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