Peterhansel on track to win Dakar Rally with 2 stages left

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Stephane Peterhansel looks set to win a record-extending eighth Dakar Rally car title after holding off main rival Nasser Al-Attiyah again on the 10th stage in the Saudi Arabia desert on Wednesday.

The 55-year-old Frenchman conceded only 49 seconds to Al-Attiyah and remained 17 minutes ahead overall after the rally left Neom on the Red Sea and headed inland southeast to AlUla towards the finish on Friday in Jeddah.

Peterhansel is the most successful racer in Dakar history with 13 wins, six on a motorbike. To win his first car title since 2017, he recruited co-driver Edouard Boulanger, a navigation expert and former rider, and the two compatriots have hardly made a mistake. They have led for 10 straight days despite only one stage win.

“The navigation is designed to throw the drivers off track so it wasn’t easy,” Peterhansel said. “We didn’t get lost but we hesitated a lot. We lost very little time to Nasser and that’s what really matters. The tension goes up as soon as you start to hesitate so that’s when you need to stay as calm as possible.

“The pressure never goes away, from the moment you wake up until you go to bed. When you do well in a stage, you know it would be a real pity to see all that effort go down the drain.”

Local driver Yazeed Al Rajhi finished the 342-kilometer (213-mile) special stage on a shredded tire, and his second stage win of the rally lifted him to 15th overall. Al-Attiyah was second, Peterhansel third and defending champion Carlos Sainz fourth, losing another four minutes to finish more than an hour off the pace.

Motorbike leader Jose Ignacio Cornejo is out. The Chilean rider resumed after crashing less than 100 kilometers but lost time. At the time of the incident he had increased his overall lead to 16 minutes but he finished a minute behind the overall pace. A diagnosis of concussion means he cannot compete in the last two stages.

Ignacio Cornejo is on track for his best Dakar finish after top-10s in the last three editions, with a best of fourth last year.

Kevin Benavides of Argentina is the new overall leader, 51 seconds ahead of defending champion Ricky Brabec of the U.S. Former champ Sam Sunderland of Britain was almost 11 minutes off the pace and in a race for the final podium with Joan Barreda of Portugal, a further 14 minutes back.

Brabec earned his third stage win after leading for more than 200 kilometers, followed by Barreda.

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