Dakar: Orlando Terranova finishing with a flourish, wins Stage 12 (VIDEO)

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Orlando Terranova’s hopes of winning the 2015 Dakar Rally were undone early. But as we head for the final stage on Saturday, he’s showing the speed that is certainly worthy of a championship.

The Argentine racer chalked up his fourth stage win on home soil Friday in the run from Termas de Rio Hondo to Rosario, Argentina.

It also marks the fifth time in the last six stages that he has finished either as the winner or the runner-up (Wins in Stages 7 and 12; second place in Stages 8, 10, and 11; seventh in Stage 9).

“It was good, you know,” said Terranova, who beat out Vladimir Vasilyev by 30 seconds and Emiliano Spataro by 1:29 on Friday.

“By the end, we had caught up with [overall leader] Nasser [Al-Attiyah] and ended up in the dust. When we came to the finish, there were a lot of people by the road and it was very nice.”

If not for an ill-fated Stage 4 where he suffered suspension damage after hitting a rock, it’s likely that Terranova would be fighting the aforementioned Al-Attiyah for the overall title.

Nonetheless, Terranova and co-driver Ronnie Graue have been among the fastest pairs in this year’s Dakar. The duo and their team have treated the remainder of the event with the goal of getting a baseline for next year.

“At the beginning, we made some mistakes and we had bad luck, but we had to go on to get to the end of the rally and afterwards try and learn and see where we need to improve and be faster,” Terranova noted.

“Of course, we’re already thinking about 2016. We must work hard to arrive here in better conditions.”

As for Al-Attiyah, now one day away from a second Dakar crown, he knocked out a fourth-place result on Friday that added almost seven minutes to his overall lead over Giniel de Villiers. The gap is now more than one half-hour at 35 minutes, 39 seconds.

All that’s left for the quick Qatari is securing a trouble-free run in Saturday’s dash to Buenos Aires, which features a 174km special.

“I’ve worked a lot since last year, because last year, I was disappointed with the one-hour penalty,” said Al-Attiyah in reference to his missed way point penalty on Stage 5 in the 2014 running.

“I should have won the Dakar. I’m quite happy to work all year towards this victory on the Dakar 2015. Of course, we’ve got a lot more experience since 2011 and I have a good co-pilot [Mathieu Baumel] with me now who helps me a lot. We have a good relationship. The mechanics have been working very, very well.

“Every day, the car is working well, the tires, we don’t have any problems at all. Everything is working 100 percent right for this Dakar. I’m not stressed for tomorrow. If I wake up in good health, I will do my best.”

Robby Gordon also returned to the Top 10 on Friday with a ninth-place finish at 5:20 back of Al-Attiyah. This comes one day after he and co-driver Johnny Campbell finished 13th despite a nasty run-in with an embankment.

Gordon has now posted his sixth Top-10 result of the Dakar and his fifth such result in the last eight stages. He’s still at 19th in the overall standings.

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues with Stage 12 highlights tomorrow at 6 a.m. ET.

2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Cars
(After Stage 12 – Termas de Rio Hondo to Rosario, Argentina)

1. 301-Nasser Al-Attiyah (Mini), 40hrs, 18mins, 30secs
2. 303-Giniel de Villiers (Toyota), + 35mins, 39secs
3. 307-Krzysztof Holowczyc (Mini), + 1hr, 31mins, 51secs
4. 314-Erik Van Loon (Mini), + 3hrs, 1mins, 34secs
5. 310-Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini), + 3hrs, 12mins, 19secs
6. 309-Christian Lavieille (Toyota), + 3hrs, 15mins, 16secs
7. 315-Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota), + 3hrs, 41mins, 53secs
8. 306-Carlos Sousa (Mitsubishi), + 3hrs, 44mins, 35secs
9. 329-Aidyn Rakhimbayev (Mini), + 4hrs, 7mins, 47secs
10. 302-Ronan Chabot (SMG), + 4hrs, 41mins, 37secs
19. 308-Robby Gordon (Gordini), + 7hrs, 48mins, 19secs

Penske won’t discuss if Castroneves returns to Indy in 2020

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
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INDIANAPOLIS – NBC Sports.com asked Indianapolis 500 winning team owner Roger Penske if three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves would return to the team in 2020?

Penske immediately brushed off the question.

“We’re not going to talk about that right now,” Penske told NBC Sports.com. “I’m just not going to talk about it. We’re going to have a meeting about it before we decide, but I’m not going to talk about that right now.

“Simon won the race and that is what I’m focused on right now.”

Simon Pagenaud, gave Penske a record-extending 18thIndy 500 win on Sunday. Penske confirmed that Pagenaud will be back with the team in 2020 after he scored his first win in Sunday’s 103rdIndianapolis 500.

Castroneves was an NTT IndyCar Series regular at Team Penske from 2000 until the 2017 season. After that, Castroneves was shifted over to the team’s Acura IMSA Sports Car program, but the three-time Indy 500 winner was given a ride at both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the past two years.

The popular driver from Brazil is trying to join AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four-time Indy 500 winners.

But the whispers in Gasoline Alley indicate his future with Team Penske at Indy remain uncertain.

“I’ve heard the rumors, too,” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com on pit lane after his disappointing finish in the Indy 500. “I will definitely give it a good, hard think about coming back in 2020. I want to be the rest of the season, here.”

But, will Castroneves run the Indy 500 again?

“Who knows?” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com. “Let’s see what happens.”

Castroneves’s bid for a fourth Indianapolis 500 was derailed in a pit road incident after his first pit stop when he ran into James Davison’s Chevrolet on the team’s first pit stop on Lap 30.

The front wing of Castroneves’s Chevrolet was damaged and INDYCAR officials gave him a “Drive Through” penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” Castroneves would ultimate drop three laps down but finished one lap down in 18thplace.

Castroneves explained what happened to him earlier in the race and how it affected the rest of his Indy 500.

“The accident that happened in the pits hurt us for sure,” Castroneves explained. “We had a problem with the fuel mapping, and I couldn’t go over 200 miles an hour for four or five laps. We lost 35 seconds. There was a bug in the system.

“Then, we went back out and that was it. I wasn’t able to recoup after that. I was excited. The car was very, very good entering the race.”

Castroneves spoke with second-place finisher Alexander Rossi, who was furious with the driver from Brazil earlier in the race for not moving out of the way, even though he was three laps down at the time.

The two drivers hugged, and Castroneves walked back up pit lane.

“I did what the team told me to do, and they told me to go as fast as I could,” Castroneves explained after talking to Rossi. “It’s racing and everybody is upset they didn’t win.”

Castroneves hopes his walk up pit lane is not the final time as an Indy 500 competitor.

But it could be.

“I hope I can come back next year,” Castroneves said. “I’m really upset as a competitor, but extremely happy for Team Penske and for Simon Pagenaud for winning the race.

“The good news is I go back to the Acura sports car, but I will be dreaming about coming back here again.”