Dakar: Rafal Sonik (quads), Eduard Nikolaev (trucks) still leading the way

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Rafal Sonik is really booming now.

The Polish quad racer bagged his second consecutive Dakar stage win on Thursday by a resounding margin of almost 11 minutes over defending champ Ignacio Casale.

As you’d figure, that put on a big chunk for Sonik’s overall lead, which now stands at 24 minutes, 23 seconds over the Chilean.

Sonik pulled away noticeably through the latter way points of the stage from Copiapo to Antofagasta, Chile. In the final two of 10 way points, Sonik stretched his lead to more than five minutes at WP9 and to under nine minutes at WP10 before extending it further to the finish.

Casale tried to look ahead after Thursday’s run.

“It was a hard stage, but I knew that,” Casale said. “There were a lot of rocks and fesh-fesh, very bumpy. The level of competition in the quad category is very good. There are four or five riders who are really close together.

“Last year, I rode two great marathon stages. Until now, it hasn’t gone as well as it could have, but there will be better days…”

Uruguay’s Sergio Lafuente maintains third overall (+ 26:20) behind Sonik and Casale after a fourth-place finish in the stage.

Another repeat winner came through in the truck category as well.

KAMAZ’s Eduard Nikolaev and Andrey Karginov were pretty much even with each other through the middle waypoints, but Nikolaev proved unbeatable and went on to win his second consecutive stage by 10 minutes over teammate Ayrat Mardeev.

MAN’s Siarhei Viazovich completed the stage podium, finishing 16 minutes behind Nikolaev. As for Karginov, difficulties in the second half of the stage knocked him down to sixth.

Overall, Nikolaev is up eight minutes, one second over Mardeev, while another MAN pilot, Ales Loprais, has taken third position (+27:28) by just eight seconds over Karginov, the defending Dakar truck champ.

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues Friday at 4 p.m. ET.

Rinus VeeKay to drive for Ed Carpenter Racing in 2020

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Ed Carpenter Racing has signed 2019 Indy Lights runner-up Rinus VeeKay to drive the full 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, the team announced Wednesday.

VeeKay will drive the No. 21 Chevrolet previously occupied by Spencer Pigot.

“I’m so happy!” the 19-year-old driver from the Netherlands said in a press release. “It’s a dream come true and something we have worked extremely hard for over the last couple of years. To step up from USF2000 to the NTT IndyCar Series in three years is really special.”

In his maiden Indy Lights season this year, VeeKay collected six race victories and seven pole potions. VeeKay previously won the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 championship, and finished second in the 2017 USF2000 standings.

VeeKay’s success in the ladder series caught the attention of Carpenter, who gave VeeKay the opportunity to first test for the team at Portland International Raceway in August.

“I have been following Rinus’s path through the Road to Indy, especially the past two years,” Carpenter said. “It was clear to me that he deserves to be in an Indy car. After his first day in a car at Portland this past season, that feeling became even more apparent. His pace, feedback and demeanor inside the car was very impressive for such a young driver.”

As a driver, Carpenter will be VeeKay’s teammate during the five oval races in 2020, once again returning to the team’s No. 20 entry. An announcement on which driver will pilot the No. 20 on the road and street circuits will be made at a later time.

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