Cyril Despres

Dakar: A Great (Stage) 8 for defending bike champ Despres (VIDEO)

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It hasn’t been an entirely smooth 2014 Dakar Rally for defending bike class champion Cyril Despres of France, and he’s not likely to repeat. But the Yamaha rider finally broke his and his manufacturer’s respective ducks in this year’s race with a win today in Stage 8.

With the field making their way into Chile, Despres (pictured) was able to beat runner-up Joan Barreda by 2:10. Marc Coma was a mere six seconds back of Barreda in third place, effectively making today’s stage a draw between the top two in the overall bike standings; Coma now holds a 38 minute, eight second edge on Barreda, with Jorge Viladoms in third (+1:27:22 behind Coma). Despres, after his victory today, sits in ninth.

“The idea isn’t really to go looking for stage victories, but rather to try and get back to the front of the rally as much as possible,” Despres said. “Today, by making up the difference on the tracks between myself and the first riders, I won the special, and that’s always a pleasure.”

Nani Roma retains the overall lead in the cars, but suffered two punctures today in a stage that was won by Nasser Al-Attiyah. The Qatari came out 1 minute, 12 seconds ahead of Stephane Peterhansel, who may have finished third but still peeled off eight minutes from his overall deficit to Roma.

Al-Attiyah’s hopes of winning the Dakar may be dim at best right now, but he is still holding on to a potential finish in the Top-3.

“I’m still a little bit disappointed about the one hour penalty, but now we will try to push and to make a really better time every day,” he said. “…I’ve learned a lot about the car. For now it looks like we’ve got a good time and I hope to be on the podium, but it’s still a long way.”

Meanwhile, Peterhansel – now down 23:46 to Roma overall – is looking to put the heat on the Spaniard as the second week unfolds.

“It’s never easy to be in the lead, I know all about it, and being in front for Nani is an extra bit of pressure,” he said. “Behind him, we have nothing to lose, but when you’re in front, you have everything to lose.”

For the second quad stage in a row, Ignacio Casale was victorious, this time by a little under nine minutes over Sebastian Husseini of the Netherlands. More importantly, Casale stretched out his overall quad lead to a gap of 21:40 over Sergio Lafuente.

Andrey Karginov beat out overall truck leader Gerard de Rooy for the stage win today by five minutes, 15 seconds. However, de Rooy’s consistency remains his calling card in the class battle.

While his overall lead of 32:35 over Karginov is not an insurmountable one, de Rooy is really making it tough on his closest rival for the championship.

Formula E: Team Aguri confirms da Costa for second season

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Antonio Felix da Costa has been confirmed for a second season with Team Aguri for the 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship, which begins later this month in Beijing.

He won once this past year at Buenos Aires and finished eighth in the points despite missing both the season opener and season finale due to clashes with his DTM schedule.

Said the 24-year-old Portuguese driver, “I am really happy to continue with Team Aguri and Formula E for season two. This championship is earning its respect in the world of motorsport and I am honoured to be involved. Regarding the season, I am really looking forward to getting started.”

Team Aguri team principal Mark Preston added, “It is a great pleasure to have Antonio continuing with the team for season two of Formula E. Antonio brought us our maiden win in Buenos Aires and helped to develop the team from scratch, he will continue to build on that success for season two and beyond.”

The team that bares the name of ex-Formula 1 driver and team owner Aguri Suzuki has not yet confirmed its second driver, which is the last outstanding seat to be filled on the Formula E grid.

Amlin, which had partnered with Aguri last year, is now present with the Andretti Formula E team and its drivers, Robin Frijns and Simona de Silvestro.

Hulkenberg leads shorter than normal FP1 in Russia

Nico Hulkenberg
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Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg posted a 1:44.355 lap of the of the Sochi Autodrom to lead a fairly abnormal, and shorter than usual, first free practice for the Russian Grand Prix.

Hulkenberg posted the time to conclude the usual 90-minute session, to pip Nico Rosberg at 1:44.407 on his final lap. The usual 90-minute session was shortened due to a track delay for cleanup of diesel fuel on course.

Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top five.

While the clock started on time for the full 90-minute session, track activity was halted for the opening 30 minutes to clean up diesel spillage on the track at Turn 8.

It left teams and drivers with just a 60-minute first free practice to tackle the Sochi Autodrom, but did not push the session later or affect the timetable for the rest of the day. However, with a damp if not entirely wet track, it made things difficult in FP1.

The delay also meant that teams weren’t able to use an extra set of Pirellis handed out at the start of FP1. Supersofts can be used for the first time in FP2.

During the delay, it did offer a chance for sarcasm, and Manor seized the opportunity following a comment from McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso noting that even with Mercedes engines next year, Manor wouldn’t move ahead of them.

NBC’s Will Buxton explained the track surface dilemma drivers would face in this session.

With just under one hour to go in the session, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was the first to head out on course, leading several others. Ericsson made the first laps of the weekend at the track where he made his final start for Caterham a year ago.

Both Williams drivers went on course on Pirelli’s wet weather tires for their installation laps. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg tried the intermediates, and Alonso was first on course in slicks.

No official times were registered until there were less than 40 minutes remaining in the session, with Alonso registering a 2:00.736 time, while putting down a bevy of sparks. He quickly lowered the mark to 1:56.327, and 1:53.854 after that. Ericsson was next in at a 1:58.926, although dropped into the 1:54 range not long after.

Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button clocked in at 1:50.920 with just under 20 minutes remaining and for the first time this year, we could say we had a McLaren Honda 1-2 on track, albeit under abnormal circumstances.

The trsck got busy in the final 15 minutes, with Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen posting a 1:50.870 to lead before Alonso clocked in a 1:49.240.

A 1:47.959 from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, then a 1:45.987 from Hulkenberg followed in the final 10 minutes as times firmly began to drop. Vettel got down to a 1:45.491 shortly thereafter, and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton came up two tenths shy of the mark at a 1:45.691.

Ericsson reported a power cut near the end of the session down at Sauber but otherwise there were no issues through the field, other than a handful of spins, including one from Hamilton on his final flier at the second-to-last corner.

FP2 begins from 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.