VW still dominating Dakar

Sainz, revelling in the world championship rally-type conditions of the 238km stage between La Serena and Santiago in Chile, finished 28 seconds ahead of France’s Stephane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret (BMW X3) and 1min 02sec in front of VW team-mates Mark Miller of America and South African Ralph Pitchford.

Sainz remains in the overall lead for the fifth day in a row, 10min 06sec ahead of team-mate Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar and 28min 19sec quicker than Miller and Pitchford. With just four of the rally’s 14 special stages remaining, all in Argentina, Volkswagen is looking good for an historic 1-2-3 finish.

Al-Attiyah was fourth on yesterday’s stage, while defending Dakar champions Giniel de Villiers of South Africa and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz were 11th after riding shotgun again for their front-running team-mates. They remain seventh overall, 4h 46min 13sec in arrears.

Only 206 of the original 362 crews started stage 10, with 94 of 151 bikes, 68 of 134 cars, 35 of 52 trucks and 14 of 25 quads left in the race.

Stage 10, the final one in Chile, saw the competitors bid farewell to the Atacama Desert and undertake a more technical and undulating route on hard surfaces that wound through a landscape of mountains. It was a tricky special stage, dotted with vegetation and cactuses.

“We were happy with third place today,” said Pitchford. “Mark prefers the sandy desert stages to the world rally championship-type conditions we experienced today – fast, loose surfaces on hard roads with lots of corners and gear changes. We had no problems.”

De Villiers thoroughly enjoyed the stage: “It had with many gravel sections which were great fun to drive. It’s easy to explain our loss of time. At the start of the stage we waited until our team mate Mark Miller had overtaken us to be able to help if something happened. That was the first four minutes. A puncture cost us another two minutes. Afterwards we were stuck in the dust cloud kicked up by Peterhansel’s BMW.”

Stage 11, from Santiago to San Juan in Argentina, will cover 434km and will take competitors out of Chile through the Paso Libertadores in the Andes at an altitude of 3 500 metres. The special stage section is 220km in Argentina and the first 50km will be the only portion of the rally contested at high altitude and in the snow line. Racing high in the Andes, the highest mountain range outside Asia and the world’s longest continental mountain range (extending 7 000km over seven countries), the surviving crews will catch a glimpse of its highest peak, Aconcagua, 6 859m above sea level.