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Last day will tell

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Dakar 2020 rally will go down to the wire after scintilating penultimate day of racing

DRINKS BREAK: Driver Carlos Sainz, of Spain, drinks water during stage 11 of the Dakar Rally between Shubaytah and Haradth, Saudi Arabia, yesterday. Picture: AP Photo Bernat Armangue

Dakar Saudi Arabia delivered a scintillating penultimate day of racing to see the lead battles tighten up following the closest of finishes in both the car and bike races yesterday.

Stephane Peterhansel beat Nasser Al Attiyah to win the car race by just 10 seconds, as Attiyah cut Carlos Sainz’s overall lead in half, while third overall Peterhansel closed his gap to Attiyah down to all of five seconds.

It was just as good in the bikes, as Pablo Quintanilla fought off Matthias Walkner to take the day’s 374km race to Hradah by nine seconds, as he likewise slashed his deficit to overall bike race leader Ricky Brabec in half.

Thirteen-time Dakar winner on two and four wheels, Frenchman Peterhansel took eight minutes out of his Mini buggy teammate, Sainz to close that advantage down from 18 to just over 10 minutes with a significant 374 kilometres still to race to the finish at Qiddia today.

But Mr Dakar has a far bigger problem on his hands as Qatar’s 2019 Dakar winner Al Attiyah came home just 10 seconds behind him in his South African-built and run Toyota to be five seconds ahead of the Mini in the general standings after 11 days and 7 000km of racing.

Behind the duelling top three, Dutchman Bernhard Ten Brink ended fourth in another SA Hilux from Pole Jakub Przygonski (Mini AWD), South African hero Giniel de Villiers and Saudi hopes Yazeed and Al Rajhi in two more Hiluxes. Frenchman Mattieu Serradori in the SA-built Century-Corvette and Fernando Alonso’s fourth SA-run factory Hilux ended ninth and 10th, while Hennie de Klerk and Thomas Bell ended 27th and 31st in the two made in South African Red-Lined Nissan Navaras.

Overall behind Sainz, Peterhansel and Attiyah, Al Rajhi sits fourth from De Villiers and Ten Brinke.

Chilean Husqvarna rider Quintanilla charged out of the blocks yesterday morning, running further back on the road following a tough day in the saddle on Wednesday, but he had to fend off the attentions of Austrian KTM man Walkner. Wednesday’s winning Honda trio, Argentine Kevin Benavides, Californian Brabec and Spaniard Joan Barreda Bort meanwhile lost time as they cleared the road along with Botswana top privateer Ross Branch, while 2019 winner, Aussie Toby Price kept close to the leaders.

Quintanilla only just beat Walkner, with Luciano Benavides (KTM), Cornejo Florimo (Honda) and Price next and Kevin Benavides only ninth from Brabec, Branch and Barreda to see Quintanilla close Brabec’s 26 minute advantage down to under 14 minutes as Price and Walkner passed Barreda to move up to third and fourth overall too.

Day 2 winner Branch moved back up to 21st overall following his earlier troubles, while SA riders Kirsten Landman and Stuart Gregory were 65th and 72nd and Zimbabwe’s Graeme Sharp 81st, but Taye Perry was sadly stuck with bike trouble.

Chilean Lopez Contardo had a great run to take yesterday’s side-by-side race from Pole Maciej Domzala, Spanish duo Jesus Puras and Jose Antonio Hinojo Lopez and Zimbabwean Conrad Rautenbach. US driver Casey Currie meanwhile controlled his handy overall lead over Russian Sergei Kariakin and Contardo, with Rautenbach and Lopez split by mere seconds in fourth and fifth.

Pole Rafael Sonik took the quad stage from overall leader, Chilean Ignacio Casale, who takes a 21 minute lead into the final day over Frenchman Stefan Vitse and it was another unstoppable Russian Kamaz 1-2-3 in the truck race as Andrey Karginov consolidated his overall advantage with another win over Anton Shibalov teammates Dimitry Sotnikov, Anton Shibalov and Eduard Nikolaev in a crushing 1-2-3-4.

There remain a few mighty battles to settle as the brave men and women taking part in this epic race enter the final stretch today. Who will come out on top as the chequered flag is dropped later today?

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