The 2015 Dakar Rally may have swopped Chile for Bolivia on Saturday but the change of scenery did not prevent Mini claiming their seventh stage win out of seven.
Argentine driver Orlando Terranova maintained the British marque’s grip on the notoriously gruelling event for his third stage win this year and fourth overall.
Saudi Arabia driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi came in second in a Toyota, almost two-and-a-half minutes behind, to cement his place in third in the overall standings.
Saturday’s stage set off from the Chilean city of Iquique and finished in Uyuni at the gateway to the majestic Bolivian salt flats with amongst the tens of thousands of onlookers Bolivian president Evo Morales.
Morales told AFP that he had sent a message to his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, to pay his respects after this week’s Islamist killing spree left 17 dead in France.
“We are very sad and we share the pain of the French people,” said Morales.
While Terranova is out of contention for the title, his Mini teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah, only seventh on Saturday, retained his position at the top of the overall standings despite having three minutes shaved off his lead by South African Giniel de Villiers, who crossed in sixth.
Al-Attiyah, the Dakar winner in 2011, was crippled by altitude sickness during the 321 kilometre timed section.
“The stage wasn’t difficult, it was the altitude,” he said. “I had to stop three times to vomit and I had a terrible headache every time we went over a bump. I’ve lost some time, but it’s no big deal. We don’t need to push our limits.”
Al-Attiyah, who is also an Olympic shooter, added: “The car is in good condition, so we’re only going to change the tyres, check a few things and then go get a rest. First I’ll go see the medical service for a check-up.”
He is now 8min 14sec clear of 2009 winner de Villiers in Toyota, with Al-Rajhi at 21:16.
Terranova described his day behind the wheel as “really difficult, tough, complicated.”
He added: “But we’ve made it. Now we’ll try and bring the car to Chile so our crew can take care of it. We’re getting better, but we need to work hard to avoid mistakes, and next year we’ll be stronger.”
With the motorbike and quad competitors on a rest day, this was the first time cars competing in rally’s toughest event had crossed over from the Chilean city of Iquique to the world’s largest salt flats.
Sunday’s eighth stage takes Al-Attiyah and the rest of the car competitors back to Iquique across the salt flats.
“I had no problem crossing it, although I was in a helicopter… We did not see any water,” Morales told the drivers.