Bisha, Saudi Arabia - The Dakar Rally's record 14-time champion Stephane Peterhansel powered to stage 10 success on Wednesday as only a mechanical meltdown appeared to now stand between Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and the 2022 title.
The Qatari three-time winner heads into Thursday's penultimate stage 32min 40sec clear of France's nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb.
In the bike category France's Adrien Van Beveren moved to the top of the rankings after a day marked by the premature end of Kevin Benavides' title defence.
Peterhansel, known as 'Mr Dakar', won last year, three decades after his first victory on two wheels in 1991. The only competitor to win the famed rally in Africa, South America and Asia, Peterhansel was thrilled to land a stage in his Audi hybrid.
"I'm not necessarily a stage hunter, but each Audi driver has now won a stage, and that's fantastic," the Frenchman said. "When Carlos (Sainz) became the first driver to win a Dakar stage in an electric car, it was a milestone, now we confirmed that performance."
He added: "This is good for morale, not least because it comes after a complicated start to the rally. We need to win in 2023. Failure is not an option."
How are the South Africans doing?
Among the South African contenders, Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux driver Henk Lategan was the fourth fastest in stage 10, while team-mate Giniel de Villiers finished 15th. Century Racing team-mates Brian Baragwanath and Christiaan Visser ranked 20th and 22nd respectively, ahead of Toyota’s Shameer Variawa. In the overall rankings, Giniel slipped down to 6th place, while Shameer currently lies 14th. Visit IOL Motoring on Thursday morning for a full report from the Toyota Gazoo Racing outfit.
The bikes race
In the bikes race Argentina's 2021 champion Benavides came unstuck 133km into the stage when his KTM suffered a terminal breakdown. Benavides had started the day in fifth, 10min22sec adrift.
Another KTM rider, Matthias Walkner, had a troubling time too, losing the overall lead after finishing quarter of an hour behind stage winner Toby Price.
Van Beveren, on a Yamaha, gave his chances of succeeding Benavides a massive boost by finishing fourth, at three and a half minutes, to reclaim the bike rankings' summit after briefly holding sway at the weekend.
South Africa’s Aaron Mare came home 11th. In the Rally 2 class, Bradley Cox (KTM) finished ninth, while Charan Moore took 25th position.
With only two days to go he is almost six minutes clear of Briton's 2017 champion Sam Sunderland.