La Serena, Chile: Stephane Peterhansel was set to be crowned Dakar Rally champion for an 11th time on Saturday while French compatriot Cyril Despres was poised to wrap up a fifth motorcycling crown on the day’s final stage.
Defending champion Peterhansel, a four-time auto winner and a six-time victor on two wheels, was due to tackle Saturday’s short, 128km timed run into Santiago with a 44 minutes 38 seconds lead over South Africa’s Toyota driver Giniel De Villiers.
On Friday’s penultimate 441km stage from Copiapo — the longest of the two-week, 8,000km event — Peterhansel finished in ninth place.
“We had to get through this stage without any problems, so there was a lot of stress in the car, first when we were crossing the first dunes,” said Peterhansel.
“We didn’t take any risks at all and we only lost a few minutes, but we managed to protect our lead this way. We know how it goes: something could still happen right up until you cross the finishing line.
“Even if it’s a small special, we still have to get it over and done with.”
American NASCAR driver Robby Gordon claimed the stage honours in his Hummer with his 3 hours 40 minutes 53 seconds time good enough for a 22-second advantage over France’s Guerlain Chicherit in an SMG. Chile’s Orlando Terranova, in a BMW, was third.
Despres virtually wrapped up a fifth motorcycling title when he finished second on the stage to open an overall lead of over eight minutes.
The 38-year-old, the champion in 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2012, was 5 minutes 25 seconds behind Chile’s Francisco Lopez who hasn’t given up hope of catching his rival on home turf.
With KTM teammate, and overnight title rival, Ruben Faria slipping into third in the standings, Despres will go into Saturday’s final dash into the Chilean capital with an 8 minute 15 second overall lead over Lopez.
“The bike race isn’t just about strategy. It’s also about rally-raid sport: we’ve just rode 440 km and I was feeling good on the first section,” said Despres.
“Afterwards, I saw that I’d got some time back on Francisco and that he wasn’t going to disappear into the distance over 140km. So I thought I had better be careful with the engine.
“Since I ate quite a bit of dust in the morning, I preferred to make sure and take it easy. There were two or three tricky bits of reading to select the right track. As for celebrating, we still have 220km to the bivouac today and with 690km tomorrow, it’s not going to be a walk in the park.”
For Honda rider Lopez, it was a fourth stage win on the 2013 race and 10th of his career.