JEDDAH: France’s Stephane Peterhansel on Friday won the Dakar Rally for the 14th time, 30 years after his initial success in the most gruelling event on motorsport’s calendar.
Peterhansel, nicknamed ‘Mr Dakar’, has now won the car category eight times, having also won the motorbike category six times.
The 55-year-old Mini driver, aided by co-pilot Edouard Boulanger, finished 14min 51sec ahead of Qatari Nasser al-Attiyah (Toyota), with Spain’s Carlos Sainz — winner of Friday’s 12th and final stage from Yanbu to Jeddah — rounding out the podium in another Mini.
Peterhansel’s victory came shortly after news that French motorcyclist Pierre Cherpin had died from injuries sustained in a crash on the seventh stage, becoming the race’s first fatality this year.
Cherpin’s death takes to 27, including 22 motorcyclists, the number of competitors who have lost their lives since the inaugural Dakar Rally in 1979.
Peterhansel said he still had the “same emotion” as he did after his first victory back in 1991.
“To win the Dakar is always really complicated,” he said. “There are no easy victories on the Dakar. This one from the outside maybe looked easy, but it was not easy every day to manage the small gap over Nasser.
“Experience and being able to stay calm helped to win. “The first victory on the motorcycle is my favourite, because it was the one that I dreamed a lot of and now it’s really a bonus. Winning is always a big emotion, but the first victory was the best one.”
The second place for Al-Attiyah, a three-time winner, was his fifth, and the Qatari was quick to criticise what he said was the unfair advantage the buggies had over the 4x4 cars.
“This is the second year that we are fighting against the buggies,” said Al-Attiyah, who has hopes his sporting year will include a seventh Olympics, where he will compete in skeet.
“I’m more disappointed than last year because if you only have four fingers and not five fingers like everybody else, it does not help.
“We need to change the rule against the buggies because now the buggies have been winning for five years against the 4x4 cars. There is no question, it is not a fair rule. I hope the organisers will change it, otherwise we won’t be interested in coming.”
Argentina’s Kevin Benavides won the motorbike category, leading home defending champion Ricky Brabec of the United States by 4:56 in a first Honda 1-2 since 1987.
Briton Sam Sunderland, the 2017 champion, finished third.
Benavides, who broke his nose in a crash on the fifth stage that saw his helmet shattered, became the first South American to win the category, calling it “absolutely crazy”.
“I went at 110 percent, but now it’s true: I’ve won the Dakar - I’m so, so happy! I did some mistakes, for sure. I think it’s impossible to do a perfect Dakar,” he said.
“The important thing is to always continue, to stay calm and focused day by day and to work hard day by day.”
Brabec admitted to feeling “pretty bummed” at not defending his title, but added that “number two will work”.
“I didn’t even know that Honda had already won a one and two finish. I wasn’t even born in 1987! It’s cool to go one and two again.”
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