Stephane Peterhansel , Jean Paul Cottret,

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.

F1 Paddock Pass: 2017 launch roundup (VIDEO)

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The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass returns today with a recap of the remaining launches of the 2017 Formula 1 cars that occurred over the weekend.

Williams was first to reveal a rendering of its 2017 car, but it wasn’t a formal launch. Sauber’s online launch properly kicked off proceedings last Monday, before Renault, Force India and Mercedes did actual launches, and then Ferrari (online) and McLaren (in Woking) both launched on Friday.

Official launches then followed for Williams, Red Bull, Haas and Toro Rosso over the weekend. Haas had pictures of its car leak the day before its planned launch as it was a filming day on track.

In this edition of Paddock Pass, NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales recap the remaining cars revealed over the weekend.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Testing continues this week with days two through four of the first test at Barcelona.

Alonso’s McLaren struggles on first day of F1 tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Troubled Formula One team McLaren has gotten off to a wretched start in preseason testing.

Fernando Alonso spent most of the first day waiting to get back out of the garage after his car broke down following just one lap at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

What the team identified as an “oil system” malfunction to its Honda-made engine kept the two-time world champion out of action until after the lunch break. Back behind the wheel, his 29 total laps was the lowest amount of the 11 drivers who participated.

Alonso also posted the second-slowest time, more than three seconds off the leading pace set by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was slower.

“It’s disappointing,” Alonso said. “You work for three months and at the track on the installation lap something breaks down and you lose the day.”

This misstep is the latest technical hiccup to plague McLaren since it paired up with Honda.

One of F1’s most successful teams with eight constructor titles and 12 driver titles, the British outfit has struggled since it switched from Mercedes to the Japanese automaker before the 2015 season.

After earning just a combined 27 points from Alonso and Jenson Button in the first year with Honda, the team showed some growth last season with 76 points and two fifth-place finishes. But that is still a far cry from the glory days of the Woking-based team whose last race win was in Brazil in 2012.

For his part, Alonso hasn’t won a race since he claimed his 32nd victory back in 2013 at the Spanish Grand Prix while with Ferrari.

“It is fair to say that after the difficulties we had the last three seasons, it’s a nice temptation for the media,” Alonso said.

“From the point of view of the team, we are disappointed and sad to arrive to the first day of testing and not run.

“We are focused on what we have to do to make up the lost time. We know that we have four days for each driver and now one day is gone to prepare for the world championship.”

Stoffel Vandoorne, who has replaced Button, will get his turn for McLaren on Tuesday.

McLaren team chief Eric Boullier acknowledged that the relationship with Honda is far from perfect.

“It is like any marriage, you can have some ups and downs,” Boullier said. “We went through a lot of stress through the last couple of years, but we have a positive and constructive relationship and I don’t expect this to change in the future.”

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian GP on March 26.

Steiner: Haas is ‘a lot better prepared’ after this day one

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-17 Ferrari on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Last year’s first day of testing at Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona for Haas F1 Team was both exciting and tense all at once.

As it was the first official day of running for the team, questions abounded over whether the new team would bank laps and if so, how would they get on. They did though with Romain Grosjean completing his first 13 laps in the morning session.

Luckily, having had a full year to acclimatize to Formula 1 and get in the rhythm of how this all works, Haas was able to have a smoother first day of testing in 2017, even despite an incident for Kevin Magnussen in his first day aboard the team’s Ferrari powered-VF-17 chassis.

“The plan was to do more, but that’s how the first day goes sometimes,” said Haas team principal Guenther Steiner. “We had a few issues, but that’s normal. They are to be expected when you have a new car and we sorted them out. We are here to learn and that is what we did.

“Our learning process is a lot better than last year because our people have worked together for a year now and we know more about the car. We are a lot better prepared.”

Magnussen ran through Pirelli’s hard, medium and soft compound tires on the day. An incident at Turn 10 damaged the front wing assembly but didn’t stop him from completing 50 laps.

“We had a few issues, but the good thing is that they were small issues,” Magnussen said. “Even though they stopped us from some running, it wasn’t something that is at all worrying for the coming days. It’s kind of the typical baby problems you have with the cars when they’re completely new. Except for that, the first feeling of the car is nice. It’s good to finally get that feeling of the car after looking at it, and all the anticipation for the faster cars. It’s a good feeling. Today’s been a day I’ve enjoyed a lot.”

The Dane continues tomorrow before Grosjean runs the last two days of testing.

Ron Dennis named to U.K.’s Ministry of Defense advisory panel

during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.
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Ron Dennis’ post-McLaren world will involve politics of a different kind, rather than the politics inside the proverbial “piranha club” that is Formula 1.

Dennis, who officially stepped down as McLaren chairman over the winter as part of a significant organizational restructuring, was named Monday to a new advisory panel outlined by the U.K.’s Defense Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, during a speech at the University of Oxford.

Per a release, the new Defense Innovation Advisory Panel will look to “encourage imagination, ingenuity and entrepreneurship” to help maintain a military advantage in the future.

Dennis was named alongside two others, Innovate UK Chief Executive Ruth Mckernan, and retiring GCHQ Director Robert Hannigan. That trio join veteran British astronaut Major Tim Peake on Fallon’s panel.

“There can be nothing more important than our national security,” Dennis said in the release. “And I’m enthusiastic to be among the first of those named to this world-class Panel, who have joined MOD to spearhead their efforts to innovate across the organization, from technology to culture – challenging the status quo, staying ahead of the curve through change and innovation.”

The full release can be found here.