Sunderland breaks through. Photo: Getty Images

Dakar 2017: Sunderland, Peterhansel triumph overall in bikes, cars

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Sam Sunderland has become the first British competitor to ever capture a victory at the Dakar Rally, with the Red Bull KTM rider completing his journey on Saturday in the 2017 Dakar Rally to win the bike category.

Coverage from Friday’s stage will air today, January 14 at 6:30 p.m. ET, with 12th and final stage coverage on Sunday, January 15 at midnight ET on NBCSN.

While Sunderland’s story is a remarkable one on it own, the man known as “Mr. Dakar,” Stephane Peterhansel, has continued to add to his own remarkable story. The Peugeot driver has captured his 13th Dakar victory, and second in a row in cars.

Eduard Nikolaev (trucks) and Sergey Karyakin (quads) have captured those class victories.

Today’s 12th and final stage from Rio Cuarto to Buenos Aires was one of the shortest stages in this year’s Dakar, which made big movement up-and-down the field rather unlikely.

BIKES

Sunderland had not even finished his first few cracks at Dakar. Mechanical failures sidelined him in 2012 and 2014, the latter year after he became the youngest stage winner in Dakar history with a win on the first stage in Argentina.

But he wasn’t even able to start in 2013 and 2016, the latter year breaking his femur.

Sunderland secured his first and only stage win of this year’s Dakar on day five, making it five winners in as many days. However, he won the rally with out-and-out consistency, with only one major stoppage costing him any sort of time and recovering to a third place in stage seven.

Sunderland was only sixth in today’s stage – Adrien Van Beveren and Gerard Farres set an identical time of 30 minutes and 29 seconds to tie for the stage win – but with more than 30 minutes in hand of a lead going into the day, the Englishman could afford to bring it home without worry.

“To finish here is incredible. It’s the first Dakar I ever finished. To finish first is an incredible feeling. I’m so lost for words!” Sunderland said after the rally. “I’m so grateful to the team, the organizers, all the people around me. It’s not an individual effort.”

His near flawless run will go down in British motorsport and Dakar history rather nicely. A further breakout post from the Red Bull Content Pool is linked here.

Sunderland won from Walkner by 32 minutes, with Farres moving onto the final podium in third by way of his run today to complete a KTM podium sweep, continuing KTM’s incredible run of form.

Van Beveren finishes this overall rally in fourth, top Yamaha, with Joan Barreda, the Honda rider who led bikes with three stage wins settling for fifth after a one-hour penalty for a fuelling infringement in stage four ultimately putting pause to his chances. Paulo Goncalves, another Honda rider, was sixth with 48 minutes and change worth of penalties.

Of note, American Ricky Brabec captured his first stage win on his Honda in stage seven, but fell out of the rally near the end of the race. Toby Price, the defending bikes winner, has made it home to Australia following his accident early in the rally that left him with a fractured left femur. An outpouring of support came in for him as he is in his recovery process. Other injuries occurred on a brutal 10th stage, including to Pablo Quintanilla, Simon Marcic (in an incident with Peterhansel) and Stefan Svitko.

BIKE STAGE WINNERS

Stage 1: Juan Pedrero (Xavier de Soultrait penalized post-stage)
Stage 2: Toby Price
Stage 3: Joan Barreda
Stage 4: Matthias Walkner
Stage 5: Sam Sunderland
Stage 7: Ricky Brabec
Stage 8: Joan Barreda
Stage 10: Michael Metge
Stage 11: Joan Barreda (awarded three minutes; Paolo Goncalves demoted to second)
Stage 12: Gerard Farres/Adrien Van Beveren

CARS

Stephane Peterhansel at the finish of stage twelve of the 2017 Dakar Rally on January 14, 2017 in Rio Cuarto, Argentina. (Photo: Dan Isitene/Getty Images)

The car battle quickly shifted from a potential three-horse race among the Peugeot, Toyota and MINI competitors to a two-horse race among the two rally legends of this generation, Dakar legend Peterhansel and FIA World Rally Championship legend Loeb, both in Peugeots, rather early on once their rivals started falling by the wayside.

Myriad stoppages saw nearly all of the Toyota Hilux entries fall out early, including past Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah, who was the only non-Peugeot stage winner this year. MINI never mounted a serious challenge with Mikko Hirvonen more than half an hour in arrears. And another Peugeot fell out as Carlos Sainz survived a wild barrel roll in stage four.

It left Peterhansel and Loeb to spar the rest of the rally, often separated only by seconds rather than minutes, but with Peterhansel having eked out just enough of a margin of more than five minutes to ensure Loeb didn’t have a realistic chance to close that gap today.

