There were no cheating or big differences in the second part of the Rub’ al Khali desert marathon. The favorites tamed the beautiful soft dunes of south-eastern Saudi Arabia for one more day to maintain the status quo in qualifying. There were changes, one more day, at the front of the motorcycle race, due to the minimum distances between the dominators of the general classification. Toby Price (KTM) reaches the penultimate stage as leader of the standings ahead of Skyler Howes (Husqvarna), who dropped almost a minute behind the Australian, benefiting from bonuses for opening the track.
Saturday’s stage between Shaybah and Al-Hofuf, with 153 km and more dunes on the menu for the day, will be the last chance to try to hit the table. Separated by less than three minutes, the first three in the general are committed to maintaining their line in this Dakar Rally. Price’s has been the perseverance, while Howes and Kevin Benavides (Honda, +2m40s) have scratched many minutes in some days of inspiration. Those who persecute them in the general are not ruled out. José Ignacio Cornejo (Honda), winner of the twelfth stage with a time of 1h57m27s and eighth in the standings, is 23m14s behind and still has room to deliver a master stroke. The same applies to Sanders, Luciano Benavides, Van Beveren or Quintanilla, all well trained and equipped to succeed.
“The empty quadrant has been as they had said. A lot of sand and a lot of nothing out there,” Price said. Too much nothing, so much that there have been no shakes in the general. Tomorrow, everyone will push to the maximum, since the first classified will start in reverse order in the final stage. “It will be fun,” warns Sanders, somewhat lagging behind and with discomfort in his arm from a stone embedded in his skin. “The idea is to push as hard as possible and see where we are,” Howes predicted. Lorenzo Santolino (Sherco), 18th on the stage and best Spanish in the standings, aspires to sneak into the top ten on Sunday in Dammam. He is eleventh (1h02m22s) and has Mason Klein less than ten minutes behind: “It was fun to drive in these dunes, today with a more relaxed ride. When there are traces you can better anticipate where you are going ”.
Loeb equals a Vatanen record
Round day for Sébastien Loeb, who achieved his fifth consecutive victory, his sixth in this edition, and was second overall. The Finn Ari Vatanen, the driver with the most stage victories in car history (50), had so far been the only one capable of chaining five consecutive victories. It was more than three decades ago, in 1989. Despite the data, the Frenchman from the BRX cannot smile as much as he would like, since Nasser Al-Attiyah, the unwavering leader, once again kept his Toyota and is already caressing his fifth Dakar. . Third in the stage, 3m31s behind the winner, the Qatari maintains a comfortable margin of almost an hour and a half in command of the table and knows that he only needs to reach Dammam.
Lucas Moraes, a rookie in the test and teammate of the leader, dropped 11m38s in the soft dunes, a terrain where he already recognized that he still lacks a lot of experience. If nothing extraordinary happens to him on Saturday, the 32-year-old Brazilian will complete the podium at the finish line along with the two aces of the category, devoid of emotion since the first and devastating week of this edition. With the Audis of Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel knocked out, plus Yazeed Al Rhaji having trouble with his Toyota, the race lost all excitement, but allowed Loeb, the early favorite to be discarded, to find the incentive to push for second. The rally, very hard in the first week and soft as the Rub’ al Khali dunes in the second, has two days left to finish. At this point, the only unknown is knowing who will reign on two wheels.
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