The Stage 7 of the Dakar Rally on Sunday proved to be a great day for Saudi drivers, as Yazeed Al-Rajhi overcame the X-raid Mini of Stephane Peterhansel to claim a maiden stage win in the Rally, while, Saleh Al-Saif took his second win of the season.
The Saudi started in 12th position and consistently gained ground until he took control of the race at km 316. Reinaldo Varela and Michał Goczał came in over two minutes down.
Yazeed Al Rajhi along with co-driver Dirk Von Zitzewitz of the Overdrive Toyota team put on a stellar show coming within top three on a second consecutive stage.
The duo snatched the lead from Peterhansel with only around 50km remaining and held it till the end to take their first stage victory in the 2021 Dakar with a time of 04:21:59 hours.
The Saudi driver has been on the hunt for stage wins since he was knocked out of contention for the title during the first week. On Sunday, he claimed the second stage of his career.
Commenting on his win, he said: "It was a nice stage. We did our best, although we suffered two punctures. We still managed to push hard and we were motivated because we were level with Carlos when we had a flat tire after 40 kilometers. Navigating wasn't too hard for us. Now, I just want to do well every day, that's our goal."
Peterhansel and co-driver Edouard Boulanger of the X-Raid Mini JCW team finished in P2, 48 seconds slower than Al Rajhi. Completing the stage in third position was Carlos Sainz, who yet again finished in the top three after a brilliant Stage 6 performance.
With just five stages to run in Dakar, 13-time winner Peterhansel leads the cars category by an extended margin of 7m53s from Nasser Al-Attiyah, despite failing to register a stage win so far.
"Peter" padded his lead over Al-Attiyah in the general standings but missed the opportunity to deal far more damage.
"I hit a rock with 40 km to go and broke a rim. We spent a long time changing the wheel, it was quite hard. It's a pity because we were going quite fast at the intermediate time checks and we could have put more time into our rivals today, but we let the opportunity slip away."
Bahrain Raid Xtreme drivers Sebastien Loeb and Nani Roma, leaving Hail, had 737km of driving; 284km of road and 453km of special stage, making their way to Sakaka.
Roma added another strong performance to his run of Dakar Rally 2021 stages, again showing the speed of the Hunter and finishing in Sakaka in 10th, with a time of 04:44:52, +22:53 behind the leader. The Spaniard is currently 5th overall, +1:59:00 behind the leader.
Roma said: “The stage was not easy in the beginning; the sand was super soft in areas, so the fuel consumption was high. There was some tricky navigation and a puncture to deal with.
“But things are positive, the car is in good shape, and we are ready for the mountain stage. Alex and I are going to spend time working on the car and prepare everything for tomorrow.”
Loeb bounced back after a challenging day during stage six, again showing the skill that has made him so synonyms with rally driving. However, 30km from the finish, a mechanical issue forced Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena to stop to make repairs, costing the pair time.
Arriving in Sakaka after 06:12:29 of driving, the No. 305 Hunter finished the day in 42nd, +1:50:40 behind the leader. This leaves Loeb in 41st, with an overall rally time of 40:09:18, +13:32:28 behind the leader.
Loeb said: “It was another complicated day for us. We started with a good rhythm, but the start of the stage had some rough terrain, and we got a puncture and then damage to our jack, so we had to hope we didn’t get any more punctures.
“After that we were going well until the end of the stage, when we broke a wheel bearing, so had to stop and make repairs. But we completed the first part of the marathon stage, we will work on the car, and be ready to go again tomorrow.”
The winner of the prologue, Ricky Brabec, had not finished on the podium since his second place in stage 2, but the defending champion struck back Sunday by beating Ignacio Cornejo by 2'07' and Skyler Howes by 2'19'. Sam Sunderland came in fourth place, just under three minutes down.
A dramatic turn of events at the Dakar saw Kevin Benavides going from challenging for the stage win to accumulating a deficit of more than 10 minutes with about 50 kilometers to go. Toby Price is just under four minutes behind the leader. Xavier De Soultrait made hay of the situation and moved up to second place!
A single second separates Nacho Cornejo and Toby Price at the end of stage 7. Sam Sunderland put in a strong finish to come in third at 2'11' and Xavier De Soultrait finished 2'34' back. Just over 2'30' separated the top 4 men. The second week looks very promising!
In the truck category, Dmitry Sotnikov posted the fastest time in Sunday's special to claim his fifth stage win this year by 3'23' over teammate Ayrat Mardeev. Anton Shibalov lost ground again after finishing 8'22' back.
In the Quad category, Nicolás Cavigliasso's clutch broke down with less than 100 km to go. The Argentinian sought aid from another competitor before signaling his intent to withdraw. A massive disappointment for the 2019 champion, who started today's stage in the overall lead!
The organizers and contestants of the Dakar were shocked and saddened at stage 7 by the news of the death of one of the most iconic faces in the rally.
Hubert Auriol had won the Dakar three times, first on a motorbike (1981 and 1983) and then in a car (1992), and served as race director for almost a decade.
He inspired generations of riders and drivers and has been an integral part of the rally throughout its history.
Peterhansel led the tributes to Dakar Rally legend Auriol after the death on Sunday of the first person to win the race in car and on bike.
Peterhansel honored Auriol after the seventh stage of this year's rally. News of the death of the man nicknamed 'The African', aged 68 and after a long battle with heart disease, filtered through during Sunday's stage.