Friday may not have been the thirteenth of the month, but it was Dakar’s thirteenth day and it wreaked havoc with leading competitors across the board. Mr Dakar, Stephane Peterhansel crashed his Peugeot early in the day to tumble down the field from his second position; then Bernhard ten Brinke, who had hardly just inherited third from Peterhansel, stopped when his Toyota suffered a mechanical failure, while Giniel de Villiers was slowed by a misfire on his Hilux.
The drama was not limited to the cars though, Californian Honda Rider Ricky Brabec’s machine caught fire, causing his exit from sixth in the bike race and local Argentine truck hero Federico Villagra stumbled from his fight for the truck lead when his Iveco ground to a halt in a dramatic day that fundamentally changed the face of the race, with just a 120km stage left to run to the finish in Cordoba Saturday.
The car race started with a scrap between Toyota trio ten Brinke, Al Attiyah, and de Villiers as Toyota privateer Alvares with SA navigator Rob Howie joined the scrap ahead of overall race leader Carlos Sainz’ Peugeot, with Peterhansel back in ninth and off the pace 7 minutes adrift. Then Peterhansel crashed his Peugeot heavily for the second time in four days and no sooner had the Toyotas moved up into second, third and fourth, ten Brinkes engine broke.
All of which left Al Attiyah to take an easy stage win from a delighted Villagra and Howie, with de Villiers third in a Toyota 1-2-3 ahead of the Minis of Mikko Hirvonen and Jakub Przygonski provisionally in fourth and fifth from Sainz in sixth. Sainz heads into the final day with a 46 minute lead over Al Attiyah, with de Villiers third, half an hour behind, with Peterhansel dropping to fourth, just 8 minutes behind de Villiers and ahead of Przygonski and Sheikh Rashiid Al Qassimi provisionally closing off the top six.
South African TreasuryOne Amarok privateers Hennie de Klerk and Gerhard Schutte meanwhile moved into the car rookie lead overnight and sat in 29th in Friday’s stage at the time of writing.
Brabec’s fiery demise left a four-way fight for second in the bike race as overall leader, Austrian rider Mattihas Walkner sat back to allow KTM teammates Toby Price and Antoine Meo fight it out with Honda’s Argentinian home hero Kevin Benavides on a Honda. Price took the day’s stage by two minutes from Benavides with Meo third from Walkner, who will go into the final day with a 21 minute lead over Benavides, who leads Price by 5 minutes and Meo not too far behind.
Of the South African motorcyclists, David Thomas brought his Husqvarna home a fine 26th, while Donovan van de Langeberg was still running in 48th, Willem du Toit 68th and Gerry van der Byl 84th.
Local hero Jeromias Gonzales to a popular quad victory on home sol as Ignacio Casale came home fourth to take an hour and a half lead into the short final fling, while Villagra’s demise in the trucks left Edoard Nikolaiev in a lead of almost four hours.
One would normally say that Saturday’s 120km last dance around Cordoba’s world championship rally stages to be a simple romp home, but after all the drama of Friday’s 13th stage of Dakar 2018, it seems nobody will be taking any chances before that fat lady sings.