Dakar Rally record 14-time champion Stephen Peterhansel was empowered to achieve success in the 10th on Wednesday as only a mechanical meltdown now appears to be between Nasser Al-Attiyah and the 2022 title.
The Qatari enters the final on Thursday, 32 minutes 40 seconds behind three-time winner France’s nine-time world rally champion Sebastian Loeb.
“The distance is too great and the race is no longer in our hands, but we are still stuck there,” said Loeb.
Despite his fugitive lead, al-Attiyah maintained the necessary caution for an event where victory could disappear as easily as a mirage in the desert of Saudi Arabia.
“We’re slowly getting there,” said the multilateral athlete who won bronze in the skeet shooting at the 2012 London Olympics.
“It’s not over yet, there are still two days left and it will be difficult to get a podium spot.”
Peter Hansel, known as ‘Mr Dakar’, won last year in 1991, three decades after his first victory on two wheels.
Peter Hansel, the only contestant to have won famous rallies in Africa, South America and Asia, was thrilled to take to the stage in his Audi hybrid.
“I don’t have to be a stage hunter, but every Audi driver has won the stage now, and that’s wonderful,” said the Frenchman.
“When Carlos (Sanz) became the first driver to win the Dakar stage in an electric car, it was a landmark, now we have confirmed that performance.”
Sainz had a double reason to celebrate for the second place Audi.
“This is good for the morale, at least not because it comes after the critical start of the rally,” Peterhansle said.
“We need to win in 2023. Failure is not an option.”
In the bike category, France’s Adrian van Bavaren reached the top of the rankings a day after Kevin Benavids’ untimely end of title defense.
Argentina’s 2021 champion came 133 km away in the stage when his KTM terminal suffered a breakdown. Benavids started the day in the fifth, 10 minutes and 22 seconds.
It was also a difficult day for another KTM rider, Matthias Walkner, who lost an overall lead to an hour-long quarter-time finish over Australian stage winner Toby Price with a navigational error.
Van Beaver, on Yamaha, was given a chance to make Benavids a success by finishing fourth in the three-and-a-half minutes to reclaim the bike ranking summit after a brief hiatus over the weekend.
With just two days left, he’s about six minutes away from Britain’s 2017 champion Sam Sunderland, his brother-in-law.
Sunderland reflects: “By all accounts, I’m glad I did well this year and I think it shows. I have led the race for seven days. Now we need to go out again tomorrow. “
Thursday’s 11th phase is a special 346km and Friday is the last day in the hills ahead of the short drive to the finish in Jeddah.