LIMA, Peru – Nasser Al-Attiyah looks set to win the Dakar Rally again while Toby Price was the latest rider to take the motorbike lead after the eighth stage on Tuesday.
Apart from a slow puncture, Al-Attiyah stayed remarkably blunder-free again on the 360-kilometer, four-hour course from San Juan de Marcona north up the Peruvian coast to Pisco. He extended the lead he’s held for all but one day from 29 minutes to 46.
Barring a major mistake he hasn’t looked like making, the Qatari will win the world’s toughest rally for a third time on Thursday after taking the title in 2011 and 2015. He’s been runner-up three other times, including last year.
The man he regards as his biggest rival, 13-time champion Stephane Peterhansel, found trouble along with the likes of defending champion Carlos Sainz and Cyril Despres in the dunes of Ica. Peterhansel got stuck in the sand twice and lost half an hour, dropping him from second in the general standings to fourth, 53 minutes behind Al-Attiyah.
“Maybe there are other drivers that are faster, but our main target is Stephane,” Al-Attiyah said. “Now he is behind, so we’ll try to manage the next two days.”
Peterhansel can still fight for a podium place with Nani Roma and Sebastien Loeb, who are only seven minutes ahead of him. The rest of the dwindling field is more than an hour behind.
Loeb won the stage, his fourth of the rally, by seven minutes from Al-Attiyah. Loeb endured an early puncture but otherwise enjoyed a clean stage.
Price, who opened the motorbike race in sixth place and has stayed in touch with the leaders, finally bagged the lead almost by a process of elimination.
Overnight leader Ricky Brabec was out of the race after 56 kilometers when his Honda engine broke, the same fate he suffered last year.
Price led for most of the stage until near the end when he was overtaken by defending champion Matthias Walker, the stage winner, and Pablo Quintanilla, 45 seconds back in second. Nevertheless, Price, third on the stage, moved into the overall lead.
He won the Dakar at his second attempt in 2016 — the first Australian champion — and came to this Dakar having won his first cross-country rallies world title and the Morocco Rally. But, unlike Al-Attiyah, he has no breathing space here.
“Today, I knew it had to count,” Price said. “That was my maximum ... I can’t do any more. My wrist is on fire. There’s times when you can rest and when you can’t. You’ve just got to somehow shut (the pain) off. When you throw your helmet on you go and ride and just want to do the best you can, and do it all again.”
Quintanilla, chasing his first Dakar title, was only a minute behind, and defending champ Walkner and 2017 champ Sam Sunderland were six minutes back. Adrien van Beveren, who was second overnight, made navigation errors and fell to fifth but was less than 10 minutes behind. Nobody can afford a mistake.