Carlos Sainz sigue manteniendo a raya a Sébastien Loeb a falta de tres etapas para el final del Dakar

Carlos Sainz took another step towards winning his fourth Touareg in the ninth stage of the 2024 Dakar Rally. Despite his Audi holding strong at the front, well accompanied by his two teammates, Stéphane Peterhansel and Mattias Ekström, his motto remains the same. “Happy to finish another day,” he said as soon as he crossed the finish line, 4m14s behind the winner, Frenchman Sébastien Loeb. Prodrive’s contender closed the gap timidly and is now 20m33s behind the Madrid-born driver, one of his mentors and first teammates in the world of competition.
“I am satisfied considering that I opened the track for most of the day. In the end, it was stressful inside the car, the navigation was very difficult,” celebrated Sainz. When he took the lead at the beginning of the race, he already warned that his motto for this edition was going to be “game by game, day by day”. The 436-kilometer special between Hail and Al Ula started smoothly, with beautiful views between the highest valleys of Saudi Arabia, but presented competitors with a trap of invisible paths on sandy and rocky terrain in the final stretch.
The Spaniard was able to count on the support of the entire Audi team, who, at the start of the special, slowed down Mr. Dakar, Peterhansel, the rally driver with the most victories, so he could be right behind their great asset. “We are two cars prepared to help Carlos at all times, and in strategic terms, that is a great advantage,” said Peterhansel, a luxury teammate for Sainz. “The three cars were very close, I knew I had support behind me,” confirmed the leader. That allowed him to push without too much consideration, as he had plenty of spare wheels to puncture and get back on track in the blink of an eye.
He drove so fast that he caught up with Ekström, the other great figure of the Germans, with a more modest profile and unknown to the general public, at kilometer 280, and from there he took charge of setting the pace of the race. Behind him, Loeb pushed to the maximum once again, causing him two punctures that probably cost him a good few minutes to pressure Sainz. Nevertheless, he could boast of his fourth victory in this edition, with a time of 4h17m33s, and keep the chase alive. “Doing good navigation and pushing is the only thing we can do. We cannot think about what the others are doing,” declared the Frenchman. He has more than enough rhythm to bother his rival, although his great regret is that Nasser Al-Attiyah, his teammate, will not be able to help him after another mechanical failure. The Qatari, winner of the last two editions, left the bivouac without a word to the media, visibly annoyed, and left Loeb and the rest of the team to their own devices. Despite not being able to fight for the general classification, he had in his hands the opportunity to rejoin the race and play the same role that Peterhansel and Ekström play for Sainz.
Nevertheless, the Spanish and French, former teammates, friends, and legends, drew positive conclusions from the day. One will go to bed thinking that he is keeping his opponent at bay, while the other will be encouraged by the fact that his chances are still alive. They are right, and the Dakar Rally is still very much alive with three stages to go.
In the motorcycle category, Honda continued to show its strength with Frenchman Adrien Van Beveren’s victory (4h36m36s), the great French hope on two wheels since Cyril Despres’ last triumph more than a decade ago. Ricky Brabec finished 42 seconds behind his factory teammate in the special stage and extended his lead in the overall standings, where he enjoys a 6m58s advantage over Ross Branch (Hero). The Botswanan is the last rider resisting the golden-winged manufacturer’s exhibition, with three riders among the top four in the general classification and six stage wins so far in the rally.

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