Red Bull: The stage is set for a grand finale at the Dakar Rally

Sébastien Loeb © DR

The 9,000km of the 2017 Dakar Rally is coming to a close with the Buenos Aires finish line now just three days away. With racing suspended on Wednesday due to raging thunderstorms and landslides we get back underway tomorrow as the Dakar convoy heads south through Argentina.

 

Dakar competitors were given the chance to recharge their batteries as they travelled the 675km between Salta and Chilecito over tarmac due to the cancelation of today’s stage. This gave the guys at the front of the race the chance to devise their tactics for the final few stages of the contest.

After coming through the marathon stage with his lead intact Sam Sunderland (GBR) is breaking new ground in his Dakar career having never previously made it to the second week of the race. The Red Bull KTM Factory Team rider currently enjoys a cushion of just over 20 minutes from Pablo Quintanilla (CHL) in second place. Sunderland’s team-mate Matthias Walkner (AUT) is another rider yet to cross the finish line at his previous Dakar attempts. The Austrian biker is currently fourth overall, 34m14s behind Sunderland, and has his sights set on a podium finish.

The gaps are tighter at the head of the car race with less than two minutes separating race leader Sébastien Loeb (FRA) and his Peugeot team-mate Stéphane Perterhansel (FRA). Monsieur Rally and Monsieur Dakar will go head-to-head once again on tomorrow’s 449km timed special stage between Chilecito and San Juan. Occupying the final podium spot is Cyril Despres (FRA), also of Team Peugeot Total, as the five-time Dakar bike race winner continues to impress on four wheels.

A bittersweet Stage Eight for Team Kamaz Master allowed them take the lead of the truck race but also saw Ayrat Mardeev (RUS), 2015 winner, lose time due to getting stuck in the sand. The new name at the top of the general classification is Dmitry Sotnikov (RUS) who leads his Kamaz team-mate Eduard Nikolaev (RUS) by 1m46s. Waiting for the chance to fight back on Stage Ten is defending truck race champion Gerard De Rooy (NDL). If you’re after late fireworks then keep your eyes on these big beasts going flat out for the final few days.

A win on Stage Eight of the quad category was a signal of intent from Ignacio Casale (CHL) as he brought race leader Sergey Karyakin (RUS) into sight. With three Dakar days remaining the Chilean in third overall is a little over ten minutes behind Karyakin.

When the Dakar gets back underway tomorrow expect soaring temperatures to play their part as the racers try to retrieve their rhythm. The navigational challenges that have been a trademark of this Dakar are also back with a vengeance on the route to San Juan. With Buenos Aires now less than 2,000km away every kilometre is crucial as the gaps between glory and agony begin to close.

Quotes
Sam Sunderland #14: “The organisers had made a nice stage today, and we’re racers so we want to race. But at the same time, in a situation like what has happened, the racing comes second. My thoughts are with the people, I don’t know the full details but I don’t think it’s so great. The result of this race will not be decided until the last kilometre. I’ll try and continue the way I have been and hopefully it all goes well. Even with the cancelled stages, it’s still been really hard. Really difficult navigation, physical riding – and not plain sailing on big wide open pieces, it’s been really technical.”

Sébastien Loeb #309: “When you see the difference between Stéphane (Perterhansel) and myself, it’s nothing – the strategy will be to attack and try to go fast. Tomorrow will not be an easy day, for sure, with a lot of navigation and us first on the road. We’ll try our best. At the moment I don’t think so much about it but I realise it’s only three days left, and tomorrow will be an important one – maybe a bit more tension for tomorrow. It’s a lot of offroad tomorrow so it will be difficult and we’ll have to go fast. It won’t be easy.”

Dmitry Sotnikov #513: “It has been a fast race so far with lots of navigation to pay attention to. It was good to get into the lead on Stage Eight because it showed we had done a good marathon stage. I did not celebrate though because I felt bad for my team-mate Ayrat (Mardeev) who lost time stuck in the sand. It showed the great team spirit we have when Anton (Shibalov) stopped to help the crew get moving again. Now there are more difficult stages to come and the final result is yet to be decided. We have a good atmosphere in the cab and we’re hoping to maintain that until the end.”

Christina Gaither – Red Bull,

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