Dakar: Yazeed Alrajhi earns maiden win in Stage 8; Al-Attiyah still overall leader (VIDEO)

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Sunday’s Stage 8 of the 2015 Dakar Rally saw Saudi rookie Yazeed Alrajhi finally break through for his first stage win after an impressive opening week.

The victory on the return route from Uyuni, Bolivia to Iquique, Chile also keeps outside hopes alive for winning the overall title in his first try.

Alrajhi opened the Dakar last weekend with a 20th-place finish, but then rattled off results of sixth, third, fourth, second, seventh, and second before his triumph on Sunday.

After finishing Stage 8, he was understandably jovial.

“Today was a good day. We drove fast and we had fun. The most difficult part was organizing toilet stops – at such altitudes, just a sip makes you want to go,” he said.

“The in-line start in [the salt flats at] Salar was great and carried out under good conditions. We didn’t have the highest top speed, but we managed to catch up with the others. It was a bit like a game.”

Also playing the game well was overall leader Nasser Al-Attiyah, who finished third and tacked on 13 seconds to his edge over his closest pursuer, Giniel de Villiers.

de Villiers actually led the first part of the stage, but lost ground in the last stretch to the finish and had to settle for fourth. The South African said that a bit of bad luck involving a helicopter and a rock hindered him at the end.

“Apart from a problem which forced me to drive 70 kilometers only with the front brakes, the first part of the special went well,” said de Villiers, who is now behind Al-Attiyah by eight minutes, 27 seconds on the big board. “We capitalized on Nasser’s punctures to claw back three minutes.

“We were also doing fine in the second half until a helicopter flew quite low and blew fesh-fesh into the air. I couldn’t see a thing and I couldn’t stop either because of the risk of getting stuck.

“I drove 200 meters blind and had a flat after hitting a stone. That’s what let Nasser catch up with us.”

As for Alrajhi, he has cemented himself in third position overall for the time being. At 18 minutes, 40 seconds behind the Qatari, he can definitely strike should Al-Attiyah and de Villiers stumble.

Meanwhile, the American duo of Robby Gordon and Johnny Campbell had a tough opening to the second week after closing the first week with solid runs. On Sunday, the No. 308 Gordini lost more than an hour on course en route to a 43rd-place finish.

The damage in the overall standings was minimal as they slipped just one position to 24th. However, they’re now almost seven hours back of Al-Attiyah.

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 7A/8A/8B highlights on Monday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. ET.

2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Cars
(After Stage 8 – Uyuni to Iquique)

1. 301-Nasser Al-Attiyah (Mini), 26hrs, 41mins, 15secs
2. 303-Giniel de Villiers (Toyota), + 8mins, 27secs
3. 325-Yazeed Alrajhi (Toyota), + 18mins, 40secs
4. 307-Krzysztof Holowczyc (Mini), + 54mins, 38secs
5. 315-Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota), + 1hr, 22mins, 52secs
6. 314-Erik Van Loon (Mini), + 1hr, 25mins, 51secs
7. 309-Christian Lavielle (Toyota), + 1hr, 48mins, 41secs
8. 302-Stephane Peterhansel (Peugeot), + 1hr, 51mins, 46secs
9. 306-Carlos Sousa (Mitsubishi), + 2hrs, 7mins, 13secs
10. 320-Ronan Chabot (SMG), + 2hrs, 26mins, 50 secs

24. 308-Robby Gordon (Gordini), + 6hrs, 53mins, 21secs

Eli Tomac’s near-perfect season ended perfectly

ProMotocross.com
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From the start, Eli Tomac wanted to go into the season-ending race at Ironman Raceway with the 2020 red plate already in his possession. That final race has been know to devolve into muddy conditions and it is best not to leave things to chance.

For a rider with an almost perfect record of overall podium finishes, one would not have thought there would be much drama at the end of Round 11 at Budds Creek, but it took until the last lap of the final moto for Tomac to achieve his goal.

One reason was that Tomac’s near-perfect season was not so perfect. From the very beginning at Hangtown, Tomac struggled with poor starts to his events. Getting a bad jump out of the gate and finishing fourth in Moto 1 that weekend was not the auspicious beginning he wanted in search of his third consecutive 450 outdoor championship.

The hallmark of Tomac’s season has been overcoming bad starts. He rode through the field at Hangtown and nearly stood on the podium. Then he won Moto 2 and finished second overall. It was his first of nine consecutive overall podiums. Tomac came back the following week for a perfect sweep at Pala.

In Round 3, Tomac once again got off to a bad start. He finished fifth in Moto 1 at Thunder Valley – and then won Moto 2 in a duplication of his opening round.

In Round 5, Tomac had his worst performance until that time. He finished seventh in Moto 1. Nearly halfway through the season, a pattern was firmly established with his Moto 2 win.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

One should recall that the hallmark of Tomac’s season was strong finishes. Four the next four weeks Tomac failed to podium only one time in a moto. On that occasion, he would stumble in Moto 2 at Spring Creek in Round 8 before scoring his second perfect race at Washougal.

And that is where it got interesting. Tomac left Washougal with a 50-point advantage over Marvin Musquin. It was just the scenario Tomac had seesawed his way through the season to achieve. But it was too good to be true.

In most of his previous bad performances, there was an extenuating circumstance for Tomac’s bad start: a fall or an off course excursion. This time, he simply rode an uninspired race and finished seventh again to match his worst single moto performance. He could not fully rebound in Moto 2 and finished third.

For the first time in 2019, Tomac failed to stand on the overall podium in fourth. Worse still, he lost 10 points to Musquin and no longer had his one-race cushion.

But this is a season of recovery for Tomac. At Budds Creek last week it was reported that Tomac’s lackluster performance in Washington was due to his overdoing his chores on his Colorado ranch. Rested and restored, Tomac scored his third perfect race with Moto 1 & 2 wins. And this time, he looked sharper than he had in any previous race.

Tomac did all the could do by winning both motos, but in the closing laps at Budds Creek he needed a little help to clinch the title. As it turned out, Tomac needed the perfect performance to clinch his third consecutive championship.

In Moto 1, he narrowly edged Ken Roczen and Musquin, to give the three championship contenders a sweep of the top three spots; that was not enough to regain his cushion.

Roczen was close enough to force Tomac into The Ironman needing to score points to permanently affix the red plate on his Kawasaki in 2020, but just as Tomac’s season has been marked by second half improvements, Roczen’s has been marred by a lack of performance in the second motos.

Musquin passed Roczen late in Moto 2 last week and could have extended the drama one more week if he could have caught second-place Jason Anderson. Musquin could not erase an 11-second deficit to the runner-up and now Tomac’s almost perfect season has a distinctly perfect feel to it.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

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