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