Dakar: Roma back on form with Stage 9 win; Al-Attiyah pushes overall lead to 24 minutes

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Things are finally normal again for Nani Roma.

The reigning Dakar Rally champion had his title defense effectively end on the first stage after mechanical problems cost him almost seven and a half hours.

A 34th-place finish in Stage 2 followed, but since then, the Spaniard and co-driver Michel Perin have gotten back to business with podium finishes in Stage 4 and Stage 6.

But they had not yet gotten back to the top step. Until Tuesday.

Roma pulled away from fellow Mini driver and current overall leader Nasser Al-Attiyah late in the 450km run from Iquique to Calama, Chile, and secured his first stage win of the 2015 Dakar by six minutes, 27 seconds over the Qatari.

“This win is for my guys and the team,” Roma said in a Mini release afterwards. “They did a great job. Today, we finally experienced a trouble-free day and didn’t encounter the slightest problem. And Michel once again delivered in sensational style.”

Al-Attiyah isn’t likely brooding over his Tuesday loss to Roma, however. That’s because his main rival for this year’s Dakar title, Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers, was victimized by a navigational error that cost him a precious 15 minutes.

The South African still maintains second in the overall standings, but what had been an eight and a half minute lead deficit to Al-Attiyah has now ballooned to just under 24 minutes because of the mistake.

Afterwards, de Villiers said that barring a mistake from Al-Attiyah, his bid to win the Dakar had been scuttled.

” Obviously, that’s cost us the race, so we’re sure now that we can only try to consolidate something on the podium,” he said. “But the race is over for us, so, you know, sometimes it goes like this in the Dakar and there’s nothing you can do about it.

“There was one place where we were really struggling to find the way point. I mean, obviously it was an off-road area, the wind was from behind and there was so much fesh-fesh and dust. We just kept turning around. We spent I don’t know how long there, but it felt like forever to find the way point.

“It’s not impossible for Nasser to make a mistake but with the lead he has now, he can take it really easy…It was our mistake and we have to pay.”

Finishing third on Tuesday was Russia’s Vladimir Vasilyev (+ 15:52) in a nice follow-up to his surprise win in Stage 5. de Villiers was a highly disappointed fourth (+ 21:58), and Stage 8 winner Yazeed Alrajhi finished fifth (+ 27:16) despite losing his brakes at the 200 kilometer mark and having to obviously go slower as a result of that.

Alrajhi, the Saudi rookie, still holds third place overall but lost more than 20 minutes to Al-Attiyah. He’s now 39 minutes, 29 seconds behind him.

As for American driver Robby Gordon, he took his Gordini to an eighth-place finish (+ 35:59). He and co-driver Johnny Campbell have now cracked the Top 20 overall, a nice recovery from being just inside the Top 50 after their ill-fated Stage 2.

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 9 highlights tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. ET.

2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Cars
(After Stage 9 – Iquique to Calama)

1. 301-Nasser Al-Attiyah (Mini), 31hrs, 29mins, 38secs
2. 303-Giniel de Villiers (Toyota), + 23mins, 58secs
3. 325-Yazeed Alrajhi (Toyota), + 39mins, 29secs
4. 307-Krzysztof Holowczyc (Mini), + 1hr, 17mins, 41secs
5. 314-Erik Van Loon (Mini), + 2hrs, 41mins, 46secs (40mins penalty in Stage 9)
6. 309-Christian Lavieille (Toyota), + 2hrs, 51mins, 39secs
7. 310-Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini), + 3hrs, 2mins, 41secs
8. 306-Carlos Sousa (Mitsubishi), + 3hrs, 33mins, 35secs (40mins penalty in Stage 9)
9. 315-Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota), + 3hrs, 34mins, 7secs
10. 329-Aidyn Rakhimbayev (Mini), + 3hrs, 41mins, 24secs
20. 308-Robby Gordon (Gordini), + 7hrs, 22mins, 53secs

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.