Dakar: Stacey takes Stage 11 in trucks; Nikolaev cuts 2:10 from leader Mardeev

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Hans Stacey’s first-day win in the 2015 Dakar Rally has now been paired with a second one in Thursday’s Stage 11.

The Iveco driver has slid back since his Stage 1 victory to more than two and a half hours off the pace in the overall truck standings.

But Stacey led ’em all to the bivouac on Thursday, beating runner-up and fellow Iveco driver Gerard de Rooy by one minute, 10 seconds.

Behind them both was Eduard Nikolaev, who finished 1:56 behind Stacey in third place. But the Russian made some headway in his chase of Ayrat Mardeev and the overall lead.

Mardeev could not match Nikolaev and finished ninth in the stage, losing 2:10 from his advantage. As we head for the penultimate stage tomorrow, the two KAMAZ drivers are separated by 11 minutes, 11 seconds with everything still to play for.

Following the recent withdrawals of both Ignacio Casale and Sergio Lafuente, overall quads leader Rafal Sonik seemingly has things under control with two stages left.

The Polish rider finished sixth in Stage 11 to maintain his big overall advantage at two hours, 50 minutes over Jeremias Gonzalez, who finished one spot ahead of him on Thursday.

Up front, the day belonged to Christophe Declerck of France. He took the stage by six minutes, 35 seconds over two-time 2015 stage winner Nelson Sanabria.

The other big news item of the day in the quads was the departure of Victor Gallegos (broken engine). Gallegos had won Stage 9 just two days before.

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.