Dakar: Peterhansel closes in on Roma in Stage 9 (VIDEO)

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11-time Dakar Rally champion Stephane Peterhansel (pictured) became the all-time Dakar leader in stage wins with a victory today in Stage 9 from Calama to Iquique, Chile.

With the setting having shifted to the sands of Chile’s Atacama Desert, Peterhansel collected his 64th career win in the Dakar, surpassing Vladimir Chagin to claim the special record.

The Frenchman earned the Tuesday triumph by two minutes, 10 seconds over Nasser Al-Attiyah, and he also drew closer to overall car leader and third-place finisher Nani Roma.

With four stages remaining, the battle is far from decided as Roma’s lead over Peterhansel has shrunk again – this time, to 12 minutes, 10 seconds. And as the Dakar hits crunch time, Peterhansel is relishing his role as the hunter.

“For sure, I am in a good position because I have no pressure…I am not the leader,” he said. “Now I’m trying to drive as fast as possible. I’m taking real pleasure in it now, because I have nothing to lose.

“At the end, I’m second and it’s not my goal to finish second. So I will push and we will see what happens.”

Overall bike leader Marc Coma strengthened his grip on a potential title after a critical win today, while yesterday’s winner, Cyril Despres, followed up with a second place result.

“It was a complicated stage in the Atacama Desert,” said Coma, who now holds a overall lead of 55 minutes, 36 seconds over Joan Barreda.

“Very nice and very fast at the beginning, but on the last part we found some dunes. I tried to catch Joan, because he started two minutes in front of me. When I caught up with him I tried to follow to ride together to the end. It was a good day for me.”

As for Barreda, he initially finished second behind Coma today but drew a penalty that caused him to settle for ninth according to the Dakar website.

Quads leader Ignacio Casale nearly suffered disaster today on the road to Iquique. The Chilean racer was forced to stop multiple times to tend to a tire puncture.

But after putting on a spare, he was able to charge to a second-place finish behind stage winner Sebastian Husseini and also put more ground between himself and main rivals Sergio Lafuente and Rafal Sonik in the overall; Casale is now up 22 minutes, 39 seconds on Lafuente, while Sonik sits 46 minutes, 28 seconds behind.

“In the end, it’s a good stage, because I managed to claw the time back on my pursuers,” Casale said. “I was a bit scared, because there was a lot of time to make up and I had to push myself and the machine, but I’ve managed to get to Iquique after a positive stage, so I’m very happy.”

Andrey Karginov was finally able to put a dent in Gerard de Rooy’s overall lead in the truck category. Karginov earned his second consecutive win, taking away just over 19 minutes from the Dutchman in the process.

de Rooy still came away with a second, but after Stage 9, his lead over Karginov has fallen to 13 minutes, 28 seconds. He may remain atop the standings but the margin of error has noticeably slimmed.

Hamilton: Abu Dhabi ‘the last race with good-looking cars’ in F1

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Lewis Hamilton believes that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be remembered as the last race with good-looking Formula 1 cars ahead of the introduction of the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection for next year.

Officials from the FIA and F1 Strategy Group confirmed earlier this year that the Halo would be fitted to all cars from the 2018 season in a bid to improve safety standards, with the deaths of Justin Wilson and Jules Bianchi putting head protection high on the agenda for the series’ chiefs.

Hamilton has long made his opposition to the Halo clear, believing it will ruin the look of F1 cars, and echoed his thoughts ahead of the final Halo-less race in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

“It’s the last year of looking good I think in the cars. It’s the last race where the cars will look good,” Hamilton said.

“I think next year, it’s all downhill from there in terms of how they look.

“But safety will go up at least, and maybe it could be successful in some way.”

Hamilton’s F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel was less bothered about the change, believing the field will adjust and move on.

“The cars will look different next year. Everything I’ve seen so far looks different, but on the other hand it is something we all get used to,” Vettel said.

“But no doubt the cars look better now, but we’ll get used to it, and we’ll work on the aesthetics so it can be better. It is less of a big deal.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shared Vettel’s view, saying: “I don’t think it’s gonna be as dramatic as most people make it out to be.”