hope to be able to be in with a shout of taking overall victory."

Peterhansel had designs on another stage victory, to add to his career total of 54, but the French Dakar legend got his BMW X3 CC stuck in a rut amongst the camel grass near the 95-km mark of the stage. 'Peter' and his co-driver, Jean-Paul Cottret, worked furiously to free the stricken car from the sand, but lost some 18 minutes in the process.

"I made a mistake and we were stuck in a slow place," Peterhansel admitted. "I fell into a hole in the camel grass. It took a time to move the car very slowly. It was a day when it was easy to make mistakes. The difference to the top three is large and we are now relying on others to have problems."

The pair eventually finished the stage in sixth place, 17:26 behind Al-Attiyah's pace-setting time, and 11:27 behind Sainz. In spite of the extra loss of time he maintained his fourth position overall, but the gap to the Spaniard and the lead is now even larger, a seemingly insurmountable 2:13:52.

His teammate Guerlain Chicherit was able to crack the top four, finishing the stage just over 10 minutes behind Volkswagen's Qatari ace, but remains in fifth, behind Peterhansel.

At the front, the Volkswagen juggernaut looks invincible, with the top three Race Touaregs all more than one and a half hours ahead of Peterhansel. However, Sainz's lead is now somewhat less than comfortable at 8:36 over Al-Attiyah, as 'El Matador' looks to make up for last year's late accident that claimed his chance at a maiden Dakar victory.

"Not a simple stage, as you could lose time very easily," Sainz reflected after today's stage. "After around 40 or 50 km we had a puncture, which we changed quickly. Afterwards we overtook Peterhansel in the X-raid BMW who had got bogged down. From then on I was the lead car in the stage together with my co-driver Lucas Cruz -- this certainly wasn't an advantage."

Behind the works teams, the stage seems to have put a sad end to Krzysztof Holowczyc's Dakar: the Polish driver had been the top independent, having reached sixth place in his Nissan Overdrive pickup truck. However, he broke his rear axle in the rocky section near the 68-km mark, and has been unable to make repairs to enable him to continue.

In the Bike category, the times were very close; as the competitors started together in groups of 20, the navigation errors were far fewer than usual, and the gaps close.

Marc Coma took another stage win, but with race leader Cyril Despres just four seconds adrift on the day, the Spaniard was unable to make up ground, and remains over seven hours adrift. Even a podium position seems out of reach for the highly competitive Spaniard, who will have to fight hard -- and benefit from misfortunes of others -- just to break into the top ten.

Despres has one of the most comfortable leads of his Dakar career at 1:21:50 over Pal-Anders Ullevalseter, and looks to be on track for a third career Dakar victory, following wins in 2005 and 2007. However, the French veteran rider will still need to avoid major navigational errors and nurse his KTM bike to the finish.

The real fight is between two privateer drivers, with Francisco Lopez Contardo edging out Ullevalseter for third place on the day, but only by mere nine seconds. Ullevalseter holds a 3:41 edge in the standings, and looks good for a first-ever podium finish in the Dakar.

In the battle of the Dakar legends, while Peterhansel wasn't able to score a record-setting 55th stage victory, neither was Vladimir Chagin. The Russian desert ace finished just under five minutes behind his Kamaz teammate, Firdaus Kabirov, who scored a 31st career victory, no mean feat in itself. The 2005 and 2009 Dakar winner is still some 71 minutes behind Chagin, though.

Joseph Adua took a third place on the stage, but with nearly a 24-hour gap to Tchaguine, the French Iveco driver can only compete for stage victories now. The third-place man in the standings, finished an hour and ten minutes behind Kabirov, and now has an eight-hour deficit to Chagin.

Marcos Patronelli, the leader in the Quad category, finished third on the day, but lost only 14 seconds to his brother Alejandro, who trails him in the overall standings by nearly two and a half hours. Christophe Declerck, fourth in the standings, took the stage win by a margin of 1:33 over Alejandro Patronelli.

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Stéphane Peterhansel , Jean-Paul Cottret , Cyril Despres , Marc Coma , Guerlain Chicherit , Krzysztof Holowczyc , Firdaus Kabirov , Joseph Adua , Francisco Lopez , Marcos Patronelli , Lucas Cruz , Alejandro Patronelli , Christophe Declerck