Posted on January 20, 2018

Another day and another 523 kilometres of racing against the clock at the 2018 Dakar Rally. Even the fastest competitors in the car and truck divisions at the world’s toughest race were on the road for close to 12 hours on stage 12. Could anyone use this full day of Dakar competition to make their mark on the leaderboard?

Car race leader Carlos Sainz (ESP) awoke on Thursday to some welcome news as Dakar stewards decided to cancel the 10-minute penalty they had given him on Monday due to an incident with a quad biker. This increased the 2010 Dakar Rally champion’s overall lead to over an hour before the cars set off from Chilecito to San Juan. With an ample cushion at the front of the race Sainz was able to drive a tactically astute stage which saw him concede only 16 minutes to his nearest competitor and team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA). “We had a puncture and then we had some gearbox problems, but everything is fine because we’ve finished the stage which is the important thing. We were stuck in third gear at the end of the stage.” – Carlos Sainz.

The stage win went to Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT) as he duked it out with Peterhansel throughout the 523 kilometres of timed special stage. The victory moves Al-Attiyah two minutes closer to Peterhansel in second overall and helps put the Qatari one step closer to his 6th podium finish at the Dakar. “On the second part we tried to push, but just to keep third place overall. We finished today with two flat tyres.” – Nasser Al-Attiyah. Al-Attiyah’s Toyota team-mate Giniel De Villiers (ZAF) and MINI driver Kuba Przygonski (POL) were able to consolidate their overall position of 5th and 6th respectively. Meanwhile, the third Peugeot driver Cyril Despres (FRA) accompanied Sainz in a solid display of teamwork. “We're just going to try and drive the next two days cleanly, as quick as possible and we'll see what happens.” – Giniel De Villiers.

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Things are much, much tighter at the front of the truck race with no driver enjoying the kind of advantage Sainz has in the car contest. At the start of stage 12 leading trucker Federico Villagra (ARG) enjoyed a 16 minute gap between himself and Eduard Nikolaev (RUS) in second place. After 100 kilometres of the day’s special stage Villagra had increased his lead by another 30 minutes. However, late in the stage Villagra ran into some difficulties and Nikolaev was able to recoup his losses. In addition to this Villagra was handed a 15-minute time penalty for breaking the belt that limits the suspension travel of his truck. All this back and forth between Nikolaev and Villagra has left the truck division unbelievably poised after stage 12. Three-time Dakar winner Nikolaev has reclaimed the overall lead of the truck race, but the gap to Villagra is just one second with two stages remaining!

While the leads in the car and truck race expanded and contracted today, there was no such movement in the bike or quad contests. That's because stage 12 for these two categories was cancelled late last night due to safety concerns. With no racing today it’s still Matthias Walkner (AUT) of the Red Bull KTM Factory Team who holds first place, more than 30 minutes ahead of Kevin Benavides (ARG) in second. Then comes Walkner’s KTM team-mate Toby Price (AUS) a further six minutes behind. “My starting position for tomorrow is not so bad. Tomorrow looks like it will be another really hard day with lots of off-piste. I’ll try to do my best and we’ll see what happens.” – Matthias Walkner

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As well as Walkner and Price being on course for podium finishes there’s also plenty still to aim at for fellow KTM riders Antoine Méo (FRA) and Laia Sanz (ESP). Méo finished his first and only Dakar in 7th place overall and in his second attempt he’s in 5th place. And then there’s Sanz with a previous best of 9th, she’s in 12 place with two stages left and could break into the Top 10 once again. “It’s not great to have another cancelled stage because I would like to keep climbing the rankings, but also the stage looked really dangerous so I think it was better not to do it.” – Antoine Méo

The only position that quad biker Ignacio Casale (CHI) has any intention of finishing in is first place. It’s the spot he has held in the general rankings since winning the first stage from Lima to Pisco nearly two weeks ago. Casale has an advantage of 1h34m13s over Nicolás Cavigliasso (ARG) in second place with 489 kilometres still to be raced against clock. Tomorrow’s penultimate stage of the rally allows the Dakar convoy to glimpse the finish line. That’s because we’re off to Córdoba where the race will eventually end on Saturday. But before the chequered flag falls there are two days of intense racing to complete first.

The 40th edition of the Dakar Rally takes place from January 6 until January 20. Watch daily updates of all the action from South America at