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

Graham Rahal’s “Weighty Issue”

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses laser to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around, there was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“I’ve done one treatment,” Rahal said. “It takes a long time, I think. It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car and that can determine. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter weight drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is, so on…”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy…

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (bleep), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”