Dakar: On course for second title, Nasser Al-Attiyah wins in Stage 11

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Even though he holds the overall lead in the 2015 Dakar Rally, Nasser Al-Attiyah is not going conservative in the final stretch to Buenos Aires.

The quick Qatari and the 2011 winner is in attack mode as he seeks his second career Dakar title. Al-Attiyah took a narrow, 27-second win over fellow Mini driver Orlando Terranova in Thursday’s Stage 11 from Salta to Termas de Rio Hondo, Argentina.

It’s Al-Attiyah’s fifth stage win of the 2015 Dakar, and it boosts his overall lead to 29 minutes, 1 second over Thursday’s third-place finisher, Toyota driver Giniel de Villiers.

“We’re just trying to keep it like this,” said Al-Attiyah. “It’s very hard the Dakar because when we started on the second day, it was not easy until today. Now, we’ll try to bring everything back to Buenos Aires and to win this Dakar because it will be very important for me, for my sponsor Red Bull, for Qatar, for everybody who supports me.”

Al-Attiyah also hailed his Saudi counterpart, Yazeed Alrajhi, who was forced to abandon what had been a superb rookie Dakar for him because of exhaust system problems that he encountered just before the start of the special.

“It’s a shame what has happened to Yazeed…I feel sorry for him but this is the Dakar,” Al-Attiyah said. “You need to watch out for many, many things. He will learn and he will come back stronger next year. You need to be careful even until the podium. When you finish the Dakar, it’s only finished after the podium.”

Alrajhi had entered Stage 11 running third in the overall standings. He was one of several big names that had to withdraw on Thursday; the group included defending Dakar champ Nani Roma, who was not allowed to start after his crew had done an all-night repair of his car following a bad crash in Wednesday’s Stage 10.

Lithuania’s Benediktas Vanagas was a surprise fourth in Thursday’s action, just 40 seconds back of Al-Attiyah. At 24th in the overall standings, he’s on course for his best Dakar showing in three starts (65th in 2013, then 35th in 2014).

Vladimir Vasilyev, perhaps a more familiar name following his Stage 5 victory, completed the Top-5 (+ 1:16 behind Al-Attiyah) for his fourth such result of the event.

Robby Gordon had a highly eventful Thursday, and that may be putting it mildly. The former NASCAR and IndyCar pilot crashed into an embankment, but was able to carry on and bring his Gordini home in 13th position.

“Fortunately, we landed backward on all four tires,” said Gordon’s co-driver, Johnny Campbell, about the crash. “Robby restarted the car and took off. It could have been bad crashing at about 100 miles per hour and still scrubbing speed when we hit.”

Campbell also disclosed that the Gordini’s windshield wipers failed following the incident, leaving Gordon to deal with bad visibility as mud and debris hit the car.

Even so, the Americans finished just three minutes and change behind Al-Attiyah. They also jumped one spot to 19th in the overall standings.

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 11 highlights tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. ET.

2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Cars
(After Stage 11 – Salta to Termas de Rio Hondo, Argentina)

1. 301-Nasser Al-Attiyah (Mini), 37hrs, 12mins, 47secs
2. 303-Giniel de Villiers (Toyota), + 29mins, 1secs
3. 307-Krzysztof Holowczyc (Mini), + 1hr, 28mins, 49secs
4. 314-Erik Van Loon (Mini), + 2hrs, 54mins, 9secs
5. 309-Christian Lavieille (Toyota), + 3hrs, 4mins, 21secs
6. 310-Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini), + 3hrs, 13mins, 26secs
7. 315-Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota), + 3hrs, 41mins, 40secs
8. 306-Carlos Sousa (Mitsubishi), + 3hrs, 44mins, 20secs
9. 329-Aidyn Rakhimbayev (Mini), + 4hrs, 3mins, 9secs
10. 320-Ronan Chabot (SMG), 4hrs, 26mins, 29secs
19. 308-Robby Gordon (Gordini), + 7hrs, 44mins, 36secs

Graham Rahal’s ‘Weighty Issue’

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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses lasers to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around. There was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“It takes a long time, I think,” Rahal said. “It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is.”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

“It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy.

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (crap), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches, and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”