The exhaustion - and the elation - can be seen on Carlos Sainz' face as he climbs out of the Peugeot for the last time at Cordoba after his second Dakar win. Picture: Andreas Stapff / Reuters

Cordoba, Argentina - Spanish veteran Carlos Sainz has won the Dakar Rally in Argentina as Peugeot bows out with its third consecutive win.

Peugeot’s works team, which won the previous two Dakars with Frenchman Stephane Peterhansel, had already announced its departure after the 2018 edition.

The victory, ahead of Qatar’s two times winner Nasser al-Attiyah and 2009 winner South African Giniel de Villiers in the Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Toyota Hiluxes, was Sainz's second in the grueling endurance race that switched to South America from Africa in 2009 for security reasons. The double world rally champion previously won in 2010 with Volkswagen.

Sainz had led the cars into the final stage with a 46 minute advantage over Al-Attiyah and took no risks after a marathon two weeks from Peru through Bolivia that have seen a spate of retirements and accidents. He finished ninth on the last stage, dropping three minutes to Al-Attiyah to take the overall win by 43 minutes.

Proud son 

He was immediately applauded by his son and namesake, the Renault Formula One driver.

“Today I am probably the proudest son of his father in the whole world. Winner of the toughest @dakar ever done in South America at 55 years of age (good number) and he did it in his own way,” said Sainz junior, who races with the number 55.

”We managed to do it,“ said Sainz. ”They (Peugeot) have already won two times, but I think I deserved this victory because we have put lot of effort into this car.

“I had ups and downs, but I always tried my best. Especially this rally, it has been so, so hard,” added Sainz, who left open the question of whether he would be back next year without Peugeot.

“At the beginning I said we’ll take it a little bit easier, but Peugeot said we’d have to go flat out. I raced a couple of days and pushed really hard, but then the race was a case of not making mistakes.”

Final countdown

The closing stage was a thriller, with just 8m08s separating De Villiers in third overall from Peugeot’s Stephane Peterhansel in fourth.

“We always knew that Stephane was going to push on the last stage, but making up eight minutes on such a fast WRC-style stage isn’t easy,” said De Villiers at the end of the stage near Villa Carlos Paz. “At the same time, we had to make sure we made no mistakes, and one slip could cost us the podium.”

De Villiers pushed hard to make sure he stayed clear of the hard-charging Frenchman. In the end, De Villiers did more than enough, not only staying ahead of the Peugeot, but winning the stage in the process, finishing 40 seconds ahead of Peterhansel to clinch third overall, while Al-Attiyah posted the third-fastest time of the day, just one second behind Peterhansel.

“It’s always special to win a stage on the Dakar, and this year we got a win right at the end,” said De Villiers.

Hennie de Klerk and the TreasuryOne Amarok were the first rookies home, in 28th overall. Picture: Machado de Melo / Dakar via motorsportmedia.co.za

South African Hennie de Klerk was elated, albeit totally exhausted, as he mounted the finishing ramp in Cordoba, the winner overall in the rookie standings.

The TreasuryOne team’s objective was simple - to reach the finish at Cordoba - but little did they know this would end up being recognised as one of the hardest Dakars ever - perhaps the toughest yet in the ten years the race has run in South America.

De Klerk avoided all the trouble so rife on Friday’s cruel thirteenth day to bring it home 28th overall, leaving only the WRC stage to realise that dream in Cordoba on Saturday afternoon.

He took it easy to the finish and duly parked the TreasuryOne Amarok with its Ford V8 engine (and Hilux headlight!) on the Dakar finishers podium to realise an incredible dream.

Forty-three of the 95 cars that started Dakar 2018 finished the race and only two of the 16 rookies made it.

“I’m lost for words,” De Klerk admitted. “We came here to finish and that’s what we did - the rookie win is a huge bonus. The Dakar has been an astounding experience - an absolute test of man and machine across the toughest roads and terrain in the world - and we made it!”

Motorcycles

Matthias Walkner and the KTM team celebrate his win, the Austrian bikemaker's first by an Austrian rider. Picture: Andreas Stapff / Reuters

Matthias Walkner, last year’s runner-up to British factory KTM team-mate Sam Sunderland, won the motorcycle category for his first Dakar triumph and KTM’s 17th in a row.

He finished the 14th and final stage a conservative eighth, 5m38s behind stage winner Kevin Benavides (Honda) to take the overall win by almost 17 minutes from the local hero.

Walkner’s KTM team-mate Toby Price, the winner in 2015, finished second for the day and third overall, 23 minutes behind the Austrian after two weeks of racing. Yet another KTM factory rider Antoine Meo, finished third on Stage 14 and fourth overall.

Laia Sanz posted her second-best Dakar result, 12th overall. She the been the top lady rider on every Dakar she has entered - six so far. Picture: Andreas Stapff / Reuters

Top lady rider Laia Sanz (KTM) finished Saturday’s Cordoba stage 11th, 11 minutes behind the leader, to retain her 12th position overall – her second best effort yet on the Dakar. She finished ninth overall in 2015 on a Montesa.

The only other woman to finish on two wheels (out of the four who started) was Dutch rider Mirjam Pol, also on a KTM, in 75th overall.

Leading South African rider David Thomas (Husqvarna) posted the 30th-fastest time on the short final stage, to claim 36th overall, 1hr44m14s off the winner, while Willem du Toit and Donovan van der Langeberg, each on a KTM, came in together (60th and 61st , one second apart, for the record) to be classified as 58th and 54th overall respectively.

And finally (literally) never-say-die Gerry van der Byl (KTM) who had been running last on the road for almost a week, but refused to give up even when almost 80 hours behind the leaders, was given the unusual tribute of being asked to open the final stage.

All but four of the other 84 survivors overtook him on the stage (he was classified 81st for the day - his best stage finish of the rally) and the record will show that he finished 85th out of 85 overall. But it will also show that he finished, and that 54 of the 139 riders who started the 2018 Dakar Rally did not - nd that makes him a winner in our book.

Russian Eduard Nikolaev won the truck category in a Kamaz for the second consecutive year and third time in total, while Chilean Ignacio Casale won the quad title for the second time.

IOL Motoring and Reuters

Results - Stage 14