Dakar: Sainz strong in Stage 4 victory, takes lead in cars (VIDEO)

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Carlos Sainz -“El Matador” – turned in a grande performance during the fourth stage of the 2014 Dakar Rally on Wednesday between San Juan and Chilecito, Argentina.

Sainz (pictured), a two-time World Rally Champion, has secured the overall lead in the car category after finishing more than six minutes ahead of Stephane Peterhansel, who shook off a hellish Stage 3 yesterday to claim runner-up honors.

After his 26th career Dakar stage win, Sainz now finds himself up by 2:06 in the overall standings over Nani Roma, who lost the top spot after finishing fifth in the stage behind Sainz, Peterhansel, Nasser Al-Attiyah, and Federico Villagra.

“At the beginning, we had to drive in the dust, but little by little we managed to overtake several cars,” Sainz said of his Wednesday. “We also got a bit lucky when, about 10 kilometers before the finish, our power steering broke down in a narrow spot amid all the vegetation, but we easily made it to the finish all the same.

“In the second part, there was a waypoint where we went right, but after a while we realized it had to be on the other side, so we headed left and we found it. No big deal, I think everyone made the same mistake.”

Juan Pedrero notched his first-ever Dakar stage win in the bike category, besting runner-up Francisco Lopez by 29 seconds and third-place finisher Marc Coma by over three minutes.

However, Coma chopped into the overall lead held by Joan Barreda, who finished sixth today. What was yesterday a 13-minute-plus edge for Barreda over Cyril Despres is now a smaller lead of 3:10 over Coma, and Lopez isn’t far behind either at just 5:12 off the pace.

As for Despres, he tumbled to sixth in the overall standings after his Yamaha failed on him late in the stage. The defending Dakar bike champ is now more than 41 minutes behind, but vows to continue the fight.

“We’ve just finished stage 4 out of 13,” he said. “The day I give up is the day I should pack up and go home.”

Ignacio Casale re-took control of the quad category with a Stage 4 win, dusting Sebastian Husseini by 12:05. In the overall standings, he now holds an advantage of 9:35 over Rafal Sonik, who finished fourth.

Finally, truck driver Gerard de Rooy earned a Stage 4 win over Andrey Karginov by 1:31. The victory extends his overall lead in the trucks to just over 36 minutes.

“In the second part, we overtook Karginov, who had stopped on the left side of the course with a flat tire,” said De Rooy. “We made a small navigation mistake towards the end, when everyone went right but you actually had to go left, but it was no big deal.

“The only mishap was when I bumped my left wrist against the steering wheel, but it’s nothing to be worried about – some ice, a cool beer and everything will be okay in time for tomorrow.”

F1 2017 driver review: Nico Hulkenberg

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Nico Hulkenberg

Team: Renault
Car No.: 27
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P6 (Spain, Great Britain, Belgium, Abu Dhabi)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 43
Championship Position: 10th

Expectations were hard to peg for Renault heading into its second full season back in F1 with a factory team, but Nico Hulkenberg was surely expected to be the man spearheading its charge.

With teammate Jolyon Palmer severely underperforming, Hulkenberg did exactly that, bringing home all but 14 of the team’s points in the final standings. However, consistency was never something he truly found.

Many of Renault’s issues were down to reliability issues, sidelining Hulkenberg for six races – four coming in a five-race stint from Singapore to Mexico – yet he only scored points in consecutive races on three occasions.

When Hulkenberg and Renault were on form, they proved to be a potent combination, often topping the midfield fight and even looking faster than Force India come the end of the season. His run to sixth at the final race in Abu Dhabi was crucial for the constructors’ championship as Renault jumped Toro Rosso, securing an extra slice of prize money in the process.

But for a driver who was so often tipped as being a future star in F1, Hulkenberg still has a lot to prove. Renault is set to offer a good platform for the German moving forward with factory support, yet if he cannot beat new teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. through 2018, concerns will surely be raised.

Season High: Charging to sixth in Abu Dhabi despite a penalty.

Season Low: A tough run to 16th in Malaysia.