Dakar Rally Stage 11: Sunderland eyes historic Brit motorcycle win, Peterhansel poised again over Loeb


JUST one more stage stands between Sam Sunderland and a piece of Dakar Rally history.

The KTM rider notched up a top five finish on Stage 11, the penultimate stage and final major test of the event, to maintain his overall lead. Should he win, he will become the first British rider to win Dakar.

Stephane Peterhansel also consolidated his overall lead despite getting beaten by Peugeot teammate Sebastien Loeb, Peterhansel poised to score an unprecedented 13th Dakar victory.

With the final competitive test a relatively short 64km sprint, Stage 11 marked the last major chance for contenders to take time out of the overall leaders.

The 292km competitive section from San Juan to Río Cuarto was split in two, the first half featuring the last sand dunes of Dakar 2017 while the second half, after a long neutralisation section, marked a return to the fast World Rally Championship style trails.

Sam Sunderland rides during Stage 11 of the Dakar Rally.

MOTORCYCLE CLASS

Joan Barreda took another stage win to bring his 2017 tally to four as another Dakar which slipped through Honda’s hands draws to a close.

The Spanish rider headed home teammate Paulo Goncalves for a team 1-2 on the stage, but both sit 44 and 52 minutes respectively behind Sunderland in the overall standings after the one hour penalties levied to Honda for a refuelling infraction on Stage 4.

“It will be difficult to recover all this time because tomorrow is mainly track,” Goncalves said. “All the way points are closed for the race so there is no navigation.

 “Maybe we can recover a few seconds or a few minutes, but I think that in a normal situation it is not enough to reach the podium.

“But, until the finish we will race and we will fight.”

Britain's Sam Sunderland rides his KTM motorbike during Stage 11.

KTM looks poised to stretch their Dakar winning streak to 16 editions. Sunderland leads by half an hour from teammate Matthias Walkner, with privateer rider Gerard Farres a couple of minutes further adrift in third.

“Victory is starting to creep into the mind a little bit and I’m trying to fight it away and stay focused on the job,” Sunderland said after finishing fifth.

“It’s not easy, you know. It’s hard to explain the things that go through your mind when you’re on the bike for twelve to fourteen hours a day on your own.

“You start to have all kinds of crazy thoughts. It’s not easy to keep them quiet and focus on the job. We’ve done a good job, the team have been great and I’m really happy.”

The remaining riders of our battered Australian contingent look poised to make it to the finish line in Buenos Aires.

Todd Smith ran third early on the preceding stage before a crash left him to limp to the finish, the Condobolin rider battling on to set the 36th quickest time through Stage 11. With a bit of luck, Smith could secure a top 20 overall finish.

Matt Hart has also battled a shoulder injury since an early-event crash, but has flown back into the top 50 overall after posting the 43rd fastest time on the penultimate test.

Sam Sunderland is poised for an historic Dakar win.

TOP 5 — Stage 11, San Juan to Río Cuarto

1. Joan Barreda (Honda)

2. Paulo Gonçalves (Honda)

3. Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha)

4. Gerard Farres (KTM)

5. Sam Sunderland (KTM)

36. Todd Smith (KTM)

43. Matt Hart (Husqvarna)

Joan Barreda Bort on his way to Stage 11 victory.

OVERALL STANDINGS after Stage 11

1. Sam Sunderland (KTM)

2. Matthias Walkner (KTM)

3. Gerard Farres (KTM)

4. Adrien Van Beveren (Yamaha)

5. Joan Barreda (Honda)

6. Paulo Gonçalves (Honda)

7. Pele Renet (Husqvarna)

8. Franco Caimi (Honda)

9. Holder Rodrigues (Yamaha)

10. Joaquim Rodrigues (Hero Speedbrain

19. Todd Smith (KTM)

44. Matt Hart (Husqvarna)

**Italics denote Australian riders

CAR CATEGORY

Peterhansel did just what he needed to do to stave off Loeb’s challenge for victory.

The reigning champion finished just 18 seconds behind his Peugeot teammate to ensure he holds a five minute lead heading into the final day.

“It was a big fight this morning with Seb,” Peterhansel said.

“We lost three minutes on the first part. I think he went on full attack. On the second part, I started first, but I stopped quickly because he was starting just four seconds behind me. But, a few kilometres later he got a puncture, so I took the opportunity to go on full attack for all the second part. In the end, it was a nice fight.

“It is really an honour for me to fight with Sébastien Loeb. I know that he’s really fast on WRC type track. He’s my team-mate and we have a lot of respect – the spirit is really good.

“Just before the last stage we smiled together and joked together so the team spirit is really good.”

Cyril Despres is half an hour adrift of the lead but poised to give Peugeot a 1-2-3 finish, with Nani Roma’s Toyota some 45 minutes behind the third of the French machines.

Peugeot's Sebastien Loeb overtakes Stephane Peterhansel.

TOP 5 — Stage 11, San Juan to Río Cuarto

1. Sebastien Loeb (Peugeot)

2. Stephane Peterhansel (Peugeot)

3. Orlando Terranova (Mini)

4. Giniel De Villiers (Toyota)

5. Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Mini)

Stephane Peterhansel, left, talks to Sebastien Loeb.

OVERALL STANDINGS after Stage 11

1. Stephane Peterhansel (Peugeot)

2. Sebastien Loeb (Peugeot)

3. Cyril Despres (Peugeot)

4. Nani Roma (Toyota)

5. Giniel De Villiers (Toyota)

6. Orlando Terranova (Mini)

7. Jakub Przygonski (Mini)

8. Romain Dumas (Peugeot)

9. Conrad Rautenbach (Toyota)

10. Mohammed Abu-Issa (Mini)

Source: www.news.com.au