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)

Wehrlein nonplussed by Sauber-Honda speculation

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Pascal Wehrlein is not paying any attention to speculation that Sauber’s planned Formula 1 engine deal with Honda for 2018 could be on the rocks, saying his future remains open as he focuses on his current duties with the team.

Mercedes junior Wehrlein was placed at Sauber for 2017, and led the team to its first points finish of the year at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.

Sauber had been given a boost two weeks earlier when it announced a deal to become Honda’s second customer team for 2018, including technical and financial support.

However, the deal was put in doubt following Sauber CEO and team principal Monisha Kaltenborn’s departure, leading to speculation that it had not been finalized.

Kaltenborn’s replacement Frederic Vasseur has made it a priority to resolve the matter, but it has made for a bleak outlook at Hinwil for the future.

With the 2018 driver market beginning to stir, Wehrlein has stressed he is not yet thinking about next season, nor is he paying any attention to the speculation about Sauber’s deal with Honda.

“I have no idea what is happening next year. Of course, I have heard all these rumors as well,” Wehrlein told the official F1 website.

“I cannot influence any of these things, so why worry about them? Whatever rumors there are in the air, it is no distraction for me – that is the bottom line.

“I have a contract for this season so I am only focusing on this year. Decisions are made by others and I am only here to drive, to perform as well as I can.

“Of course I want to see Sauber do well. They have the potential and have already been in good positions in the past and I want them to get back there. How and when? That is on another page.”

Wehrlein expressed his confidence in Vasseur’s leadership, although he expects the team to shift focus to its 2018 plans.

“I do have expectations of Fred and the team. I don’t know how fast Fred can change things or how he can change them, but we now have one race left before the summer shut down,” Wehrlein said.

“In the second half of the season the team will focus on next year, so I don’t think you will see his touch too much this year. So let’s see what we can still do with the tools that we have right now.

“I really respect Fred. I used to work with him in DTM. He had a team when I drove there in 2015. He has so much experience in motorsport and in many other ventures outside racing.

“He is a very successful man. He could help Sauber. He could be very good for the team.”

Keeping Grosjean, Magnussen for 2018 ‘a given’ in Gene Haas’ eyes

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Gene Haas is planning to field an unchanged line-up for his Formula 1 team in 2018, believing it to be “a given” that Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen will continue beyond the end of the season.

NASCAR team co-owner Haas took his eponymous F1 operation onto the grid in 2016, pairing Grosjean with Esteban Gutierrez.

While Grosjean scored a fifth-place finish in Haas F1 Team’s second race and picked up 29 points across the course of the season, Gutierrez failed to record a single top-10 result.

The Mexican was replaced by Magnussen for 2017, with the Dane taking 11 points through the first 10 races of the season.

Despite the fluidity of the driver market for 2018, Haas revealed in an interview with the official F1 website that the team is planning to race with Grosjean and Magnussen together once again next year.

“We will run with the same drivers that we have this year again next year. That is a given,” Haas said.

“And given the other continuity aspects, we should be better racers next season.”

Haas had been tipped to take on a Ferrari junior such as Antonio Giovinazzi or Charles Leclerc for 2018 given its technical ties to the Italian marque.

Grosjean is understood to be a target for Renault should it miss out on re-signing Fernando Alonso, while Magnussen penned a multi-year deal upon arrival at Haas at the start of the season.

Reflecting on Magnussen’s contribution, Haas believes the team has benefitted from his greater race performance that has allowed it to match its debut season points total in just 10 races in 2017.

“Esteban was a good driver. He was as fast as Romain in practice, but I think that Kevin has an edge in terms of race experience,” Haas said.

“He can score points and that was the key for bringing him on board. Kevin can grab points and Romain can too.

“We now have 29 points. Last year around this time we also had 29 points, but did not score for the rest of the season.

“So now if we can score another 29 points by Abu Dhabi, that would be a great position.”

Pirelli: Slow puncture caused Vettel’s British GP tire failure

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Pirelli has determined that a slow puncture was the cause of Sebastian Vettel’s Formula 1 tire failure towards the end of last Sunday’s British Grand Prix.

Vettel suffered a failure on his front-left tire on the penultimate lap of the race at Silverstone while running third, forcing him into a late pit stop that ultimately left him P7 at the checkered flag.

The incident was just minutes after Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen had also hit trouble with his front-left tire, although Pirelli stressed after the race that the incidents were unrelated.

Pirelli announced on Friday that, after conducting extensive analysis of the tire, it could confirm that its initial belief that Vettel had suffered a puncture was indeed correct.

“As appeared clear since Sunday afternoon, a full investigation has now confirmed that the original cause of the failure was a slow puncture,” Pirelli said.

“The consequent driving back to the pits on an underinflated and then flat tire led to the final failure.

“Kimi Raikkonen’s damaged tire shows less evidence of what occurred, so further tests and analysis are still ongoing in Pirelli’s laboratories and indoor testing facilities.

“It will take a few more days to reach a definitive conclusion.”

BMW completes first test with 2018 M8 GTE in Germany

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BMW has completed the maiden track test of its new M8 GTE car that will race in the FIA World Endurance Championship and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2018.

BMW announced back in September that it would be returning to the 24 Hours of Le Mans through the WEC in 2018, entering the GTE-Pro class.

The German manufacturer has since been developing its new M8 GTE car which will also replace the existing M6 GTLM in the IMSA-run series, where it is raced by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

BMW announced on Thursday that it had completed a three-day test last week at the Lausitzring in Germany, with factory drivers Martin Tomczyk and Maxime Martin both enjoying time behind the wheel.

“To see the BMW M8 GTE on the racetrack makes me very proud. Everyone involved has done a magnificent job in recent months to allow us to reach this milestone in the development of our new flagship for the GT racing scene,” said BMW head of motorsport Jens Marquardt.

“In the first instance, the purpose of a test like this is obviously to get to know the car. In this regard, greater emphasis is placed on the safety aspect than performance. However, the first impression of the BMW M8 GTE out on the track is a very positive one.”

“Firstly, I feel very honored to have been able to drive at the first real test of the BMW M8 GTE on the racetrack. I had great fun with the car,” added Tomczyk.

“The BMW M8 GTE is good to drive from the outset, and it is easy for us drivers to work out the way it handles, which is important. We got a lot of kilometers under our belt, and gathered a lot of data. We also took our first steps with regard to performance, which is by no means a given at a first test.

“We will obviously work more intensively on that at the coming tests, and will build on the strong basis we established here at the Lausitzring.”

The BMW M8 GTE is set to enjoy another on-track test next month, with Antonio Felix da Costa due for some lap time.