Carlos Sainz took his 23rd Dakar stage win on the penultimate leg of this year's event, while his Volkswagen teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah is now just one stage away from clinching the rally victory.
While Sainz beat fellow VW man Giniel de Villiers to the fastest time on Friday's 555-kilometer San Juan to Cordoba stage by 2m43s, a cautious Al-Attiyah was six minutes off the pace in third. But that still gives him a massive 48-minute advantage over second-placed de Villiers with victory now in sight.
"It's a very difficult feeling, you know because you need a lot of concentration from the start until the finish," said Al-Attiyah. "You don't want to make any mistakes. It really was the hardest stage of my life, because I had to keep concentrated and not make any mistakes. Sometimes I was going fast, sometimes slow because I needed to keep my concentration and keep the same pace."
Sainz is still third overall, although he now shares the record tally of 23 stage wins with Stephane Peterhansel, who had another troubled stage today. The X-Raid BMW driver had been quickest through the opening sections, before yet more punctures plus overheating issues left him only fourth-fastest, 6m55s down on Sainz.
"Today was like the rest of the rally. There's always something that isn't working," said Peterhansel. "When it's not the rocks, it's the thorns – like what happened twice today. As a result, we put a hole in the radiator and we lost water. We had a puncture too.
"What with all the punctures and repairs, we had to stop four times, which must total around 10 minutes lost. Every day there is something that goes wrong. This morning, we set off to attack, we really wanted to battle it out, not go out for a jaunt. But it never rains, it only pours..."
The competitors now just have to complete tomorrow's relatively short 181km route from Cordoba back to Buenos Aires to bring the rally to a close.
Stage 12 results:
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Carlos Sainz Volkswagen 5h37m18s
2. Giniel de Villiers Volkswagen + 2m43s
3. Nasser Al-Attiyah Volkswagen + 6m11s
4. Stephane Peterhansel BMW + 6m55s
5. Krzysztof Holowczyc BMW + 13m51s
6. Mark Miller Volkswagen + 16m51s
7. Guilherme Spinelli Mitsubishi + 25m36s
8. Ricardo Leal dos Santos BMW + 30m10s
9. Alfie Cox Nissan + 47m37s
10. Matthias Kahle SMG + 48m37s
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah Volkswagen 19h59m30s
2. Giniel de Villiers Volkswagen + 48m21s
3. Carlos Sainz Volkswagen + 1h21m16s
4. Stephane Peterhansel BMW + 1h41m29s
5. Krzysztof Holowczyc BMW + 4h10m34s
6. Mark Miller Volkswagen + 4h53m18s
7. Ricardo Leal dos Santos BMW + 6h39m37s
8. Christian Lavieille Nissan + 7h48m57s
9. Guilherme Spinelli Mitsubishi + 8h20m17s
10. Matthias Kahle SMG + 15h00m40s