Saudi Arabia’s Dakar Rally rookie Yazeed Al-Rajhi claimed a maiden stage win in the spectacular sand dune finish in Iquique on Sunday to break Mini’s stranglehold on this year’s race.
As the Toyota driver celebrated his landmark day on the world’s toughest rally, his Qatari rival Nasser Al-Attiyah did enough in his Mini in third to consolidate his position at the top of the driver standings.
The 2011 Dakar winner even gained a few seconds on his closest pursuer, South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers (Toyota), who finished fourth.
Up to this win for Toyota, each stage had ended up being claimed by one of the Minis.
Sunday’s 808 kilometre run, with 784km timed, took Al-Rajhi and the rest of the car competitors from Bolivia’s salt flats in Uyuni to the vertiginous dunes of the Chilean Pacific coastal city of Iquique.
He covered the route in three hours, 26 minutes and 49 seconds, with Saturday’s stage winner Orlando Terranova in second in his Mini, over one minute behind.
Al-Attiyah, a further two-and-a-half minutes back in third, has an almost eight-and-a-half minute lead over de Villiers, who lost precious time in the final dunes in the approach to Iquique, in the race for the drivers crown.
But the Qatari was happy just to get through the weekend.
“Driving in Bolivia was a treat. The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the altitude. Yesterday’s stage was very tough. I vomited three times and (co-driver) Matthieu (Baumel) asked me to stop,” he explained.
“But no, I didn’t want to lose any time. I wasn’t able to eat anything yesterday, I only had a soup and a cup of green tea. I also had oxygen for thirty minutes before going to sleep. Fortunately, I felt much better today.
“I’m happy to stay in the lead. We lost a wheel at the end of the first part of the special and lost a few minutes changing it. However, I attacked in the second half, overtook four cars and made up the lost time.”
Al-Rajhi, who remains in contention for the drivers’ crown in third, 18min 40sec behind, said: “Today was a good day.”
The 33-year-old Dakar debutant added: “We drove fast and we had fun.
“The most difficult part was organising toilet stops! At such altitudes, just a sip of water makes you want to go… The in-line start in Salar was great and carried out under good conditions.
“We didn’t have the highest top speed, but we managed to catch up with the others. It was a bit like a game.”
Terranova described the marathon stage as “an awesome experience”.
Monday is the final rest day for the car drivers ahead of Saturday’s finish in Buenos Aires.
After Saturday’s day off for motorcyclists the 717km (321km timed) seventh stage which took the two-wheeled competitors from Iquique to Uyuni was won by Honda’s Paulo Goncalves.
The Portuguese rider is placed third in the overall motorbike standings, 11minutes behind his Spanish teammate Joan Barreda, with this pair separated by KTM’s defending champion Marc Coma.
Coma, a four-time winner, is six minutes adrift.