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

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.