JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Stephane Peterhansel managed Nasser Al-Attiyah on the last stage to win the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia on Friday, 30 years after he first won the world's toughest rally.
Peterhansel took a handy 15-minute lead into the 12th and final stage from Yanbu, and stuck close to Al-Attiyah, who gained only 40 seconds overall on the 200-kilometer (125-mile) special south to Jeddah, where the race began on Jan. 3.
The victory was the 14th for the Frenchman dubbed "Mr Dakar.” It was his record-extending eighth in a car, on a third different continent. They follow his record six victories on a motorbike, the first in 1991 when the race used to start in Paris and finish in Dakar, Senegal. He's 55 and still buzzed by competing and winning.
“It's still the same emotion for the 14th victory,” he said. "There are no easy victories on the Dakar. This one from the outside maybe looked easy, but it was not easy every day to manage the small gap over Nasser. There was a lot of pressure on the body. We felt every day that we had everything to lose.”
He led the race from stage two. From that day he was off the podium in a stage only once (a fourth), and paid tribute to the navigation skills of his new co-pilot Edouard Boulanger, another former motorbike race in the Dakar.
The closest Al-Attiyah got to Peterhansel overall in the second week was five minutes on Monday. He was undone by 16 punctures. The three-time champion from Qatar was runner-up for a fifth time and more disappointed than last year, when his Toyota also split the Minis of Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz.
“If you only have four fingers and not five fingers like everybody else, it does not help,” Al-Attiyah said. "We need to change the rule against the buggies because now the buggies have been winning for five years against the 4x4 cars. There is no question, it is not a fair rule. I hope the organizers will change it, otherwise we won’t be interested in coming.”
Sainz, the 2020 champion, won his third stage but finished an hour back in third overall.
Of note, two-time champ Nani Roma was fifth, 2009 champ Giniel de Villiers was eighth -- his 12th consecutive top 10 -- and five-time motorbike champ Cyril Despres was 10th in a Peugeot while gathering data for the development of a hydrogen-powered car.
The new motorbike champ was Kevin Benavides of Argentina, who finished only two minutes behind Honda teammate and stage winner Ricky Brabec and won the race by less than five minutes from Brabec, the defending champion from the U.S.
Benavides took over the lead of a gripping race only on Wednesday, the day after his younger brother Luciano crashed out. Benavides endured his own crash on stage five, hurting his head and ankle.
"I still have some pain, but at the moment I am more happy than in pain, so it's no problem,” he said.
"Where I won the race was today, in the last kilometers. You couldn't think of winning during this Dakar, you had to keep focused ... nothing else, because everything can change in one second. I am really proud to be the first South American winner.”
Benavides was second in his second Dakar in 2018 on home soil, and used the same bike as last year when his engine broke on the sixth stage and cost him four hours.
Sam Sunderland, the 2017 champ from Britain, started the stage second overall but went off course for 10 minutes and couldn't make it up. He finished third overall.
Others in the top 10 included Pablo Quintanilla of Chile who was seventh, his sixth top 10 in nine races, and 2018 champ Matthias Walkner of Austria, ninth.
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