Dakar: Terranova wins Stage 7; De Villiers closes in on Al-Attiyah for overall lead (VIDEO)

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Orlando Terranova’s chances to win the 2015 Dakar Rally were effectively finished in Stage 4, when he suffered costly suspension damage on his Mini after hitting a rock.

But the Argentine racer, who won Stages 1 and 3 before his disaster, remains an ever-present threat. He hammered home that point again on Saturday with his third win of the 2015 Dakar in Stage 7 (Iquique, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia).

The 321-kilometer special stage saw Terranova and the car competitors race at more than 11,000 feet above sea level in what was the first part of a “marathon” stage, where drivers cannot call upon assistance teams for help.

Terranova secured the lead over impressive rookie Yazeed Alrajhi past the halfway point of the stage. He would continue to build the gap out as the stage continued on before winning over the Saudi by 2 minutes, 20 seconds.

“It was really difficult. Tough. Complicated. But we’ve made it,” said Terranova. “Now we’ll try and bring the car to Chile [Sunday], so our crew can take care of it.

“We’re getting better, but we need to work hard to avoid mistakes, and next year we’ll be stronger.”

As for Alrajhi, he was counting his blessings after he and co-driver Timo Gottschalk overcame a potential threat to their hopes on the climb into Bolivia.

“We’re lucky to be here. I didn’t want to take any risks, but we had a small alert when we forded the water and our filter got a bit wet, so it started to make a strange noise,” Alrajhi explained.

“It happened after about 100 kilometers. Then the filter dried up a bit and we were able to continue attacking. It’s no big deal – my co-driver is an outstanding mechanic and he’ll fix it. I’m still in the mix. I haven’t driven 10,000 kilometers for kicks and giggles!”

Bernhard Ten Brinke finished third on Saturday at just eight seconds behind Alrajhi. A pair of Mini pilots, Krzysztof Holowczyc and defending Dakar champ Nani Roma, rounded out the Top 5.

Giniel de Villiers was able to make up ground on overall category leader Nasser Al-Attiyah. The two men were sixth and seventh respectively on Saturday, but the South African peeled almost three minutes off of the Qatari in the stage.

De Villiers has now closed to eight minutes, 14 seconds behind Al-Attiyah for the top spot on an afternoon where they both had to race at less than optimal health due to the altitude.

“I’ve got quite a headache too… The altitude didn’t make it easy and, furthermore, it was a tricky stage where you had to be focused,” de Villiers said. “We managed to catch Nasser after roughly 150 kilometers, and then he made a mistake and we overtook him. We then opened the way and we made three or four mistakes, but we got back on track before he caught up with us.”

Al-Attiyah was also dealing with the altitude’s effects.

“I had to stop three times to vomit and I had a terrible headache every time we went over a bump,” he said. “I’ve lost some time, but it’s no big deal. We don’t need to push our limits.

“The car is in good condition, so we’re only going to change the tires, check a few things and then go get a rest. First, I’ll go see the medical service for a check-up.”

Meanwhile, Robby Gordon continued his solid work as of late with a ninth-place showing on Saturday (+ 10:48), his third consecutive Top-10 run.

Gordon ran fifth at the first check point along the route but an apparent navigational error cost him some time. He fell out of the Top 15, but battled back up to ninth at the final way point less than 40 km from the finish and held steady to the end.

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 7 highlights on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. ET.

2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Cars
(After Stage 7 – Iquique, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia)

1. 301-Nasser Al-Attiyah (Mini), 23hrs, 11mins, 50secs
2. 303-Giniel de Villiers (Toyota), + 8mins, 14secs
3. 325-Yazeed Alrajhi (Toyota), + 21mins, 16secs
4. 307-Krzysztof Holowczyc (Mini), + 54mins, 2secs
5. 315-Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota), + 57mins, 3secs
6. 314-Erik Van Loon (Mini), + 1hr, 15mins, 11secs
7. 309-Christian Lavieille (Toyota), + 1hr, 37mins, 50secs
8. 302-Stephane Peterhansel (Peugeot), + 1hr, 50mins, 36secs
9. 306-Carlos Sousa (Mitsubishi), + 1hr, 58mins, 32secs
10. 320-Ronan Chabot (SMG), + 2hrs, 10mins, 45secs

23. 308-Robby Gordon (Gordini), + 5hrs, 48mins, 31secs

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).