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

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”