Dakar: Hat trick for Nikolaev in trucks; Casale charges in quads (VIDEO)

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Eduard Nikolaev continued to rumble along in the 2015 Dakar Rally with his third consecutive stage victory in Friday’s Stage 6 from Antofagasta to Iquique, Chile.

Nikolaev’s latest win is also his fourth in the opening six stages of this year’s running. He took the stage by five minutes, 37 seconds over KAMAZ teammate Ayrat Mardeev and by almost 11 minutes over third-place finisher Andrey Karginov – who had been just two minutes and change behind Nikolaev at the final way point before the run to the finish.

Friday’s proceedings means that Nikolaev has held the overall lead again as well. That advantage now sits at 13 minutes, 38 seconds over Mardeev, while Karginov has fallen to more than 38 minutes off the pace. He’s going to have to push hard in order to have a chance at retaining his Dakar crown from one year ago.

As for the quads, Ignacio Casale ripped a sizable chunk from Rafal Sonik’s overall lead in the category with his third win of the Dakar. Casale beat Sonik by a margin of eight minutes, 15 seconds – a strong response after Sonik beat him by almost 11 minutes in Thursday’s Stage 5.

But the Polish rider still holds a relatively comfortable advantage overall at 16 minutes, eight seconds up on the Chilean and defending Dakar champ.

As the end of the first week looms, it’s looking more and more like these two will be fighting for the title amongst themselves; Uruguay’s Sergio Lafuente continues to languish at more than 40 minutes behind Sonik in third spot.

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 6 highlights on Saturday morning at 6 a.m. ET.

F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images
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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
MORE: Sergio Perez fastest early on Day 2 of F1 Practice

The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.