RIYADH: Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah’s strategy of playing it safe saw him move a step closer to retaining his Dakar Rally title and his fifth in all following Tuesday’s ninth stage.
The 52-year-old Toyota driver finished 11min 8sec adrift of the stage winner, nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb.
However, the pressure further eased on Al-Attiyah as his closest pursuer overnight, the South driver African Henk Lategan, suffered a mechanical problem and lost 40 minutes.
Al-Attiyah holds a lead of 1hr 21min over another Toyota driver, Brazil’s Lucas Moraes, with Loeb a further 19min in arrears.
“Today we did a really good job without any mistakes, without any problems,” said Al-Attiyah, bidding to become the first back to back winner since ‘Mr Dakar’ Stephane Peterhansel in 2016/17.
“We need to take it day by day like this without any problems. We have a big gap now and I hope to finish and to win this Dakar.”
Three-time Dakar Rally car champion Carlos Sainz showed gritty determination in ordering a helicopter ambulance to turn around and return him to his stricken car.
The 60-year-old’s Audi came to grief just six kilometres into the stage and as a precaution he and his co-pilot Lucas Cruz were airlifted to hospital.
“The Spaniard wished to have a chance of resuming the race and demanded that the helicopter ambulance turn round and drop him back at his car,” race organizers Amaury Sport Organisation said in a statement.
The two-time world rally champion had lost all hope of a fourth title last Friday when a front wheel came off in an accident.
Despite suffering from chest pain as a result of the mishap he insisted on carrying on and started Tuesday’s stage languishing in 100th spot, over 29 hours in arrears of Al-Attiyah.