Sunday’s second stage of the Dakar Rally was a big one for Stéphane Peterhansel. Nicknamed “Mr. Dakar” for his record 14 overall victories in the world’s most prestigious rally raid, the Frenchman added to his legend by scoring his 50th stage win in cars on the 463km/288-mile stage from Al Henakiyah to Al Duwadimi, tying him with Ari Vatanen for the most Dakar stage wins of all time. He has 83 Dakar stage wins in all and is also the joint record holder of the motorcycle category together with Cyril Despres, with 33 apiece.
The road to Al Duwadimi, which contained the first dune fields of this year’s course, took the teams into the geographical heart of Saudi Arabia. The dunes were not tough or numerous enough to shake up the standings; instead, the entrants had to put their navigational flair to good use to get out of one maze after another.
Peterhansel brought his Audi RS Q e-tron home 29s ahead of a resurgent Sebastién Loeb, who rebounded from a poor start to the rally with his Prodrive Hunter. The win came as a surprise to Peterhansel, who’d been cruising to victory before being h it by a couple of setbacks in the closing portion of the stage.
“I think stage 2 of the last Dakar is still living rent-free in my head. We were driving on eggshells, but somehow, we still had two flat tires in the final 30 kilometers,” related the bemused Peterhansel. “Heaven knows how it happened. We really weren’t going fast, and when Hołowczyc overtook me, I was unable to follow him. How to drive a heavy car on stones is beyond me.”
Despite his stage win, Peterhansel still ranks only ninth overall, 13 minutes behind Audi teammate Carlos Sainz Sr., who placed eighth today and holds an overall lead of 1m51s over Toyota driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi. Loeb moved up to third overall, 4m back, ahead of America’s Seth Quintero, who continues to impress in his first Dakar in the top class. Quintero briefly took the lead on today’s stage before settling for fourth, and is 8m57s out of the overall lead.
The competition was overshadowed by a serious accident for motorcyclist Carles Falcón. The Spanish rider crashed at km 448 of the special. A fellow entrant who had been following closely behind him immediately alerted race officials, and Falcón was airlifted by medical helicopter to Al Duwadimi Hospital, where he was listed in serious condition with unspecified injuries.
Monster Energy Honda rider Nacho Cornejo won today’s stage by 7m. The Chilean opened the road together with teammate Ricky Brabec and Hero Motorsports’ Ross Branch and played his cards right to pick up his seventh Dakar stage win. Branch is still 2m30s ahead of Cornejo overall, with America’s Brabec holding third, 7m15s back.