QATAR’S Nasser al-Attiyah closed in on a third Dakar Rally title on Sunday despite nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb taking the race’s sixth stage honours on the same stretch of sand where his 2018 challenge perished.
Al-Attiyah, the Dakar champion in 2011 and 2015, has an overall lead of 37min 43sec after taking his factory Toyota to second place on Sunday’s run from Arequipa to San Juan de Marcona.
“We did a great job all day long, but we made a blunder in the final 15 kilometres,” said al-Attiyah as he reflected on a navigational error when he missed a waypoint.
“We went down the wrong valley, and then it took us a long time to backtrack and get back on the right track. It cost us several minutes, but I’m still happy with our position.”
Loeb, behind the wheel of a private entry Peugeot, claimed his third stage win of this year’s Dakar and 13th of his career after reaching the finish more than two minutes ahead of the 48-year-old Qatari.
French driver Loeb also snatched second place in the overall standings from 13-time champion Stephane Peterhansel who finished almost 12 minutes behind al-Attiyah and the best part of 19 minutes back from Loeb.
“It went well, but we made mistakes. We saw Nasser make the same blunder, so we both lost two minutes,” said Loeb, who was relieved to survive the same run from Arequipa to San Juan de Marcona where he was forced to retire last year.
“We didn’t get stuck, we saw the hole where it happened last year, but we dodged the bullet.”
In the race for the motorcycling title, Chile’s Pablo Quintanilla on a Husqvarna claimed the stage and took the overall lead.
Quintanilla finished 1min 52sec ahead of Kevin Benavides of Argentina on a Honda and 4min 21sec in front of Austria’s KTM rider Matthias Walkner, the 2018 champion.
Quintanilla now leads previous overall leader Ricky Brabec of the US by 4min 38sec and Australia’s Toby Price who is 5min 17sec off the pace.
“It was a hard stage. I attacked from the beginning, caught Kevin and overtook him,” said Quintanilla.
The seventh stage on Monday was to take place in and around San Juan de Marcona.