Dakar 2018’s twelfth and longest day turned out to be a car and truck stage only as the bike stage was canned due to adverse conditions on their route on Thursday.
The car race between Chilecito to San Juan, Argentina however proved to be an intriguing one as the top ten continually changed position through the early part of the stage.
Local hero Orlando Terranova’s Mini, French superhero, Mr. Dakar Stephane Peterhansel’s Peugeot, Dutch driver Bernhard Ten Brinke and Qatari Toyota teammate Nasser Al Attiyah all took turns at the race lead while Giniel de Villiers’ third Toyota and Mikko Hirvonen in a Mini also batted close to the front.
Peterhansel and Al Attiyah drew clear at the front as the stage wore on and it was Al Attiyah who ultimately emerged victorious to bring the South African Toyota team its second stage win on the trot and Attiyah’s twelfth stage win in total. He beat Peterhansel by 2 minutes, with de Villiers third from Terranova and ten Brinke.
Overall leader Carlos Sainz eased through the stage to end up ninth as he made sure to get to the finish with Peugeot wing man Cyril Despres in attendance. Sainz forfeited 18 minutes of his overall lead of more than an hour as he payed it very safe with teammate Stephane Peterhansel closing in to 44 minutes adrift in the overall rankings at the end of the day.
The Toyotas meanwhile continued in their fraught fight over the final overall podium step, with Al Attiyah 21 minutes behind Peterhansel and 12 minutes ahead of Ten Brinke, who in turn holds a 9 minute advantage over fifth placed de Villiers.
South African TreasuryOne rookies Hennie de Klerk and Gerhard Schutte were 29th at the mid-stage neutralisation point in their Ford V8-powered Amarok. Like most crews running further back in the race, they are fighting off the ravages of exhaustion into likely yet another 15-hour day at the wheel, but fully focussed on Saturday’s finish in Cordoba.
While the motorcycles did not race onThursday, there was none the less drama as two front runners withdrew from Dakar 2018 – Joan Barreda and Stefan Svitko both called it quits in Chilecito.
Friday’s penultimate 369km from San Juan to Cordoba is the last real racing stage across the dunes and fesh-fesh before taking to the roads of Argentina’s World Rally Championship roads, which will also be used for Saturday’s short last dance.