BMW X-raid stage 7 report

X-RAID'S CHICHERIT AND PETERHANSEL CLIMB TO FOURTH AND FIFTH OVERALL AT HALF-WAY POINT OF DAKAR RALLY * French duo set second and fifth fastest times into Antofagasta * Novitskiy loses an hour and remains on track for rest day * Carlos Sainz...

X-RAID'S CHICHERIT AND PETERHANSEL CLIMB TO FOURTH AND FIFTH OVERALL AT HALF-WAY POINT OF DAKAR RALLY

* French duo set second and fifth fastest times into Antofagasta

* Novitskiy loses an hour and remains on track for rest day

* Carlos Sainz maintains overall lead; Al-Attiyah wins stage

ANTOFAGASTA (Chile): Team X-raid GmbH's Guerlain Chicherit and Stephane Peterhansel moved up to an unofficial fourth and fifth in the overall standings after the longest stage of the entire 2010 Dakar Rally, a 600km special between Iquique and Antofagasta in Chile, on Friday.

Former leader Peterhansel and Chicherit set the second and fifth fastest times on the varied special and benefited from delays for Carlos Sousa, Krzysztof Holowczyc and Robbie Gordon to move up the leader board heading into Saturday's rest day at Antofagasta. It was a second successive superb performance by Peterhansel after he had lost two hours on stage five with transmission problems.

Russia's Leonid Novitskiy and German co-driver Andreas Schulz were delayed after the 355km point in the third BMW X3 CC. They were running seventh on the stage through the 509km point and heading towards the finish in Antofagasta and on course to remain well inside the top 10.

The stage victory fell to Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, but his Spanish team-mate Carlos Sainz maintains an 11m 03s overall advantage in the 14-stage event.

Peterhansel admitted that he had been surprised to win the sixth stage, after starting from 14th on the road and losing a lot of time in other drivers' dust. "I am driving as fast as possible," said the Frenchman.

"We are now back into the top five and maybe we can go even higher. That is the challenge for the second week. I always thought that I would be fighting with (Ari) Vatanen for the record number of Dakar stage wins, but now I hear that (Vladimir) Tchagine is one behind (52 truck stage wins). It is not so important, but it would be nice to have the record."

Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah were locked in a duel for the fastest time on Friday's stage at the 79km point. The Qatari led the BMW driver by just 13 seconds, with Chicherit and Novitskiy running in eighth and 11th. Peterhansel extended his virtual stage lead to 2m 12s through 141km, as Chicherit climbed to sixth and Novitskiy maintained 11th.

The section was neutralised between 177km and 227km to enable crews to drive on an asphalt track around a nature reserve and the Frenchman had slipped to fifth behind Gordon, Miller, Sainz and Chicherit heading on to rockier terrain. Novitskiy was running in 11th.

The performance of the two leading BMWs and problems for Carlos Sousa meant that both Chicherit and Peterhansel had gained at least one position in the overall standings. They had even overtaken Krzysztof Holowczyc and a delayed Robbie Gordon in the overall rankings by the 355km point and moved into fourth and fifth overall, behind Sainz, Al-Attiyah and Miller.

Al-Attiyah managed to stay ahead of Peterhansel and his French co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret through the checks at 509km and 581km and claimed the outright stage win, with the X-raid's crew securing second position.

Tomorrow (Saturday) is the official rest day on the 2010 Dakar Rally in Antofagasta. It is also a crucial opportunity for crews to take a much-needed rest and for mechanics to carry out full repairs and crucial component changes on the cars without watching the clock and needing to finish in time for an early morning restart.

The rest day also marks the arrival of numerous guests, media and VIPs from Europe, all keen to share the atmosphere of this unique event on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

-source: x-raid

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Series Dakar
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Andreas Schulz , Jean-Paul Cottret , Carlos Sousa , Guerlain Chicherit , Krzysztof Holowczyc