Carlos Sainz approaches his third Touareg. The long-awaited trophy, which already won twice, in 2010 and 2018, always in South America, awaits you this Saturday in Qiddiyah, 40 kilometers from the capital. Although the bells do not launch the Madrid flight, there is still a stage. “A flat tire or a navigation error can affect you,” he warned before remarking that he has already been in the same situation other times. “Gray hair is good for something,” he added.

Sainz (Mini) will be crowned champion as long as he doesn’t make any big mistake. The special, after some adjustments, will be considerably shorter than the previous ones. And, although demanding in navigation, it will be presented more simply than yesterday for him and his co-driver Lucas Cruz, who will leave in third position and just behind his rivals, who will open the way for him.

It seems that the most complicated sections have already been experienced in this Rally. The difficult stage was that of Wednesday and, far from finishing off the leader of the general, his complexity helped him to strike a blow to the classification thanks to a magnificent victory in which he imposed himself for speed, determination and good navigation, more task Easy coming from behind.

A day later, on the other hand, the challenge was to defend those 18 minutes with nails and teeth as a first car on a day when the dunes were re-abundant. Dunes, again, cut and “dangers,” Sainz said. And very fast tracks, with many undulations, which made it difficult to define the relief well; “Only with the traces of the bikes it was not clear if you could run more or less,” Cruz explained. Between some things and others, third parties finished.

And minimized the damage. Giving eight minutes to Stéphane Peterhansel (Mini), winner of this penultimate stage, entered into his plans. The Frenchman, third in the general (10 minutes), was closely followed by Nasser Al Attiyah (Toyota), who was only ten seconds slower and still second overall, also ten minutes from Sainz.

“The three old men”, as David Castera, director of the Dakar Rally, has been calling them for years dominating the race and alternating as winners, have completed a fabulous Dakar. Al Attiyah and Peterhansel, who are separated by six seconds in the general – they will play second place this Friday – have barely given respite to Sainz, leader since the third stage. And they have kept stalking until this penultimate day, when a marathon stage ended that they overcame without difficulties.

Fernando Alonso suffered a little more, who, after the accident of the previous day, started from the 113 position after having spent long hours pending the repair of his car in the closed park of the bivouac in Shubaytah. Luck of the drivers of the truck with the number 550, who rebuilt their Toyota. They handled themselves well with the tools, fixed the suspensions and the steering of the car and replaced the windshield so that Alonso could complete the stage yesterday without more problems. He finished with the eighth best time. Given the 60 vehicles they passed, they had to run their Toyota a lot.

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Ricky Brabec, during the 11th stage of the Dakar Rally. Bernat Armangue AP

Honda prepares the relay

On motorcycles, Ricky Brabec (Honda) is very close to winning this Dakar, which would be the first for Honda after 18 years of absolute dominance for the Austrian brand KTM.

The one in California has set a perfect career to date. Fast, with a devilish pace, consistent and always on the right track. He has not made a single mistake since he placed the leader of the general in the third stage. This Thursday was the first day in which he was seen something more conservative, controlling the times and taking care of his motorcycle in such a technically demanding stage, with kilometers and kilometers of dunes. Brabec reached the end of the special in tenth place and after giving up 11 minutes with respect to Pablo Quintanilla (Husqvarna), winner of the stage and second of the general, over which he now has almost 14 minutes ahead. It is not a world, but it seems enough to complete the last stage with some calm, this Friday on the way to Qiddiyah: a special of more than 250 km that will be traveled, above all, by dirt roads.

Brabec followed the track of his teammate, Joan Barreda (Honda), who had won the stage of the previous day and had the dubious honor of opening a track, never easy task, except if an open desert is presented to one. Marking the road cost Barreda the third position of the general and just over 14 minutes, which he yielded with respect to Quintanilla. The Chilean beat Matthias Walkner (KTM) for only nine seconds.

A total of 97 riders made up the general motorcycle contingent at the beginning of this 11th stage.

One last special short, but with trap

N. TRONCHONI, Haradh

Lots of sand, dirt roads, a bit of asphalt, a few stones and the occasional dune. Thus, with a fun combo, the same way it started, the Dakar Rally ends. The last special, which was initially 374 km will become a timed, finally, 166 km after a necessary neutralization. The organization has had to change the beginning of the stage after discovering that a gas pipeline is being built in the area. Things to bring the Dakar to Saudi Arabia. However, although much shorter than expected, the 12th special can still alter some position of the general.

This is what David Castera, the race director, warns. “There is a bit of navigation and although we have had to cut the stage, what remains is the most difficult. Surely someone is going to lose, but they can lose five minutes or ten, ”he says especially in reference to cars, because it is ten minutes that Carlos Sainz has to defend his leadership. “Many things can still happen,” he warns.

It is true that following the track has never been easy on the Dakar and some may fall into the trap.

The good thing for the men who defend the leadership, both in the case of cars with Sainz and in the case of motorcycles with Ricky Brabec is that it will not be they who open the track. In addition, this time they do have time to study the road book, which was delivered yesterday afternoon.

The special of the day will be completed with another special of about 20 km just before reaching Qiddiyah. The times will not count towards a classification, but it will be necessary to complete it. This mini race, which will designate the winner of the Qiddiyah Trophy, will lead the competitors to the final podium. “It will be a walk for those who play the title, a small special that will not have to compete as crazy,” says Castera.

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