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.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.