Sainz pads Dakar Rally leader after rivals make wrong turns

(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

SHUBAYTAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) Dakar Rally leader Carlos Sainz took advantage of navigation mistakes by title rivals Nasser Al-Attiyah and Stephane Peterhansel to give himself breathing space on Wednesday.

Sainz started the 10th of 12 stages leading Al-Attiyah by only seconds, but by the end of the day he was back in charge by 18 minutes against Al-Attiyah and Mini teammate Peterhansel.

The stage from Haradh down to Shubaytah was supposed to be the rally's longest at 534 kilometers, but race organizers cut it short by just under 200 kilometers after strong winds picked up and medical resources were stretched. Crashes by driver Roman Starikovich (back) and biker Javier Gomez (broken femur) required both to be helicoptered to hospital.

When the rally was stopped, Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah had become lost and were just getting back on the right course.

"The navigation has been really tricky for the whole rally," Sainz said. "It was a tricky stage with a lot of cut-up dunes, but not big dunes - small dunes. We had a heavy landing in one of them. We damaged the car a little bit, but everything is so far, so good.

"I didn't really think the gap would be so big, but tomorrow is another day and the opposite could happen. If I get lost like what happened to the others today, or for me yesterday, you never know how it will finish."

Al-Attiyah didn't hide his disappointment but remained upbeat.

"It's still a long day tomorrow," he said. "Carlos will be opening and I'll be starting in 17th position. It's very difficult to put the pressure on but we need to do a good stage first of all. Nothing is over yet. There is still a long way tomorrow with 80 kilometers of sand dunes. Things will be difficult for everybody."

Peterhansel opened the way and took a wrong turn just 20 kilometers in. By the time he was back on track, Sainz had caught up to him.

Former Formula One champion Fernando Alonso rolled his car and broke his windscreen. Losing more than an hour dropped him from 10th overall to 14th.

Joan Barreda won the motorbikes stage only a minute ahead of Ricky Brabec. Kevin Benavides was third, giving Honda 1-2-3 on the podium.

By finishing second, Brabec increased his overall lead to 26 minutes over Pablo Quintanilla, 27 minutes over Barreda, and 28 minutes over defending champion Toby Price.

"We have two days left, two more sleeps, so I'm not going to get any hopes up yet, but we're going to do our best to finish the next two days," Brabec said. "We're not going to let the pressure affect us and let people get into our heads. I wouldn't say I'm having good luck, I'm just trying to stay smart and be focused."

The race finishes on Friday.

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Updated January 15, 2020

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