Nasser Al-Attiyah cut his Volkswagen teammate Carlos Sainz's lead in half by winning stage seven of the Dakar Rally on Sunday, while VW's main rival Stephane Peterhansel lost further ground.
The gap between Sainz and Al-Attiyah in the outright standings is now down to 1m22sec after the latter won the day's Africa-to-Antofagasta stage by 1m20sec. The stage was reduced to 252 kilometers of competitive running to give the field a slightly easier start to the second week of the grueling event.
Peterhansel had been getting closer to Sainz until a series of punctures on Friday, and today started with further tire trouble for the X-Raid BMW driver. He drove more cautiously thereafter, and ended up losing seven minutes to the leaders, leaving him 21 minutes behind in third overall. That has increased VW's chances of a top-three sweep, with Giniel de Villiers now within 11m34sec of Peterhansel having taken five minutes out of the Dakar legend's advantage today.
Peterhansel's teammate Krzysztof Holowczyc also had punctures on Sunday, but with the pursuing VW of Mark Miller losing time when time with both a puncture and struggling to find a way point after an excursion, Holowczyc remains fifth.
However, fellow X-Raid man Orlando Terranova, who had been Argentina's top representative in seventh, is out after crashing heavily 200km into the stage. That made it two accident retirements in as many days for X-Raid, which lost its new Mini Countryman yesterday after Guerlain Chicherit had a multiple roll while doing some practice mileage during the rest day.
Stage seven results:
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah Volkswagen 2h40m57s
2. Carlos Sainz Volkswagen + 1m20s
3. Giniel de Villiers Volkswagen + 2m56s
4. Stephane Peterhansel BMW + 7m40s
5. Krzysztof Holowczyc BMW + 17m00s
6. Christian Lavieille Nissan + 20m07s
7. Ricardo Leal dos Santos BMW + 20m48s
8. Guilherme Spinelli Mitsubishi + 22m14s
9. Nani Roma Nissan + 24m39s
10. Tonnie van Deijne Mitsubishi + 35m10s
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Carlos Sainz Volkswagen 23h21m58s
2. Nasser Al-Attiyah Volkswagen + 1m22s
3. Stephane Peterhansel BMW + 21m11s
4. Giniel de Villiers Volkswagen + 32m45s
5. Krzysztof Holowczyc BMW + 1h28m59s
6. Mark Miller Volkswagen + 2h13m44s
7. Guilherme Spinelli Mitsubishi + 2h38m50s
8. Christian Lavieille Nissan + 3h26m41s
9. Ricardo Leal dos Santos BMW + 3h30m40s
10. Matthias Kahle SMG + 5h45m10s