In the end, as in bikes, the competitor who boasted the most stage wins did not win the class overall. Loeb added six stage wins this year to his four from last year, including the last four in a row from stage eight through today’s stage 12.

All the while though, Peterhansel was pushing him closely and the gap never swung too far. “Mr. Dakar” captured his 13th Dakar victory by five minutes and 13 seconds over Loeb. Cyril Despres, the last driver not named Loeb or Peterhansel to win a stage in cars, ended third to complete the car podium.

Nani Roma and Giniel De Villiers upheld Toyota’s honor somewhat with fourth and fifth place finishes overall, but more than an hour back in both cases. In sixth, Orlando Terranova was the top MINI finisher in the car originally slated for American Bryce Menzies, who was ruled out prior to the start of the rally.

CAR STAGE WINNERS

Stage 1: Nasser Al-Attiyah
Stage 2: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 3: Stephane Peterhansel
Stage 4: Cyril Despres
Stage 5: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 7: Stephane Peterhansel
Stage 8: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 10: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 11: Sebastien Loeb
Stage 12: Sebastien Loeb

QUADS/TRUCKS

Eduard Nikolaev (trucks) and Sergey Karayakin (quads) put their stamp on the respective classes as the rally went on. With Gerard De Rooy falling from contention in trucks, it left Nikolaev to control that category. In quads, Karaykin fought off Igancio Casale’s advances, although Casale fell back later.

STAGE MAP

STAGE RECAPS

Stage 11
Stage 10 and (VIDEOS)
Stage nine (cancelled due to weather) and (VIDEO)
Stage eight (VIDEOS)
Rest day VIDEOS
Stage seven
Stage six (cancelled due to weather)
Stage five (shortened due to weather)
Stage four and (VIDEOS)
Stage three and (VIDEOS)
Stage two and (VIDEOS)
Stage one and (VIDEOS)

Vettel: Front-row grid slot for Australia proof of Ferrari’s progress

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Sebastian Vettel believes that his charge to second place on the grid for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix acts as proof of the progress Ferrari’s Formula 1 operation has made over the winter.

Vettel arrived in Australia as one of the favorites to take pole following an impressive showing in pre-season testing, prompting three-time champion Lewis Hamilton to name Ferrari as the leading team.

Hamilton rallied in qualifying to take pole position for Mercedes, beating Vettel by two-tenths of a second, but the Ferrari driver managed to fend off Valtteri Bottas in the second Silver Arrow and clinch a front-row berth.

The result marked Ferrari’s best qualifying result since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix – Vettel’s and Ferrari’s last pole and victory in F1 – and the German was encouraged by the result.

“I think we have a good car. I think we are working well as a team,” Vettel said.

“Things are improving. Obviously it’s nice to see that things are working, the car is working. I had a mixed day yesterday, but the confidence in the car was there from testing and I think we showed that again today.”

Vettel conceded that he felt his final lap in qualifying could have been faster, but doubts it would have been enough to catch pole-sitter Hamilton.

“In the end I was not entirely happy with my lap. I was pretty happy with the end, maybe not so much with the opening of the lap where we lost a bit too much,” Vettel said.

“But I think Lewis did a very good lap. I would have loved to, but I don’t think pole was up for grabs. Tomorrow I think we can do something in the race. The car feels good, we’ve improved it so the pace should be much better than it was yesterday when we had practice.

“It’s been a big winter for us, lots of change we’ve gone through as a team in the last 12 months, and for the better. I think the team is getting stronger.

“Obviously everyone is pushing very hard and it’s not so easy to come here with a long journey to get to Australia, but I think people are fired up and we are motivated for tomorrow.

“I think it’s the first good opportunity.”

Hamilton buoyed by sixth Australia F1 pole, ready for tight race

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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton was buoyed by his charge to pole position in Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday, but is braced for a tight race at the front of the pack.

Hamilton saw off a challenge from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and new Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to capture his sixth pole at Albert Park, and the 62nd of his F1 career.

Hamilton had doubts over Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari heading into the new year, making his charge to pole all the more meaningful as he paid tribute to the team members after qualifying.

“It’s been a fantastic weekend so far. It’s quite amazing to come here for I think the 11th time, and it feels like it was only yesterday that I came here and had my first race here in 2007,” Hamilton said.

“I’m just incredibly proud of my team. This rule change has been huge and such a massive challenge for everyone. The guys have just worked so hard to make this car what it is today.”

