This was the last genuine opportunity to make the difference and gain a place in the general standings for the competitors.
They had to be watchful on the first part of the special in which the dunes of San Juan had pride of place as well as a section of fesh-fesh that can cause major damage to racing hopes.
The quick tracks at the end of the special suited WRC experts down to the ground, but there was always the danger of getting carried away with speed and making a mistake the day before the finish…
Toby Price did his utmost to leave in his wake Kevin Benavides and especially his team-mate and rally leader Matthias Walkner. Though the Australian won his second consecutive stage, in the end he was unable to open up sufficient enough gaps to shake the order in the top 3 of the general standings, which are very unlikely to change before the finish tomorrow in Córdoba.
The classification is also virtually carved in stone in the quad category thanks to the 1 hour and 37 minute lead boasted by Ignacio Casale over Argentinean rookie Nicolás Cavigliasso. However, it was another local boy who shone today, with a second stage victory on the Dakar by Jeremías González.
In the car race, Nasser Al-Attiyah also improved his roll of honour, with a 31st stage win that puts him equal with no other than Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard did not push hard today and finished the special almost 20 minutes behind the winner, but more importantly at the top of the general standings.
It was an opportunity for lesser-known drivers to grab the spotlight, such as second placed finisher Lucio Álvarez, whilst Stéphane Peterhansel lost more than one hour and slid off the podium in the general standings due to crashing his 3008 into a tree, which broke his power steering. Bernhard ten Brinke will not climb onto the podium either, because he exited the race when his Toyota broke down, in the midst of a battle for the stage victory.
In the truck race, Eduard Nikolaev let the speed and reliability of his Kamaz do the talking to taste victory, finishing 50 seconds ahead of his team-mate Ayrat Mardeev. All the Russian now needs to do is to reach the finish in Córdoba to win his third Dakar rally.
Performance of the day
Johnny Aubert has every right to be satisfied with his return to the Dakar. For only his second participation following a solid debut in 2012 (when he finished 14th), the former enduro champion has accomplished an almost faultless performance.
The Gas Gas rider finished sixth on the way to Córdoba and occupies the same position in the general standings for the return to the Dakar of the small Spanish team, a result which the rider and team could hardly have dreamed of and which points to a promising future.
A crushing blow
Federico Villagra has every right to be bitter. The Argentinean driver had it all set to win his first Dakar in a truck the day before the finish in Córdoba, his home town.
This morning, he was second in the general standings, just one second behind Eduard Nikolaev.
The Iveco driver was leading the last special (and therefore the rally) when the gearbox on his Powestar started to show signs of weakness. After finishing the first part of the special at 40 kmph, Villagra and his crew finally decided to throw in the towel on the neutralised section, so near to their goal, yet so far…
Stat of the day
With only 120 km of special on the programme tomorrow, the chances of Kevin Benavides catching up with Matthias Walkner in the general standings and winning his first Dakar in front of a home crowd are very slim.
Without accidents or mistakes, and with a deficit of 22’31’’ to the Austrian, the official Honda rider will have to regain 12 seconds per kilometre on KTM No. 2 if he is to climb onto the highest step of the final podium.
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