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.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”