Dakar: Sainz, Barreda win in Stage 7 but are still chasing overall leaders

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After a rest day on Saturday, the 2014 Dakar Rally kicked off its seventh stage from Salta, Argentina today. But instead of going along with the bikes and quads into Bolivia, the cars stuck around Salta instead by racing in a 500 km long loop route.

In the cars, Carlos Sainz (pictured, No. 303) earned his second stage win of this year’s Dakar, beating Nasser Al-Attiyah by four minutes, 45 seconds and Stephane Peterhansel by seven minutes, 26 seconds.

However, Nani Roma’s fourth-place finish (+8:56 behind Sainz) allowed him to keep grip on the overall lead in the class by 31:53 over Peterhansel. As for Sainz, he still has a lot of work to do as he remains almost two hours off the pace in sixth.

“In all honesty, everything went smoothly, and from now on we’ll be following this strategy: Trying to to win all the remaining stages until [the finish at] Valparaíso,” Sainz said.

Meanwhile, Peterhansel’s attempt to peel off a more substantial amount of time from Roma was thwarted by – no, we’re not kidding here – llamas.

“Finding our way around wasn’t overly difficult, but that didn’t mean opening the course was easy, as we came across herds of llamas several times and had to brake hard and then drive carefully while they got out of the way,” the 11-time Dakar champ said.

“We scared them away for the other drivers and it cost us some time, because when you go down to 50 km/h, at this altitude it takes a while before you get back to 160!”

The bike and quad racers did cross the Bolivian border, going into the city of Uyuni today. In the bikes, Joan Barreda took his third stage victory of the event by four minutes, three seconds. But finishing runner-up behind him was overall leader Marc Coma, who still holds a lead of 38:14 over Barreda.

Ignacio Casale grabbed the Stage 7 win in the quads by almost eight minutes, and also re-claimed the overall class lead over Sergio Lafuente just as the rally prepares to enter his home country of Chile. Casale’s lead over Lafuente, however, is a slim one at 6:15.

The truck stage was taken by Eduard Nikolaev by 3:45 over Kamaz teammate Dmitri Sotnikov, but overall leader Gerard de Rooy picked up a third-place finish and still has a steady lead of almost 38 minutes over Andrey Karginov.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.