Despite taking pole by almost three-tenths of a second in Q3, Hamilton is braced for a close fight on Sunday with Vettel and Bottas, the latter starting his first race for Mercedes from third on the grid.

“Valtteri did a fantastic job given it’s his first qualifying session with the team. He did a great job and it’s great for Mercedes,” Hamilton said.

“Looking forward to the race, it’s close between us all. As you can see, there’s going to be a tight race this year I think.

“I think tomorrow is about putting all the work that’s gone in over the winter, all the work that’s gone through testing and this whole weekend and really put it to work tomorrow.

“I’ll make sure I get a good night’s sleep and come back tomorrow stronger than ever.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET on Sunday.

Lewis Hamilton sees off Vettel challenge to take Australian GP pole

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Lewis Hamilton saw off challenges from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to pick up the first Formula 1 pole position of the year in Australian Grand Prix qualifying.

Hamilton topped the timesheets on Friday to give Mercedes hope of continuing its impressive qualifying form from 2016, when it took 20 poles from 21 races.

However, Ferrari looked poised to strike and take its first pole position since Singapore 2015 as Vettel led final practice, setting up a close battle in qualifying.

Hamilton took provisional pole with his first Q3 run, going three-tenths faster than Vettel, and was able to find a further three-tenths on his second run to make pole all but his.

Vettel refused to back down, producing a rapid final sector to gain plenty of time on Hamilton, but it was not enough to deny the Briton his 62nd F1 pole.

On his Mercedes debut, Bottas put in an impressive display to take third on the grid, finishing three-tenths off Hamilton’s time. Fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen ended the session fourth in the second Ferrari.

Max Verstappen led Red Bull’s charge in fifth, while Haas driver Romain Grosjean put in a stellar display to take sixth on the grid. Felipe Massa will start his comeback race from seventh ahead of the Toro Rosso pair of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat.

Local favorite Daniel Ricciardo’s difficult home race weekend continued as he crashed out at Turn 14, wrecking the rear of his Red Bull RB13. While Ricciardo was physically unharmed, the Australian’s ego was left bruised as he was resigned to starting the race from 10th on the grid.

Sporting is bright pink livery, Force India failed to light up the gloomy conditions in Melbourne as it suffered a double-elimination in Q2. Sergio Perez qualified 11th, while rookie teammate Esteban Ocon will make his first start in Australia from 14th on the grid. Nico Hulkenberg saw his 13-race streak of Q3 appearances ended as he could only qualify P12.

One of the biggest talking points from the early part of qualifying was Fernando Alonso’s titanic effort to put his McLaren-Honda 13th on the grid. Following a tough winter marred by reliability issues, Alonso dragged his car through to Q2 and did “all he could”, yet the issues faced by the team meant no Q3 berth was forthcoming.

Sauber enjoyed an impressive start to the year as Marcus Ericsson made it through to Q2, eventually qualifying 15th. Last-minute substitute Antonio Giovinazzi was poised to also get out of Q1 on debut, only for a mistake on his final lap to leave him 16th overall.

Haas driver Kevin Magnussen failed to get in a late lap, leaving him 17th on the grid for his first race with the American team, while a fuel flow issue meant Stoffel Vandoorne could only qualify 18th for McLaren.

Lance Stroll’s baptism of fire in F1 continued as he finished 2.9 seconds off the pace in P19 for Williams, while Renault’s Jolyon Palmer was made to pay for his lack of track time, rounding out the grid in P20.

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Lance Stroll set for Australia grid penalty after gearbox change

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Formula 1 rookie Lance Stroll has been forced into a gearbox change ahead of qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix following a crash in final practice at Albert Park.

Stroll lost the back-end of his Williams FW40 car coming out of Turn 10, hitting the wall and causing damage to the right-hand side and rear of his chassis in the process.

The crash brought out a red flag that ultimately caused FP3 to end early, with Stroll returning to the pit lane on the back of a marshal’s moped.

After bringing the car back to the pit lane, Williams confirmed that it would have to change Stroll’s gearbox ahead of qualifying, which will trigger a five-place grid penalty for the Canadian.

Stroll’s crash comes after a mixed pre-season program that saw him suffer three shunts in the opening week in Barcelona, raising concerns about his readiness for F1.

Stroll bounced back in the second week of running, racking up plenty of mileage in Williams’ 2017 car to back up his extensive private test program in the team’s 2014-spec F1 car last year.

At just 18 years old, Stroll is set to become the second-youngest F1 driver on Sunday, trailing only Red Bull’s Max Verstappen whose first start came at the age of 17 in 2015.