Dakar minus grieving motorbike riders gives drivers problems

WADI AL-DAWASIR, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Carlos Sainz stayed in front at the Dakar Rally as the leading drivers struggled with navigation on Monday in the absence of the motorbike riders who cancelled their stage in homage to Paulo Goncalves.

Goncalves died on Sunday after crashing in the Saudi Arabia desert. The popular Portuguese was competing in his 13th Dakar. The motorbike and quad racers decided to cancel their stage.

The cars raced on, and Sainz opened the way cautiously without the benefit of motorbike tracks to judge the 477-kilometer loop around Wadi Al-Dawasir.

Sainz gradually fell off the pace, and lost time to title rivals Nasser Al-Attiyah and Stephane Peterhansel. But the Spaniard stayed in their dust trails and saw his lead over defending champion Al-Attiyah cut by more than three minutes to less than seven, and his 19-minute lead over 13-time winner Peterhansel down to 13.

There are four stages to go.

“It’s the first time we’ve driven without the bikes’ tracks and … the navigation is complicated when you have to follow a course in the dunes, there is always a tendency to deviate,” Peterhansel said. “On the hardest part, Nassar was out in front and we followed him. It’s impossible to go fast opening the way. The bikers give us a lot of help with the navigation.”

The eighth stage was a first-time win for French driver Mathieu Serradori, who became the first amateur to take a stage in 32 years. Serradori manages a company that specializes in electricity.

He rose to the occasion through the valleys and canyons in the last half of the stage.

Former Formula One champion Fernando Alonso achieved his best stage finish, second despite a puncture, and Orlando Terranova was third.

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