Monday’s seventh Dakar Rally stage comprised a 323km jaunt across the dunes around San Juan de Marcona already carved up from racing last week. The day started half an hour late to allow the fog to lift and it did not take long to strike deep, as second placed Sébastien Loeb stopped for 40 minutes due to an electrical issue on his Peugeot, while the third and fifth placed Minis of Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel and Spain's Nani Roma went on the attack ahead of Giniel de Villiers’ SA-built Toyota Hilux, with his race-leading teammate keeping a watching brief a safe distance adrift in fourth.
Peterhansel drove away at the front while Carlos Sainz moved up to third in his Mini ahead of de Villiers, Ten Brinke and a clearly cautious Al Attiyah, happy to allow his 42 minute overall lead over Peterhansel to gently erode. Peterhansel duly won the day from Roma, Sainz, Al Attiyah, Despres and de Villiers, while Loeb delivered a stunning drive to claw ten minutes back over Peterhansel through the day. Overall, Al Attiyah carries a 29 minute lead over Peterhansel with Roma, Loeb and Despres next up.
South Africa's Dakar crew of colour, rookies Shameer Variawa and Zaheer Bodhanya were meanwhile towed into Sunday's finish after 3am Monday morning. Their SVR Red Lined Nissan Navara crew worked some sort of miracle to get them back on the startline and they were rewarding the team's efforts with their best day so far, running sixth in class early on.
On two wheels, the day was also cruel to race leader Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna), who lost 20 minutes and his lead, while Californian Ricky Brabec took no prisoners to lead from the get-go on his Honda, leading the dicing Brit Sam Sunderland’s KTM, Adrien van Beveren’s Yamaha, Argentine Honda rider Kevin Benavides, Aussie Toby Price and Austrian Matthias Walkner’s KTMs. The Southern African bikers impressed once again with Ross Branch running 13th on his KTM and Kenny Gilbert not far behind with his Husqvarna at mid distance, while Original class racer Stuart Gregory (KTM) enjoying a steady ride.
Sunderland moved ahead around mid-distance to take the win from the surprising Chilean Jose Flormino’s Honda, Brabec, van Beveren, Luciano Benavides (KTM) and US rider Andrew Short (Husqvarna) to see Brabec back in the overall lead, six minutes ahead of Price, van Beveren, Sunderland, Quintanilla and Kevin Benavides, with the 5 all within ten minutes of Brabec to set up a thrilling last three days. Ross Branch meanwhile rode home to a fine 18th to retain his rookie bike lead and move up to 17th overall, while Gilbert came home 29th to sit 26th overall and fourth among the rookies.
Dominant Argentine quad leader Nicolas Cavigliasso enjoyed a tussle with Frenchman Alexandre Giroud, while like Attiyah in the cars, truck leader Russian Eduard Nikolaiev in his Kamaz kept a watching brief as the Ivecos of Argentine Federico Villagra and Sunday’s winner, Dutch driver Gerard de Rooy were still battling over Monday's lead. SA crew member Sean Berriman riding with German Mathias Behringer in a MAN sat 13th as we wrote.
Tuesday’s eighth of ten Dakar 2019 stages runs 360km up Peru’s desert coast from San Jan de Marcona to Pisco.
Image: De Villiers slips down a dune